Screenwriting 101: The Comedic Point Of View

By Staff · September 28, 2017

By: Jonathan James

One aspect of writing comedy that is rarely mentioned yet gravely important is a character’s comedic point of view. After all, there’s a reason sitcoms built around a specific comedic points of view – like this fall’s Big Bang Theory spin-off, Young Sheldon – often catch on with audiences. In short, it’s because the comedy itself emerges naturally from character, rather than plot.

Often times writers miss opportunities for comedy not because they’re missing jokes, but because their characters lack a comedic point of view. This is where a large portion of humor blossoms from within a comedic script. Comedy is so much more than just an exercise in plotting. It’s more than just setting up jokes or planting a handful of run-of-the-mill characters in a funny situation.

Your character’s comedic point of view sets up the tone and the humor from episode to episode. Humor and jokes should always stem from character. Now one thing that can be confusing is that a comedic point of view can almost make your character appear one dimensional; however, it is an essential part of their character and the story that they see their world through one specific comedic lens.

Almost all the sitcoms we hold most dear use this method. Let’s take a look at Friends. Each of the main characters has their unique comedic point of view:

Monica – Once used to be fat and is a huge control freak.

Ross– Is a Paleontologist/nerd and a bit of a pushover

Joey -Is a Womanizer and loves to eat

Phoebe – A loving/positive character to a fault and loves new age techniques

Rachel – Ex-Popular Girl/ Monica’s Best Friend/ Loves Fashion /A little frazzled

Obviously, these are broad strokes and if I’m a little off it’s only because I wasn’t the biggest fan of the show…calm down I’m not saying it’s bad, but I only watched it casually. As you can see though from the above these character elements or flaws are what create the humor within the show.

Now as I’m sure you, dear reader, are probably a huge fan of the show you can see how these character point of views not only can create conflict but also is where much of the comedy from these characters stems from and it’s why we love them. It’s the same reason you’ll tell your friends they’re such a Joey or a Monica. You obviously love them, but friends (see what I did there) see the best and worst in themselves and love them for it. It’s the same in comedy only they are heightened to a greater degree.

Let’s take a look at another sitcom — one I’m a little more familiar with — Will & Grace:

Will – Is a Hopeless Romantic and a bit of a control freak

Grace – Loves Food and a little self-involved.

Karen – Wealth and a drunk

Jack – Flamboyant and a bit of a slacker.

Again, these are broad strokes, but you can see how these characters view the world through their specific lenses. Often times these comedic points of view represent the worst in ourselves, which is why we fall in love with these characters. Where in our day-to-day we may have to humble ourselves and hide our worst impulses, these characters react in ways that we wish we could.

It is these bad impulses that cause conflict within sit-coms and allow for hilarity to ensue. As I’m sure many of you reading this are thinking “but their character is so much more complex than that” and that is the beauty of it. Giving a character like Sheldon from BIG BANG THEORY a superiority complex as his comedic POV doesn’t mean that he isn’t a complex character. It just brings the humor to the forefront allowing the conflict between the other characters to unfold in an organic way.

Because sit-coms tend to tie everything up in a neat bow at the end of each episode that is why these points of view are so important. Characters tend to learn lessons over and over again because of this. And slowly, very-slowly, causes them to grow or not in the end.

Films can be a bit more difficult. In some instances, it is this POV that is the point of change. Like in THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN. Steve Carrell’s character must learn to overcome his regressive POV and learn to become an adult if he ever wants to lose his virginity. Of course, much humor stems from the fact that he is a 40-year-old child, but we feel for him because we can all relate to the difficulties of being a fully functioning adult with wanting to stay in a place that reminds us of better, less responsible times in our lives.

But there are many great comedies that are tragedies from afar. In any other light, without the humor, some comedies would turn into tragedies. Look at YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN. The Grandson of Victor von Frankenstein refuses to give in to his father’s morbid legacy — his comedic point of view — only to fall into the same insane trap that his family is known for, succumbing to everyone’s expectations. If we didn’t know better this sounds like quite a downer, but in the hands of Mel Brooks, the result is hilarious.

The comedic POV is essential in any comedy. Sure you can fill a script with pages of jokes, but they need to stem from a place of character. Giving your characters a comedic POV will not only help to spurn conflict throughout the story but will also give you the set up for some great comedic fodder.

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