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January 21, 2009


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In his book, "The Crafty Art of Playmaking", Sir Alan Ayckbourn discusses a similar principle when it comes to playwriting. He says that when you are writing a drama, it is very important to make sure there are plenty of laughs. And vice versa. If a comedy doesn't have stakes or serious consequences, then it will not be funny. It's a great rule of thumb.

Kind of like the guideline with characters: Make your villians likeable (empathetic) and your hero's complicated.


Yeah, I agree. It's slightly risky though. Bad humor ... by which I mean not unfunny humor, but lazy or generic humor ... can take an audience OUT of the world of the play. If the joke is funny in ANY context, then why bother putting it in a play? You might wind up making your crowd think about the joke or its subject (perhaps planning to repeat it to friends), rather than the world you're creating. I'm not saying you can NEVER do a joke like that, but be careful.


One of my favorite professors in college was an older gentleman (who retired shortly after I graduated; no connection) with a very old school approach to theatre in general. I think he preferred directing comedies, whether new or old, and was very technically proficient about timing, delivery, etc.

I remember him talking one day about the fact that he would (shamelessly) do just about anything he had to in order to guarantee a laugh within the first 30 seconds of a show. Whether that meant a pratfall, a spit-take, a fart -- whatever --
it was essential for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to give the audience a chance to become an entity. Some of the other reasons cited were: if you don't hook the audience in the first minute or so, you're fighting an uphill battle for the rest of the evening; it's common courtesy to show the audience what they're in for; people remember the first and last moments of a show, etc. I learned a whole lot from him.


He is also speaking to a writer's ability to utilize structure. Writing (and performing for that matter) comedy is hard, because of the precision required. I think the structure of a joke is often just as complicated and precise as the structure of a play. Ideally they both have a beginning, middle, and end. And they also should have some sort of surprise or turn that is unexpected. Someone who can tell a joke well and will probably be able to tell a story well.


The literary merit of the fart is confirmed at last.


Was there ever any doubt?


Back when I was acting, I did a LOT of comedy, and then got cast as Leonato in a production of "Much Ado". I found I had no way of judging my performance without hearing the audience response I was used to.

In other news, I saw a mainly-serious play tonight that had humor in it that worked and humor that didn't- a couple of the jokes were semi-anachronistic references to modern things (the play is set in Ancient Rome), which didn't fit the established tone of the play- some of the humor just came from natural reactions to strange situations, and was fine.


I would have farted, if not for Chief Justice Roberts being so nervous.


I've heard Tom Stoppard say something like, "Laughter is the sound of recognition. It means the point got through." Don't you wish there was an equivalent sound for when a serious/dark moment gets through to an audience? Instead, we count on the LACK of sound (i.e., silence, no coughing, no unwrapping of candy) to communicate that.


As a writer, I never try to insert jokes in my play. I feel as though putting intentionally funny jokes in a script can kill a show. After reading the script so far, I tend to find something I find funny that I didn't intend to be funny (although, in one play I wrote, if there were no humorous lines, everyone would leave the show feeling horrible).

My mother also acted in several comedies. She once told me that you shouldn't do a show like you know what you're doing is funny. When you perform and the audience laughs, you know you're doing something right and they're paying attention.

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