Friday, April 11, 2008

Two punchlines: better than one

Jane Epsenson often breaks down jokes on her blog, analyzing their types. At first I didn't like this. I wanted to think that I'm just funny, and there isn't a method or formula behind it...that it's cheating to construct jokes instead of writing what magically comes to you. But now I have started to recognize and appreciate the kinds of jokes she talks about. For example, on Monday's Greek (which you can watch online):

RUSTY
It's like we're a boy band, and I'm the fat one.

CASEY
I believe it's pronounced Fatone.

Boom! Double punchline! Rusty's line would have been funny on its own, but it was twice as funny with the extra punchline. BTW, once I wrote the dialogue down I realized it was even funnier spoken than written, because on the page you kind of see the joke coming. I feel like I should make a point about writing for actors and TV and not people reading...but let's be honest, it's gonna be a while before I've got people reading, much less actors speaking.

Not really sure why I turned into Captain Positivity there... but anyway. Gonna try to get a lot done this weekend. I've got a new teaser to my pilot that basically retells the original teaser AND act one in 8 pages. Which is great. Except now I have to rework everything and add a whole other act.

6 comments:

Screenwriter Shep said...

Two things that work really well for humor are implying and doing the opposite of what's expected.

I could say "An art history major is a waste of time". Not funny.

Implied: How do you get an Art History Major off your porch? Pay him for the pizza.

Doing the opposite of what's expected is a Billy Wilder thing (and it works more often than not too. I know you're TV but you should look at Some Like It Hot.)

sandofsky said...

Second City uses improv to generate material for their shows, until they've workshopped enough material for a new revue. At that point, they write down the script, so they have something to hand to understudies.

I've heard the transcribed material reads completely unfunny. Yet it kills when performed.

I've heard great comedians can take an innocuous statement, insert a well placed pause, and trick the audience into thinking they heard a joke.

In the end, I think it's the actor that makes or breaks the final product.

Dan Williams said...

You changed your mind, Amanda, because you have good writing instincts. It may not seem like there's an underlying structure to each unit you write, but there is. That's what you learn as you learn the craft. Your writing may just come to you now like magic, but it IS following rules.

For instance: how do you write a story beat? Is there a structure to guide you? Yes.

You can write a story beat with three lines.

First Speaker makes a statement.
Second Speaker adds new information.
First Speaker revises his statement.

Example:

First Speaker: That guy thinks he's such a jock, carrying a neon green gym bag everywhere he goes.

Second Speaker: He has a company that makes neon green gym bags.

First Speaker: Oh, so he's an entrepreneur, POSING as a jock. I knew that guy wasn't much of a jock.

I'm not saying this is good writing or anything. I just made up on the spot. But the structure is what guides me and protects me. It tells the writer what to look for. You can do it unconsciously or you can learn the structure and do it with both the conscious and the unconscious mind. (And this is just one way to write a story beat, there are lots of others.)

Anyway, you are in wonderful L.A. Hope you have a great L.A. day.

worldofhiglet said...

Firstly congratulations on a great site. I found it somehow (via Technorati/Jane Espenson?) - the details are hazy because I've been spending time reading your blog!

I really hope you are successful and I'm sure you will be. You don't strike me as the sort of person who gives up easily and perserverance will pay off.

Your blog has lots of great information and I like your writing style so keep it up and have fun with your writing.

Nicholas said...

This entry about double punchlines has really made me think. I have been bulk watching "Two and a Half Men", and in doing so have concentrated on joke types. It's awesome!

l_fabry said...

Glad to hear your re-writing is going well. Sounds like a lot of work, but it looks like you're on the right track.

I'd love to have a read if an extra pair of eyes is of interest to you.

Best of luck and thanks again for the inside info,
Lilia