I struggle with this one a lot, and I can’t be the only one. My early drafts never seem to be funny enough, no matter how hard I’ve worked at getting the jokes in. Oftentimes it’s just a case of adding more and more funny to each draft, but sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes the problem is much deeper.
So, ask yourself a few questions, and answer them honestly …
Is the plot funny?
Maybe there’s something about the plot that’s preventing the funny from forming. Maybe it’s not providing enough conflict, or not enough chances for comedic moments. If your main character is running late for an important date, is there an obstacle you can put in her way? Even better, can the obstacle be of her own making, such as refusing to pay the parking because her car got scratched. Her righteous indignation is causing her problem, and what is she prepared to do to overcome the hurdle?
For good examples, see any episode of Frasier.
Do Your Characters Have Conflict?
This doesn’t mean they should be arguing all the time, but giving them opposite worldviews will bring out the jokes. Tom and Barbara get on well with Jerry and Margo in The Good Life, but their lifestyle choices often conflict. That’s why this clip is so memorable:
Are You Relying On Dialogue For Jokes?
Not everything funny has to come out of the mouths of your characters. The above clip demonstrates that perfectly. If you can get some comedy out of visuals and action, do so. It’s not an accident that the most memorable scenes from Only Fools And Horses are Del falling through the bar, and Del and Rodney dressed as Batman & Robin.
Are You Overlooking Your Supporting Characters?
Great comedy can come from great cameos. Write these supporting roles like they’re visiting from another sitcom, and not just bland people who need to be there. And sometimes make them even bigger than your main character. Here’s the perfect example (imagine this scene with a bland flying corp recruiter instead of Lord Flashheart):
Are Your Characters Talking To Each Other?
Or are they just taking it in turns to vocalise your brilliant one liner? This scene from Porridge is funny throughout, and most of it comes from their natural interaction. It’s a scene born from their character dynamic.
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