what you need for humor

Yesterday I read an appallingly bad script that purported to be a comedy. There was nothing original or funny about it. It was a string of cliches and a few set pieces in which characters acted out for no particular reason. None of the action was grounded in character. Yeah, I didn’t like it!

It did get me thinking about comedy a bit. One of my mentors maintains that funny and sad go together and I think he’s right. You need contrast and funny doesn’t occur in a vacuum. If you want to create the kind of tension necessary for comic relief, well, what do you think you need? Not empty silliness. This was underscored watching Chaplin’s City Lights last week.

There’s a quote attributed to either Woody Allen or Carol Burnett (depending on your source) that comedy is tragedy plus time.  Well, maybe. More here.  What it can be is timeless. Just read a good translation of The Clouds by the Father of Comedy, Aristophanes.

Whether you’re writing comedy, drama, or something in between, you still need vivid characters, a good story and an original voice. Now go write something.

UPDATE: The real tragedy right now is, of course, Haiti and there are scores of excellent relief organizations: Mercy Corps, Doctors Without Borders, Catholic Charities are just a few. Over 90% of your donation to Catholic Charities goes to the need. The others are also highly rated by the watchdog groups like Charity Navigator.