Keys to Writing Comedy

by Chris Brower
Stand-up is one way to deliver your comedy to an audience.

Stand-up is one way to deliver your comedy to an audience.

John Rowley/Photodisc/Getty Images

While making your friends laugh may be easy, making strangers laugh is totally different. In that case you're trying to convince a person who doesn't know you to let down his guard and let out a chuckle. Some people are born naturally funny, while others learn tricks along the way to generate laughs. Whatever the case, your comedy writing will be improved if you focus on several key points.

Develop a Voice

Your comedy should have a clear voice. George Carlin was an angry critic of culture, Steven Wright is a deadpan eccentric and Jeff Foxworthy is a redneck. The same is true if you're writing for the screen. Memorable comic characters have a particular voice and viewpoint. Woody Allen's classic comedy films are known for the characters Allen played, usually neurotic about love and life, adding dimension to the character and the comedy.

Write a Lot

Like any art form, comedy writing often means generating a lot of material, finding the best pieces and throwing out the rest. Monologue writers for late-night shows write dozens and dozens of jokes from which only a small number are ever performed on air. Rather than mourn the loss of your jokes, generate a lot of jokes and pick the very best ones. This applies to any form of comedy writing, from stand-up to screenplays. Not every joke is comedy gold, but some might be. Including weak jokes brings down a script or a performance. Stick to your very best material.

The Unexpected

Comedy is about surprise, telling or showing us something that we were not expecting. Take the classic joke: "What's black and white and red all over? A newspaper." What made the punchline -- a newspaper -- unexpected was that people assumed it was an object with the color red. They didn't guess it was actually "read all over." Thus, when writing your comedy material, remember to surprise each audience member, leading her down a path and then giving her a punchline she wasn't expecting.

Good Story

If you're writing a comedy script or novel, don't forget the importance of a good story. Jokes are certainly important, but they lose their value if the story is weak. Audiences become more invested when the story is good, making the laughs that much better. Woody Allen's 1977 classic film "Annie Hall" won four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen. While there were certainly a lot of factors making this a successful movie, including the talent of the actors, the great story drew people in and helped make the laughs even bigger.

About the Author

Chris Brower is a writer with a B.A. in English. He also spent time studying journalism and utilizes both to deliver well-written content, paying close attention to audience, and knowing one word could determine whether a product is a success or a failure. He has experience writing articles, press releases, radio scripts, novels, short stories, poems and more.

Photo Credits

  • John Rowley/Photodisc/Getty Images