Monday, April 17, 2017

Drop It on the (Comedic) Beat



I am a lover of most things comedy: stories, movies, and TV shows.

For me, comedic writing is one of the toughest genres to write. So many of us (new and old writers) try too hard to be funny, and in the end, it sounds forced and… well, just plain not funny.

Comedies entertain me, and they also make me think. Slapstick, ridiculous comedies (sometimes fused with drama) like Psych; genre-shifting, parody-laden, bawdy comedies like Archer (my fave show on TV); and comedies that speak harsh truths to social issues, such as Chappelle's Show all speak to my funny bone.

As a writer, I like thinking about the comedic writers' ability to make comedy integral to a story, not forced but fluid.

The biggest takeaway I get from good comedic writing is TIMING, and to that end, comedy has a lot to do with music; it, too, has rhythm, tempo, beat.

Those stories, movies, and TV shows that infuse comedy in a fluid way, making it integral to the storyline, have a rhythm to the storyline, and the funnies all manage to hit on the right beats. If the writer drops the funny too soon or too late, the funny falls flat.

The term comic timing is often used when speaking of comedic writing. Comic timing "is the use of rhythm, tempo, and pausing to enhance comedy and humour" ("Comic timing," Wikipedia). The pausing is typically called the beat, "a pause taken for the purposes of comic timing, often to allow the audience time to recognize the joke and react, or to heighten the suspense before delivery of the expected punch line" ("Comic timing," Wikipedia).

When I think about timing, it mirrors what is referred to as "comic timing," but it goes beyond that, too. The rhythm, tempo, and beat are not just about setting up a joke, its punchline. For me, it's about making the comedy so integrated to the story that there is no pause for the audience to "get it" because the comedic beat is one of several beats that help to create a story's "song." It's a very fine, subtle distinction, but for me, it's an important one.


What are some of your favorite comedies (stories, movies, TV)? How does timing make your favorites successful?




Creative Passionista Shon Bacon is an author, a crafter, an editor, and an educator whose biggest joys are writing and helping others develop their craft. You can learn more about Shon at her website, ChickLitGurrl.

9 comments :

  1. You're so right, Shonell. Timing is everything, in comedy and in life. I admit I don't watch many recent comedies, but the ones that stay in my mind are I Loved everything Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore did. Then, Lucy, Taxi and Fraser. Lucy was just plain belly-laugh funny. Taxi had wonderful characters with some situations that still tickle my funny bone when I think of them. Fraser had great timing and great characters. I was never a big fan of Seinfeld. Too neurotic, but obviously I'm in a minority there. Great post.

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    1. Thank you, Polly! And I forgot about Taxi. There are a lot of older shows, like SOAP, that I loved for their comic timing.

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  2. I'm not big on comedies or comedians, and I've never liked slapstick. Dick Van Dyke is a significant exception. However, I enjoy many movies, TV shows, and books that incorporate humor as an integral part of the story. While life is serious, it certainly contains funny moments that make it palatable, especially during dark times. Love this post, Shon.

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    1. Thank you, Linda. And you know, I think that's what I was trying to get at toward the end... that life is serious, yet it contains funny moments. They are intrinsically connected to a lie. There are no pauses for them; they just happen when they are supposed to happen.

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  3. There are so many kinds of comedy. My husband is big into puns. Me, I like snappy comebacks. As I get older, though, I find I dislike mean humor.

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    1. Same here, Dani. Not a big fan of mean humor. And honestly, these days, with so much craziness going on, I don't mind delving into ridiculous comedy just for the laughs.

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  4. I'm trying to inject some humour into my current wip and really struggling with it. You're right - it's far better when it just flows organically than when one tries to force it.

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  5. When I was writing film scripts with a producer in NY, he wanted to integrate every funny line ever spoken by baseball players into a story we were working on. I had to keep telling him that the lines only worked if they flowed out of the story. We couldn't pound them in with a hammer. LOL Eventually, I convinced him, and we did manage to use quite a few great lines. Just not all that he wanted to.

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  6. The set up, teaser, and payoff of comedy can be applied to other genres. The same method applies to suspense, horror, and romance. Timing is everything.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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