Tuesday 7 April 2015

What I learned about comedy writing from John Cleese

What I learned about comedy writing from John Cleese, 

the Big Cheese of British Comedy

I enjoyed Mr Cleese’s recently published semi-autobiography. Here is an interview with him after the book came out
While Cleese's book isn't a guide on how to write an autobiography or how to have successful relationships it contains some marvellous gems about writing comedy which I would like to share with you.
  • In professional writing he encourages:- ‘If you kept at it, material would always emerge; a bad day would be followed by a decent one, and somehow an acceptable average would be forthcoming.’
  • ‘Always put the key funny word in a sentence at the end of it, as this will give it maximum impact.’ Hmmm worth reviewing our sentences in the light of this observation.
  • State of mind in writing comedy is important too and I read with delight the obvious - to those who have suffered from this - ‘The more anxious you feel, the less creative you are.’
Cleese’s Two Rules of Writing Comedy.
  • ‘First rule: get your panic in early. Fear gives you energy, so make sure you have plenty of time to use that energy.
  • Second Rule: your thoughts follow your mood. Anxiety produces anxious thoughts; sadness begets sad thoughts; anger, angry thoughts; so aim to be in a relaxed playful mood when you try to be funny.’

Yet what is truly funny? John Cleese worked on a lot of projects in radio, TV and film. The groups he worked with created what became famous comedies with varying types of humour. 
It’s fascinating and frustrating when he says ‘We all felt that about twenty percent of the show was comparatively weak, but there was constant disagreement about which twenty per cent that was.’ - huh. 
So professional actors and comedy writers can’t agree on what is the most funny - and what is the most fail - what hope do we, as beginning comedy writers, have of truly being humorous?
Sense of humour differs markedly from person to person. While in an audience we may be carried away by the laughter of people around us laughing; yet sitting alone in front of the TV or a movie we might laugh somewhere different in the story.
  • This is why I find ‘canned laughter' false and weird. It’s being commanded by an audience to laugh where it’s not natural for me to laugh. I don’t respond well to that kind of push. Other people like to feel they are laughing with the crowd. Incidentally the history of ‘canned laughter’ is an interesting one and here's where you can find out all about it Canned Laughter History
AJ Burton and I have spent a lot of time over the past two years crafting ‘The Hoodle’ a werewolf parody. When there’s just the two of you on your own laughing like loons over jokes of your own devising you really don’t know if anyone else will share the joke.

Like John C, AJ has done most of the actual physical writing of this novel; but, without having myself and others to bounce his jokes off and create situations which we deemed hilarious (as John Cleese did with his long term writing partner Gra - Graham Chapman) - the book would have been a weaker parody, less confident, with fewer characters and situations.
The simple truth is, as can be seen in the credits of any comedy, a comedy partner or team will devise insanely funny ideas together, which one person on their own could never do.
I don’t feel we wasted the many pleasant hours we argued, laughed, drank bottomless coffee, building jokes as wobbly as Jenga castles and doing our best to write them down to create the hilarious antics of Jake and Hemi as they try to destroy The Dog Who Must Not Be Named, before he destroys them and their friends.
Contact us for help with your comedy writing or publishing on Skype
ChristineLeovLealand or email quintessence.publications *at* gmail.com

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