Monday, May 16, 2011

Writing Comedy is Serious Business

© Heather Haven 2011 all rights reserved

In my far-off youth and for as long as I can remember, lurked inside me the heart of a comedy writer. I wanted nothing more than to be writing funny quips for people, like Woody Allen did for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, back in the fifties. Just to make it clear, I wasn’t nearly as impressed by Allen’s fore into his own comedy shows, record albums, films, and even less impressed with his romantic encounters. What got me where I live was him writing words for performers that made an audience laugh. I couldn’t imagine a greater existence.

One of my very first jobs as a writer in New York City was writing for No Soap Radio. As the name implies, we wrote funny ads and commercials for radio, had a ball and got paid a weekly salary! Does it get any better than that? Of course, the weekly stipend was so little I often had to decide if I would pay my rent or the phone bill, but by golly, I was a comedy writer. It was a short-lived chapter of my life, maybe a little more than a year, but the things I learned within that group have held fast for the rest of my writing life.

The art of comedy is serious business and you’d better know your business. You’d better know timing, delivery, and what the funny words are. By funny words – and most people don’t think about this – these are words that automatically cause people to smile or chortle. For instance:

Orange? Not so funny. Kumquat. Funny.

Move? Not so funny. Jiggle. Funnier.

Glasses? Not so funny. Spectacles. Funny. Or maybe more funny. Wait a minute. Maybe not so funny.

Testicles? Whoa. Never mind. But in comedy, expect the unexpected. It often gets a laugh.

But back to words, if you don’t have the words in the right order, with the right rhythm and cadence, it’s probably not going to work. I’ve known comics to work on a one-line joke for weeks until they get it right.

Speaking of comics, have you noticed they often talk in violent or military terms? “I slaughtered ‘em last night,” “Man, that audience was murder,” “Go out and kill ‘em, pal,” phrases like that.

There’s a reason for it. If you don’t get that laugh, you might as well be dead. Comics are very serious about their laughs. Same with authors who write a funny mystery series. That corpse better be laughing while he’s falling to the ground. Otherwise, I don’t sleep so good at night.

About the author:Heather Haven’s novel, MURDER IS A FAMILY BUSINESS, the first in the Alvarez Murder Mystery series, was epublished by MuseItUp Publishing in January, 2011 and is now out in print. The second in the series, A WEDDING TO DIE FOR, debuted April 22nd, 2011. She is currently editing the 3rd of the series, and says they are a joy to write. Heather gets to be all the characters, including the cat!
Follow Heather's blog at:
MURDER IS A FAMILY BUSINESS Youtube book trailer


Cheryl said...

Thanks for hosting Heather today. This is a great article. She's a very funny lady, even when she's writing murder mysteries.

Marta Stephens said...

Heather, welcome to Murder By 4.

So often the laughter that's in our heads loses the old "umph" by the time it gets on paper. Yes, writing comedy is a real talent!

Heather Haven said...

Thanks for the welcome to Murder By 4! I've been reading this blogsite for awhile now, and have been impressed by its contents and writers. For me, this is one of the hightlights of the PUYB tour!

MuseItUp Publishing said...

Heather is not only funny but a very prolific writer.

Great article, Heather, and here's wishing you continued success.

Pat Dale said...

So getting a laugh is serious business? The beauty of it is that the audience doesn't realize it is serious at all. Like most artistic pursuits, the better you do it, the less likely your audience is to think about the work behind it.
I have to say, you've got the timing and delivery thing down. love the 'natural' way your prose rolls along, leaving the reader in stitches while getting the story told. Well done, Heather!

Pat Dale

Nan D Arnold said...

Would you say a person is born with an innate sense of comic timing? And I wish someone would re-run clips of Woody Allen doing stand-up. A Texas gal, I didn't "get" his humor until I moved to Miami and discovered New Yorkers and their wonderful earthy humor. Don't like all his movies but gotta love his timing. Best with your books.

Anonymous said...

Heather's way of turning a phrase is subtle here but very entertaining. Great article, Heather! I am trying to make it to as many stops as I can :^)

Anonymous said...

Heather - you've definitely peaked my curiosity over how to write humor, and you do it so well.(smile) I've been wanting to get your first book Murder is a Family today is my big day. I'd love a lesson on comedy.
Great post - thanks for sharing.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Heather! I'm still catching up and sorry I'm here late to comment, but I loved your piece. Fascinating history, too! Thanks for being our guest blogger. Now I'm off to check out your new series. ;o)