The Art of Comedy Writing
Between my screeds about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and my critically acclaimed novel, people sometimes forget that I am quite an accomplished comedy writer. I mean, it takes a certain level of talent to create public access television for literal years (let's not speculate on specifically what level that is). In addition to chortle-inducing articles for this blog and my hilarious off-off-Broadway musical comedy Oh, Bridget!, I once wrote a screenplay for a sitcom pilot that my father described as "kind of funny, in places." Why am I telling you all this? Well, you see, I have recently taken it upon myself to begin another intensive comedy proyecto, and I have come to realize in the course of working on it that I could get a twofer going and turn it into a lesson for you, my loyal and enraptured audience. A real master class in comedy, if you will. Allow me to explain.
Comedy, much like open heart surgery, is quite difficult. But you know what they say: split enough chests open, and eventually somebody will survive. The important thing is to just dip your toe into the rippling waters of Lake Ha-ha and start writing. Do you think I was just born with this dazzling amount of talent and hilarity? I mean, I was, but I'm an anomaly. For most others, quality only comes after a ton of hard work, practice, and frustration scotch.
Now, this is the part where I could provide you with a laundry list of to-do's that, if followed properly, could turn you into the next Ralphie May. But your old pal Joey is a more "lead by example" type guy, and besides, I'm not going to just sit back and let your perspiration start without a little inspiration first. So instead, let me present to you, for the first time viewed by human eyes, an excerpt from the new screenplay I've been working on. It's a very cerebral, innovative sitcom idea I've been tinkering with that is shaping up to be absolutely gangbusters. The title is TGIJeff, which is pretty self-explanatory. Read on, tadpoles, and let my work be the spark that ignites your comedic flame. At the very least, it'll do better than Brokerage.
TGIJeff, Episode 1: You Can't Un-See This!
SCENE: Some type of trendy restaurant/bar/coffee shop, who cares. Background is full of attractive people chatting and smiling. Not like Hollister-level attractive, but more Sears-catalog-level. Our main characters SHERYL, YANNI and FILBERT are sitting around a table in the foreground. They're vaguely college age to early thirties. SHERYL is promiscuous and forgetful but HAWTT [!!!]. YANNI is a foreigner from somewhere foreign with an understated, foreign hotness. FILBERT is a nerd, but a hot one, in a nerdy way. All are very Hollister-level.
FILBERT: Did you guys know that's it's new comic book day? I can't wait to see what new comic books came out today!
SHERYL: I really don't understand why I continue to hang out with you.
YANNI: In my village, the only thing hanging out are the pockets in our jeans, because that is a fashionable style in my village!
Our main man JEFF enters. Very handsome, cool, charismatic dude. Magnetic. Think Mark-Paul Gosselaar. He projects total Gossesomeness.
JEFF: What's shakin', bacon?
YANNI: Hello, Jeff! In my village, when we say hello, we honk our nose and say our name! [honks nose] Yanni!
FILBERT: He knows, Yanni. You tell me that every time you see him.
YANNI: In my village we like to repeat ourselves!
SHERYL: Hey, Jeff. Sorry I couldn't make it to your rainbow party last night. I met up with a friend to...study and we ended up...pulling an all-nighter.
YANNI: She mean she take it to the bone zone!
(SHERYL shrugs as YANNI thrusts crotch vigorously)
JEFF: TMI, guys. TMI.
FILBERT: Hey Jeff, have you read the new issue of Superman or seen the new Star Trek trailer? They're out of this world!
SHERYL: I think I just threw up in my mouth a little.
JEFF: Hey Filbert, your virginity just called. It said it's a thing that still exists.
(Everyone pauses for inevitable audience hoots, hollers, applause, cackles and barks)
SHERYL: Wait a second, guys. Let me tell you about this guy I met yesterday. His name is Mike. Or Alan. Or Thomas. Or...eh, who can keep track.
YANNI: Hey Sheryl, in my village we have a saying for girl like you! We call her "The Village Bicycle"!
FILBERT: Because everybody gets a ride?
YANNI: No, because name of village bicycle is Sheryl!
FILBERT: So Yanni, I've been reading that weird old book you gave me last week, and I have to say, I'm really loving it. If it wasn't for new episodes of The Flash airing on The CW, I wouldn't be able to put it down.
YANNI: My grandfather give me that book! He disappear under mysterious circumstances!
SHERYL: Reading a book? What a socially awkward nerd!
JEFF: (At peak Goss) Oh, snap! Sick burn!
(Pause as audience laughs all oxygen out of their systems, then giggle-wheezes back to attention)
FILBERT: I'll have you know that some of our greatest presidents have been nerds!
SHERYL: Oh sure! Presidents of Nerd-town, more like.
YANNI: Filbert's pride has been dragged into street and publicly hanged!
FILBERT: (Sighs) At least I have my book. It never calls me names or denigrates me in order to feel better about itself. (Pauses) It's no Xbox One, though.
(FILBERT pulls out the old book. Strange characters adorn the cover, and it appears to have a binding of disturbingly fleshy appearance. He opens it and browses through the pages as the others continue to converse. Everyone looks really hot, in an attractiveness way rather than a high temperature way.)
JEFF: (Full of Goss sauce) Dayyyyy-um, Filbert, that's a huge book.
SHERYL: You know what they say: size matters!
YANNI: In my country, size is abstract concept unmeasurable by conventional means!
FILBERT: Reading this book fills me with a strange sense of euphoria. Or a strange sense of something. It's a strange sense.
SHERYL: There were some strange scents coming out of the bathroom last time you used it.
JEFF: (Just Gossin' again) Sizzle!
FILBERT: No, seriously guys, I'm starting to feel really strange, Like the words of the book are somehow...entering my mind and...bringing some strange unknowable presence with them. It's calling me...filling me...
JEFF: Sounds like one of Sheryl's dates.
YANNI: In my country we call strange unknowable presence "father"!
(FILBERT's eyes roll back into his head as he starts convulsing. Viscous purplish-black foam pours from his mouth. Guttural moans and faint screams escape his quaking lips.)
SHERYL: Looks like someone had Taco Bell for lunch.
JEFF: (Like a true Goss playa) Hey Fil, close your mouth! You're getting virgin everywhere!
YANNI: What a coincidence! In my country that is second most popular saying!
FILBERT: (Lying on the floor, tongue hanging from his mouth as foul liquids and fouler sounds spill forth) H’chtelegoth H’chtelegoth H’chtelegoth
And that's probably a good place to end it. The rest of the script I'm keeping to myself, because one, you probably can't handle all that awesomeness in one sitting, and two, you ain't paying me for it. But really, I think this excerpt does an admirable job of achieving the goal of this little lesson. Read it again (as if you needed the encouragement) and this time, really focus in the story I'm telling. One of the things you need to remember when writing comedy like this is that the plot needs to flow naturally. You can't just write a bunch of bangin' jokes without some form of structure. But if you get a solid, creative framework full of interesting, dynamic characters, and spice it up with ample portions of meaty, savory jokes, then you've got yourself a big pot of stew. Comedy stew, served with a dollop of hearty hardy-har-hars.
Hopefully this little showcase has been instructive and inspirational to you. Now go ahead and get writing, beat that funny bone with a tire iron and please share with us what nuggets of fine hilarious ore you mine from humor's earthy bowels! Here's one last joke to get you started:
Why did the chicken cross the road?
It didn't. It crossed your mom.
Joey Marsilio considers his novel Henry Garrison: St. Dante's Savior to be secondary to the masterpiece that is Oh, Bridget!, but he stills thinks you should check it out.