Wednesday, February 01, 2017
How do you know if something is funny?
One theory is to write what YOU think is funny. And that’s fine… up to a point. You may have an offbeat comic sensibility that only a select few would find equally hilarious. Your personal sense of humor might be too dark or goofy or raunchy or erudite for broader audiences. But if you don't think something is funny you're probably right.
Giving your script to others you trust is also helpful. But not everyone knows how to read a script. Not everyone can picture what’s on the screen based on text. And this goes for people in the industry. I know agents and network executives who can't read a script. Scary, no? Also, you need to find objective readers. Friends and family will often blow sunshine up your skirt.
When I’m writing alone, here’s what I do:
I always try to visualize an audience of complete strangers and whether or not they would laugh at this. And I try to be tough. I’ll say, “this is a smile at best” or “this might get a little chuckle.” In those cases I’ll try to beat the jokes and raise the expectations up to “possible laugh.”
Am I always right? Of course not. But I’m right more often than not. And there are more good lines in the draft because I was dogged and didn’t settle. But you never really know what works. As I’ve mentioned numerous times before, live audiences will laugh at one joke one night and another the next.
But I will say this. Maybe I’m wrong predicting a certain joke will get a laugh, but I’m almost always right predicting when a joke isn’t good enough. If I can’t picture an audience laughing at a line I wrote there’s a damn good chance it will bomb in front of a real audience. So I keep working, keep striving, keep trying to find that golden line that will hit the bullseye.
Bottom line: be tough on yourself, and for that audience in your head, don’t let it be filled with relatives of the actors or tourists who are just thrilled to be seeing a TV show, or a fraternity that stopped in thinking they were at a bachelor party.