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  • Writer's pictureSimon Warne

Show me the funny!

Tell us a joke then. The five words no comedy writer wants to hear, unless they're a stand-up comedian as well. In which case they'll rattle off several, or as many as it takes to make the questioner laugh out loud.

Comedy is an integral part of my writing. I am incapable of producing something that doesn't have at least one funny moment - even if it's one of my 'serious' pieces. My first play, about euthanasia, had people weeping at the end, depressing didn't cover it. Yet someone who came to see it from the BBC suggested I wrote comedy on the basis of a couple of lines. And that's how it started.

From plays with the odd funny line, I progressed to those that were actually billed as comedies. With mixed results. While audiences generally laughed out loud, critics didn't always share the joy. The good news was that producers were still keen to stage my shows though and I learnt a lot in the process. There’s nothing quite like sitting in the back of a theatre and observing how an audience reacts to what you’ve written. Hearing where they laugh and where they don’t.

You couldn’t be funny if you tried, a friend told me after one show. Tongue in cheek, I hope. But it’s true, if you try to be funny, nine times out of ten you’re not. If you have a funny filter, your take on any story or any given situation will naturally be funny. And if your sense of humour is shared by others, the best way to find out is through live performances or a read through in front of an audience. What they laugh it might be your turn of phrase, the situation you put your characters in, the physical response from characters rather than the line.

And that’s been another learning for me, don’t assume that the laugh has got to be in the spoken word. I’ve been lucky enough to work with a number of very talented comic actors, and what they seem to enjoy the most is the opportunity to add their own physical humour to what you’ve given them. That’s not to take anything away from spoken gags and to those who can write them back-to-back.

Trusting your actors with your work is crucial to comedy development. When a comedy actor asks you to say a line to them because “they don’t get it”, which some do, it’s not really because they don’t get it, it’s because in their head they hear it differently. And by differently I mean funnier (usually). Performers are always looking to get the best possible performance out of your script, and the best showcase for their talents. So if they can think of a funnier way of delivering your script, it’s worth listening to.

And a good comedy director will provide the opportunities for performers to get the best out of your script (and gently squash any attempts to sabotage it by comedy actors who may get carried away with themselves).

So, to deliver on the funny ticket you need to trust your performers and your director - and ultimately you’ve got to trust yourself to provide them with the materials they need to make you look good.

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