First of all, thanks to all those of you who participated in the punch line exercise. Some great jokes pitched and also some jokes that fell into traps I’ll discuss.
A number of people commented on Julie W.’s, which were all fabulous. In case you missed them:
EARL: Raylene, it's good to see you, but if you didn't get your braces off yet, I gotta pass.
CURB: Hi. Charlie Sheen's place is actually two doors down. Both Mediterraneans, though. Understandable mistake - happens all the time. (as she starts to get up) You know what? Why don't you take the sheets with you? They're Italian. Very soft. (beat) And the pillowcases. (beat) And the pillows.
KING: Is my wife under the covers with you oh dear God please say yes.
FAMILY: This reminds me of the time Richard Gere paid me a thousand dollars to spend the weekend with him in a fancy hotel suite.
Richard Gere and Peter (dressed as Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman") in the lobby of the Regent Beverly Wilshire. Richard opens a jewelry box. Peter reaches in delicately to take the necklace. Richard snaps the box closed on his hand. But instead of laughing adorably like Julia did... PETER: "Ow! What the hell? You son of a bitch, that hurt!" RICHARD: "I'm sorry. I... I thought it would be cute. PETER: "Well, it was not, Richard. It was not."
There were other equally good lines contributed too. But all of Julie’s were fresh, funny, within the contexts of those shows, and generally had offbeat unexpected spins.
Here are a few of the traps. I point these out only to identify them so they can be avoided in the future, especially in specs.
I purposely used a hooker in the set up to establish a possible taste trap. With a sexual reference you need to deftly be funny without going over the line. Mentions of 69 and Chlamydia cross that line. If you think a reader might say “Yikes!” when he reads a joke, lose it. Same with the Jewish and ethnic jokes. There’s a fine line between outrageous and inappropriate, even for an out-there show like FAMILY GUY. One contributor pitched a Holocaust joke that NO show would EVER do. Come on. Use your better judgement.
Some people went for the obvious character traits. Earl and his list for example. If it’s the first thing you think of, stop, take a moment, and see if there is something fresher.
Some were too long. One contributor even acknowledged it. The shorter, the better.
Name mentions in general can be a trap. They date the show. That’s one of the problems with MURPHY BROWN in syndication. Willard Scott jokes and Dan Quayle jokes don’t hold up.
There were a number of jokes pitched that quite frankly I didn’t even get. Either they were convoluted or illogical or just weird. If you write a spec, have some friends read it before sending it out. If there are jokes they don’t understand don’t explain them to them. Replace them with clearer jokes.
Did you notice how much easier it was to come up with jokes for Earl and Larry rather than Doug? That’s because Earl and Larry and better defined comic characters, with very well conceived personas. Doug is sort of just, well…a guy. When creating your characters keep that in mind. Peter is easy to write for also because he’s a cartoon and not constrained by reality. But sometimes too much freedom can be worse than too little. There’s a danger of being too silly, too outrageous, too forced.
Again, thanks to all who participated. And you’re welcome to keep participating. And watch these four shows to see if they lift any of the lines pitched.