Monday, March 28, 2016
Good sitcoms are about relationships. Who are the characters? How can we identify with them? Why do we care? Why are they funny? How are they different from every other sitcom character we’ve seen for the last 70 years? What unique relationships are among them?
Yeah, I know – that shit can be HARD.
Creating a good situation comedy can take months, even years to craft. Besides the script, casting is crucial. You are dependent on great actors, with chemistry, expert timing, and massive mass appeal. Directors establish a tone and look that could be make-or-break for you.
In short, the planets have to just line up. Seventeen key elements must all fall perfectly into place. It is a Herculean task combined with winning-the-lottery grade good fortune.
Do it the easy way!
Ignore all that shit. Who has time to come up with themes? Layered relationships? What a pain! Relatability? Your head hurts just thinking about it!
Just come up with catchphrase.
One series, HAPPY ENDINGS resorted to catchphrases for almost all their dialogue. They were “uh-mazing.” I’d be “busted in la fa-ce.” They don’t even have to mean anything. “Roof stoof.” “Fosse fist, fosse fist, fosse fist.”
When I think of all those years I wasted learning to write actual jokes…
2 BROKE GIRLS has perfected the non sequitur catchphrase. No need to think up a genuinely funny line. Just throw in “vagina.”
We’re at a time when sitcoms need to be instantly memorable. There are so many channels and delivery systems. How do you get your sitcom to stand out? Sure, you could go for quality, originality, and faith that in time a discerning audience will find your show. But that’s a trap. “Danger, Will Robinson.” Isn’t it smarter to just bypass all of that and come up with a silly phrase or word that viewers might adopt in their own daily speech? And any actor can say?
Am I looking out for you? “Who loves ya, baby?”
So anyway, last night, in a dream, I came up with what I think is the next truly great catchphrase. Don’t even think of stealing it. My team of high-priced attorneys are already working on getting it trademarked for me.
But here it is. Ready?
And not just pronounced any old way. Elongate the word and let your voice go up at the end.
I can hear some of you laughing already.
Just the word "what" can mean so many things. “I didn’t hear you.” “Could you clarify?” “Repeat that.” But my way says ALL of things along with “You’ve gotta be shitting me.” And my version has that all-important-maybe crucial comic windup, that hook. For a catchphrase to be effective an actor must be able to make a meal of it. The audience has to know this is their cue to laugh.
Take any straight line you hear on television. Respond with “Whaaaaaaaaaa-t?” You’d be surprised how often it works. And it always makes sense. (As opposed to say, “The wood has been chopped and stacked.” “Vagina!”)
Y’know, you reach a certain age where you start to worry whether your skills are starting to slip. It’s nice to know I still got it.
Now all I have to do is sit back, wait for the next development season to begin in mid-summer, and enjoy the bidding war.
You don’t believe me? Whaaaaaaa-t?
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM