Sunday, February 01, 2009

Rule #1 if you want to be a comedy writer

My recent post on all the schlock direct-to-video movies elicited this comment from “Dave”: What's even sadder about these is that you took the time to write down all the cover copy.

Not only did I take the time to do that, when I first went into Blockbuster I didn’t have a pen & paper so made a special trip back to jot down the info.

Rule #1 if you want to be a comedy writer: learn to think funny.

Always be on the lookout for absurdity or irony or just general goofiness. So when you’re browsing through the shelves of Blockbuster and you happen upon WHAT WOULD JESUS BUY? it strikes your eye. My guess is two hundred people before me read the title and just moved on.

There are websites where people report funny snatches of dialogue they overhear on the street of big cities. Do you pay attention to that when you’re out for a stroll? I bet funny things were said within your earshot just as good or better than what’s listed on those sites. But you have to listen, develop a comic radar. As an experiment go to a crowded mall, just take a seat in the courtyard, and listen as people walk by.

When George Lucas told Carrie Fisher she couldn’t wear a bra during STAR WARS because there is “no underwear in space”, how many other actors would have taken that at face value?

Comedy is all around you. It’s misspelled tattoos, it’s CELEBRITY FIT CLUB, Bank of America commercials offering “risk free” bonds, Speedos, Golden Globes, KFC meals in a bowl, beauty pageants, THE VIEW, life lessons from Teri Hatcher, Rush Limbaugh drug problems, and movie titles like ZOMBIE STRIPPERS.

Watch for them. You’ll become a much better comedy writer (or stand up comic) and if nothing else, you’ll go through life damn entertained.


Christina said...

There are websites where people report funny snatches of dialogue they overhear on the street of big cities. Do you pay attention to that when you’re out for a stroll?

How about if you're the person saying stuff that people overhear and send into the newspaper? My friend (a screenwriting teacher at Academy of Art University) has sent in things she's overheard me say at parties twice to the SF Chronicle for their "Public Eavesdropping" section, and they were published. Last one:

"Christmas was really fun this year. We have a felon in the family now."

(It's true - my cousin embezzled a bunch of money and was just sentenced...)

Emily Blake said...

How dare you insult Zombie Strippers. That film is destined to be a classic our grandchildren will study in film school.

The nerve of some comedians.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the movie, but I remember seeing the trailer for What Would Jesus Buy? when it made the internet rounds a while back... it didn't look that bad: Pretty funny for a "documentary."

(Verification word: Sessess. Is that when your achievements don't suck enough for success?)

By Ken Levine said...

The movie doesn't have to be bad. The title just has to be amusing to catch your eye.

Jennifer B said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Here's a question for you out of curiosity: do you think a lot of comedy writers end up doing stand up comedy or vice versa?

In my search for various writing gigs I often come across stand up comedians who are looking for a writer to write their material. For some reason I always assumed stand up comics write their own material. Welcome to my ignorant world.

leor said...

your mention of misspelled tattoos reminded me of a store sign i saw last night:

and i just do you pierce a tattoo?

Anonymous said...

KFC? Wait a minute. Now you've stepped over the line. Otherwise this was reassuring and appreciated; all these years I thought it was an illness, and suddenly it's a vocation. Which is another way of saying, I suspect the advice most of us really need is how can we not not do this every waking hour?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the theme was the '87 Ray Steven's song "Would Jesus Wear a Rolex on his Television Show?" A song not taken to kindly by holy rollers... it didn't stay on the air too long.

I do hear hilarious bits of converstation all the time, think I'll remember them, and then don't. Note pad, what a concept!

WV: Modout- the Seacrest sign off in the Carnaby Street swingin' '60's!

blogward said...

Here's an anecdote I overheard:

An assistant director was briefing a crew, among whom was a girl of Chinese parents but from Rochdale, which I guess is the American equivalent of North Dakota. "Oh", he said, picking upon this pretty Asian face, "do you know May Lee? She's Chinese". Quick as a flash she came back in a broad, traditional Northern British accent: "No, do you know all the twats in the world?"

Thanks to Eryl.

Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I've seen most of What Would Jesus Buy? Pretty good documentary.

Anonymous said...

The way I do it is, I write down everything I hear in public, on TV, during phone conversations, etc., and then later, after dinner, I read everything and look for the funny stuff.

I go through about 3 legal pads every day.

Kirk said...

Christina reminds me of something I heard at a job fair recently.

"They have to hire me. I only have one felony on my record!"

Karen from Mentor said...

Hi Ken,
I recently overheard something that I'm using in my stand up:
A bunch of young guys sat down near me and one of them said "I had the worst experience this morning...I walked in on my grandma getting out of the shower." After all the oh mans! Dudes! and groans were done, there was a pause and one of them said "So how'd she look?"
This ties in nicely with a bit I do about how men will look at any woman if there's a chance of nudity no matter what she looks like.
I LOVE your Blog. I'm currently stalking Tom Anderson..Thanks for the laughs.
Karen from Mentor

Buttermilk Sky said...

Me, on the phone: "Do you carry 48-inch fluorescent tubes?"

Store clerk: "You mean the four foot ones?"

I believe his name is Darrell. Or possibly Darrell.

I'm glad to hear you went back to the video store with paper and pen. I was afraid you had rented all those gems.

VW: mitar. What a bishup wears.

Anonymous said...

the title "Snakes on a Plane" was the internet's source of comedy for about a year (we had on clue about the movie, except there'd be motherfucking snakes on a motherfucking plane).

So the movie wasn't that great, but still, it could have been a classic; the title still worked.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine, name of Brian McCray, who also notices funny things he hears sent me this today, about listening to an old episode of DRAGNET:

"I was almost falling asleep I woke up and almost fell out of bed laughing when I heard [Sgt. Joe] Friday put out an APB on

"A 26 year old, male, cauc"

Nearly choked to death laughing. How embarrassing to die by choking on Joe Fridays ejaculated "cauc" but it nearly happened so help me.

1968 episode. I wonder how many times THAT went out on air before someone put the kybosh on it and told him to say THE ENTIRE WORD!"

Well, I think the worst part would be the strip search.

Anonymous said...

Patton Oswalt does a great bit about the KFC bowl, which he refers to as something like "a sadness pile in a failure bowl."

Amanda said...

Blockbuster is still in business? And people actually go there??