Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Comedy Writing Team MATCH GAME

In an earlier post I talked about the benefits of writing with a partner. Summary: you always have a ride when your car is in the shop.

But you have to find the RIGHT partner. Some tips from someone who’s been in a successful partnership for 39 years:

Make sure you both have similar sensibilities. If you love Patton Oswalt and his all-time favorite comedian is Pauley Shore, keep lookin’. (If his all-time favorite comedian is Pauley Shore keep looking even if your favorite funnyman is Dan Rather.)

There have been a number of sibling teams that have worked out. The Charles Brothers, the Coen Brothers. Make sure you and your sib really get along and your last name begins with C.

He/she partnerships? If you complement each other then go for it. Some of Hollywood’s most successful teams are this configuration. Certainly one of my favorites – Anne Flett Giordano & Chuck Ranberg.

Do you and your potential partner have similar work habits? If you like to work in a quiet office during the day and she is only comfortable writing at the Viper Club after hours, continue your search.

Have similar aspirations. If your goal is to be a writer and his is just to use this as a means to move into directing or to get chicks, pass. If he wants to write Oscar winning movies in five years and you want to punch up Bette Midler’s Vegas act, shake hands and run.

Figure out just how you’re going to work. Head-to-head? Splitting the assignment up and each taking individual scenes? One person writes the rough draft and the other rewrites it? There’s a screenwriting team of women who sit around the pool and get smashed. One mans the computer while the other floats on a raft. That works for them. I could see it working for me. What works for you?

The Odd Couple would not make a good writing team. Felix would want to start the assignment right away and turn it in early. Oscar would wait until legal action was threatened. Both of you need to be one or the other.

Now the essential stuff:

You must trust and respect your partner. If you don’t think he’s the talented one of the two you haven’t found the right person. And that’s not saying you always have to defer to your partner. I don’t know a single writing team that doesn’t argue. But here’s the key:

Don’t make it personal.

Let me repeat in all-caps:


Think of TV wrestlers. They kill each other on camera and after the show all go out for beers. Argue over script issues but don’t let the disagreement bleed into personal feelings. And along those lines…

Fight fair.

No passive-aggressive bullshit, no mind games, no guilt trips. My partner and I have a policy. First off, we both have to agree before a line goes in. Secondly, if we can’t agree, and one can’t quickly convince the other, we just throw the line out and come up with something else. Trust me, it takes less time to craft a new joke than spend all afternoon arguing and ultimately one person ends up unhappy.

I know this sound like a lot of rules but the rewards if you find the right person can be enormous. And don’t kid yourself. Your car will need servicing sometime.

Happy hunting.


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Ane said...

Everything you said does make sense, but I don't know. I always feel stupid when writing, it all seems so silly until the product is finished, when occasionally it isn't so silly anymore. That goes for both comedy and drama. So I personally do not include someone in the process. But maybe I'm wrong and I'd be more successful if I did.

Barefoot Billy Aloha said...

So it was KLUGMAN who started that stupid wear-my-ballcap-backwards goofiness! I forgot! Arrest that man!!

Johnny Walker said...

Still searching for mine...

Ken, maybe your next book could be about your early experiences breaking into the industry? The struggles you and David went through. Since you met in the military, it could be a good follow on from The Me Generation :)

Kelly said...

Isn't this post from 2008? I would probably have referenced that somewhere...

Keith said...

Speaking of writing teams, imagine my surprise when I watched "Beat the Devil" last night and saw the combination: Screenplay by Truman Capote and John Huston.

My guess is they were never in the same room.

Rich D said...

Other great male'female writing tems - Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich and Betty Comden and Adolph Green

Dave Mackey said...

Having a hard time coming up with husband/wife writing teams. Austin and Irma Kalish. Are Mitch and Jana Hunter married?