Carrie Harris | Young Adult Author

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Writing Comedy with the Muppets

When I tell people I write comedy, I usually get one of two responses. #1 is "Say something funny." Um, duh? I WRITE comedy. Gimme a book, and I'll read it aloud to you. The second thing people say is, "I don't know how you do it. Writing funny stuff is HARD."

To a certain extent, I agree. It's very easy to write bad comedy, not so easy to write it really well. Luckily, I learned from some of the greats.

Everything I know about comedy? I learned from the Muppets.

Okay, so maybe that's exaggerating, but still? If you want to write funny, sit down and watch a few episodes. You'll learn things like this:



The takeaways from this clip?
  1. You can never go wrong with a gag about tickling chickens.
  2. Pigs in spacesuits are pretty funny too.
  3. It's no secret that I adore Jim Henson. I wish I could find the exact quote, but one time he said something like, "If a joke isn't funny enough the first time, repeat it five times. It'll be hilarious." Okay, so I'm sure he said it a lot better than I did, but the point is the same. One of the hardest things I've had to learn (and am still learning) is where that sweet spot is repetition-wise. Every joke has one. Some don't need repeating, because they're funny enough the first time. Others need a little help. But here's the problem: if you repeat too many times, you actually LESSEN its impact. I think some of the classic book mashups suffer from this problem. The first time the (insert creature here) attacks (a character from classic literature), it's freaking hilarious. The second time? Yeah, it's funny. If you don't add something different by the third time? Boring. We've seen it all before, so the novelty is gone and we're looking for something new and unexpected to laugh at. So repeating gags need some development. I always look for ways to add to them, make them funnier. In this case? Henson turns the gag around at the end, and the chicken's chasing the Swedish chef with the cleaver. The unexpectedness makes it funnier and caps off the gag.

What do you think? Have you ever used a running gag in your work? What do you think of them in general?

9 comments:

Claire Dawn said...

I love reading comedy. Between you and Tawna Fenske, I snarf myself half to death on a daily basis. I think I'd like to try my hand at writing comedy. Some day.

I don't think people realise that writing funny scenes has nothing to do with being able to tell a joke. People who write comedy are not neccessarily funny in real life, they're crazy. They do crazy things or play practical jokes. They have a zillion stories about how they cross-dressing for a lark or making cupcakes with salt or having to drink 2L of water when the security guard at school catches them with their makeshift PET bottle water gun. (That last may or may not have happened to me during my school days :)

Tabitha said...

If I sit down and try to write something funny, it's horrible. So I've given up on that. :) If I don't try, then I can often come up with funny dialog or a funny situation. But I'm a looong way from pulling off a running gag.

But I love the Muppets. A friend of mine just gave me the first two seasons on dvd, and I'm going to settle in with a bowl of popcorn and introduce it to my kids. Fun will be had by all. :)

Suzanne Casamento said...

I'm crazy about the Muppets. LOVE THEM. There's a live show here in LA called Puppet Up - you would love it!

http://www.laweekly.com/2009-01-08/stage/out-of-control-freaks/

Puppeteers use Jim Henson's Muppets and do live improv. It's hilarious! When you come to LA on your book tour I'm taking you to that show.

Jamie Eyberg said...

My kids have gotten me season 1 & 2 of the muppet show. Pure Win. How can you not learn something from them?

Tracy Edward Wymer said...

Muppets take Manhattan... hilarious. "Tickling chickens" is also funny. Congrats on the book deal, Carrie.

Carolyn V. said...

I love running gags. I've only used a few of them. But they are fun to add in. =)

storyqueen said...

I love the muppets. They rock. An Pigs in Space...well, it doesn't get any better than that.

Shelley

Myrna Foster said...

First, I love the Muppets.

And second, I have a running gag in my Nano from last November, and I hope it's as much fun to read as it was to write. I'm a little afeared that, when I pick it up to revise, I'm going to roll my eyes and hit the delete button repeatedly.

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