Sunday, May 22, 2011

My reaction to yesterday's comedy test

Thanks to everyone who participated in yesterday’s Comedy Test. As always, your responses were fascinating. And ultimately, there’s a point to all this for you struggling writers. Stay tuned.  

I choose these scenes very specifically – showcasing different types of comedies and different eras. I try to select the funniest and/or most classic examples and yet, invariably, no matter what scene I present, there are quite a few of you who don’t find them funny.

And that’s perfectly okay There are no right answers.

But what it shows is how delicate the notion of comedy is. How many factors play into whether it works.  Here are just a few:

Your nationality.
Whether you like or dislike slapstick.
The performances.
The pace.
Your sensitivity to political, racial, or sexual material.
Your age.
The shock value.
The style.
The length.
Your mood at the time you’re watching.
Your history.
Your willingness to stick with a long set up.
The amount of similar material you’ve already seen.
Your prejudices.
Your level of intelligence.
How relatable the material is to you.
Your knowledge of the references.
The structure of the material.

And everyone’s opinion is as valid as everyone else’s.

Personally, I found yesterday’s scene amusing with some hilarious moments sprinkled in. The “Are you a racist?” test had me on the floor. Some of the other bits worked better for me than others. I happen to like Ricky Gervais. But completely understand that he’s an acquired taste. If I’m being honest, the pace was a little slow for my taste. But I was willing to give Gervais the benefit of the doubt and stick with it. Had it been another comedian I didn’t like as well, or had it been a comedian I didn’t know, I’m not sure I wouldn’t be grabbing the remote a couple of minutes in.

The Kate Winslet scene from EXTRAS that some of you made reference to is also inspired but I went with this one because it had the added spin of the racial element.

Anyway, here’s that ultimate point – I’m always asked: “when you write a script, how do you know if it’s funny?” Well, as you can see, nothing is funny to everybody. Some people hate Ricky Gervais, Woody Allen, David Hyde Pierce (they’re idiots), Jackie Gleason, you name it. There is no perfect yardstick. YOU have to think it’s funny. You have to believe in your material. I don’t think there’s a single stand-up comedian who hasn’t died on stage. There’s not a writer I know who hasn’t received dozens of rejection letters.

If you don’t like your stuff, no one will. No one might anyway, but still, you’ve got to please yourself first. Who knows? Just maybe you are right.

Tomorrow:  Roseanne wrote an article for New York magazine recently giving "her side" of the story re her series ROSEANNE.  I take issue with a lot of her points and will tell you why Monday.

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