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May 2014

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Cogs of Comedy

Thinking about comedy. I know, not something one probably thinks about much, or should think about. But I realize that the comedy I enjoy best is the stuff where I have some insight into and appreciation of the comedic mechanics. I guess I like seeing the humor cogs turning as much as seeing what they turn out.

Got thinking about this because I saw this little preview of a Jim Henson Workshop project that's improv comedy + muppets. Love it. I don't know why I was surprised that these folks can make those puppets so expressive without rehearsing it over and over. Goodness, they're talented. In general, I just love improv comedy. It's not as funny as scripted comedy on paper... but, you know, it's not ON paper and knowing that makes it much more enjoyable. (I know: duh. I never said I had profound thoughts.)

Also, listening to My Brother, My Brother, and Me and I love it. I don't know if I'm the last person on the internet to hear about this (apparently it's pretty popular, but that could mean 50,000 listeners or 5mil). The interplay between these three real-life brothers is just incredible. You can tell they've been doing skits with and playing off each other for years and years. I've had to stop listening to this at work on my headphones because when I'm trying to suppress the giggles my coworkers probably think I'm either weeping or spasming.


I caught the second to last show before Unstuffed and Unstrung closed Off Broadway: it was magically amazing. I am still trying to figure out how and when I can build my own puppet. And then what I would do once I have it.

Also you aren't the last, I may be as I'm not 100% sure when I can even follow up on that link (I just blew most of this evenings spare time reading your post and watching the video).
Here's a sampler of MBMBAM if you have time for a 15m YouTube link. Definitely NFSW!
I have trouble doing video online with my technology limitations, so, I've not looked at it, meaning, you're not the last person to have heard of it.

Of course, I do think about comedy quite a bit, and I try to pay attention to how and why jokes work. A few years ago, one of my favorite TV writers, Jane Espenson, wrote several blog posts breaking down jokes, and writing about the mechanics. She is known for some of the more comedy-forward episodes of Buffy, in part because she is the only other writer (besides Joss) that wrote for sit coms, She likes word-play (which is not surprising given she has a degree in linguistics), but, she's genuinely witty, as opposed to some other writers who passed off sarcasm as wit.

The bad news is she doesn't tag her comedy analysis posts, so, you have to wade through the whole blog to see them. Here's an example of her analyzing a joke from Glee:

He blog shifted to being more about getting into the TV screen writing b'ness, and she's not posted regularly in over a year, but, her writing advice is practical and helpful in its clarity.

It's weird, because today I read another article about the rule of three, which is something I use all the time because I had picked it up from listening to jokes, and not even wholly appreciated it, and then I spent time looking into how I've used it, and thinking about places where i could've used it to improve a few weaker columns. Even stranger, I've been realizing how different written humor is than improve humor in general, because of two things, one, the immediacy of the audience provides feedback that really builds a set. I always found it clued me into the specific "funny bone" of an audience, because, like a classroom, each one is different, and what one group found funny, another group wouldn't. Second, you have access to body language and voice to help sell a joke, or build context.

In writing, tone is much harder, and since it's humor, it has much greater potential to be misinterpreted in writing, and you have to build context in other ways.

In TV writing, comedy can be character driven, which is a context-driven joke, and I really wish I had ongoing characters in my column other than me to build some of those sorts of jokes, because they don't work without that context. Hmm. Maybe I should introduce some characters. The bloggess uses Victor as a character. hmm.

(An example of this is, well, The Avengers. Each character had a different comedy voice that was a natural extension of their personalities. It matched who they were, but, also came from them *being* who they were. Think of Steve Rodgers making the joke "There's only one God, ma'am, and I'm pretty sure he doesn't dress like that." What sells it is the character's sincerity. Tony Stark would never say that line. In fact, only Capt. would say that line and make it work.

Anyway, i'm also procrastinating working on a book I've really got to finish in the next 24 hours, so, hey, thanks, I think.... :)
Because I apparently didn't do enough procrastinating last night, I spent today doing some more. Because I love you, or, maybe, because it's all about me, and I got to be curious, I went through and collected all of Jane's comedy posts. Holy cats, there are so many.

She uses examples from Simpsons, The Office, House, Arrested Development, etc. And It was possibly a good use of my time to read-through them again. I hate that with the links, they're just numbers, so, not good as a an index or catalog, but, here's how I spent most my day...

Dang, now I'm reading these when I shouldn't be.
So, that previous comment was me, who wasn't logged in like I thought I was.