Thursday, July 9, 2009

Bring the Funny

Someone (her name's Phillipa, feel free to have her shot) asked me to talk about writing comedy, recently.
How can you talk about writing comedy?
What does it even mean, the word comedy? What's funny, to you? Yes, you, the person reading this. What do you find funny? I'm serious, please tell me.

I learned what was funny through my dad. He introduced me to Monty Python, and Peter Sellers, and Spike Milligan and, through all of them, the art (and it is an art) of being daft.
Then he allowed me to meet Billy Connolly (I was six and terrified, bloody Banana boots), and Rikki Fulton; and Chic Murray, and Dave Allen and, basically, some of the funniest people who had ever lived till that point. My dad introduced me to all of these guys before I reached double figures.

To be fair, I was only really interested in Spider-Man, back then.
Still am, if I'm honest.

But, something must have leeched through because apparently I write funny stuff now.
I do remember, when I started on the first scene of WYLMT (a suicide scene), getting to a point where I wanted to make a joke and having to make the decision - should I? Is this a situation where a joke is appropriate? What's this book about, for God's sake? (at that point I thought it was going to be boring). And I do remember very deliberately saying to myself - fuck it, make the joke. So I did. I wrote the words -

The geriatric GP had, after overcoming his instinctive urge to prescribe a course of antibiotics, embarked on an epic journey of discovery in a bid to find out just how many different combinations of anti-depressants and sedatives it was possible for one man to take without noticing any beneficial effect whatsoever.

Not that funny, I know, but that was the exact moment I became a writer of humour as opposed to a chronicler of mental illness. Funny how that works. Antibiotics made me the writer I am. Weird (cured a couple of embarrassing infections too, so I can't complain).

After that point, WYLMT became a determined exercise in trying to make tragedy funny, without dismissing the tragedy. It's for others to decide if I managed it, but that was the plan.

Then came Scratch, book two. That started as a short story about my memories (very fond memories) of my first love, and an internal debate about what's best - first or last? You know, first kiss/last kiss, first hug/last hug, first fantasy/last fantasy etc. The phrase Champion the Wonder Horse appeared, and suddenly that was a comedy, too.
Scratch then, for various bizarre reasons, became an exercise in comedy (cos laughing at it was easier). And, oddly, it seemed to work - people laughed, a lot, apparently.
And that was it. I was a 'funny' writer.

And now I have people asking me to talk about writing comedy. How the hell did that happen?
What do I know about it?
Eh, at best I know this - people are funny. REAL people are funny. Every conversation I have, with anyone, everyone's going for the joke.
Doesn't matter if it's at work, in a meeting, in the pub, with a mate I've known for twenty years or a manager I've only just met - everyone's looking for a joke. It's human nature.
Bottom line - How does one person make another person like them/not hate them/ feel predisposed not to axe-murder them? Make them laugh, that's how.

So, how do you write funny stuff? Easy, write about real people. It really is that simple.

And, if you need a couple of your characters to have a boring conversation to move the plot along, give one of them a hangover or, at the very least, make something else be happening - a lost necklace or a bitey pet should do it.

So, having managed to write an entire post about comedy without a single laugh (told you it's not something to be talked about), I should probably end with a joke. Very well:

In a small town, an elderly couple had been dating each other for a long time.
At the urging of their friends, they decided it was finally time for marriage. Before the wedding, they went out to dinner and had a long conversation regarding how their marriage might work. They discussed finances, living arrangements and so on.
Finally, the old gentleman decided it was time to broach the subject of their physical relationship.
"How do you feel about sex?" he asked, rather trustingly.
"Well," she said, responding very carefully, "I'd have to say... I would like it infrequently."
The old gentleman sat quietly for a moment, then, over his glasses, he looked her in the eye and casually asked ...
"Is that one word, or two?"



  1. Am just getting to that point in WYLMT (the press conf. after the launch party) when I know I'll have to finish it soon. I'm slowing down.

    I remember asking permission to laugh at the suicide scene. Not something you do every day.