Comedy screenwriting is one of the most difficult challenges of screenwriting. Just like it can be hard to tell a joke or a funny story, it can be even more difficult to write comedy well.
Good comedy screenwriting needs to be original, surprising and full of the right styles. It’s not just about being funny, it’s about being consistently funny, with the right handling of jokes, premise and storytelling too. Comedy is subjective, and whilst some comedy screenwriting might appeal to some, for others it will fall flat on its face. Mastering comedy screenwriting is a very delicate balancing act.
Take a look at our 5 easy ideas to get started with some comedy screenwriting projects.
1. Pick a Style
If you’re new to comedy screenwriting, or just want to experiment, then it’s a good idea to pick a comedy style and see where your imagination takes you.
Whether you want to explore Slapstick comedy, Situational comedy or Surrealist comedy, choosing a style and some references to guide you can help to focus your ideas into a project with more clarity than simply ‘being funny’.
Choose a single comedy style and give yourself your own comedy screenwriting brief. Once you’ve started and have a clear idea, then you might want to think about bringing in other styles or approaches.
2. Write the Story First
Instantly, when you decide to look at comedy screenwriting, the goal is to try and write a script that’s funny. Sometimes it can be easier and more interesting to find the comedy within a script.
Even the most successful comedies can’t solely rely on jokes, they need a solid storyline and compelling characters to win over an audience. Try to forget all about the comedy, plot your story and develop your characters first. Once you have your story ideas working, explore the potential for comedy with what you have. Can you find comedy through your characters? Through their situations? What can you change to highlight the jokes?
3. Workshop Your Script with Actors
It’s a myth that screenwriters work in isolation. Collaborating with others can be one of the most rewarding forms of comedy screenwriting.
Gather a group of actors – or friends – together to improvise, share ideas and bring some ‘performance’ to your comedy screenwriting process. Lines can often land differently when acted out or said out loud and new options for comedy will present themselves in the workshop process.
Not only can this give you new ideas, but it can help to refine dialogue, characters and even plot points.
4. Write a Silent Film
You can go full-on slapstick and physical performance like a Charlie Chaplin film, or be a little bit more open minded. Focusing in on the potential for comedy action can help to remove some of the pressure of writing funny dialogue or having to tell jokes. Start with your idea and see how you can write it as a silent film. What do you show? What do you focus on?
Here, you might find lots of potential for comedy that you’d previously overlooked, just by trying to tell the story differently.
5. Write a Fish out of Water Story
The premise takes a character who is very at home in their own world and transplants them into another, alien world where they have to adapt – often with hilarious consequences.
Try drafting up your own fish-out-of-water story. Explore combining it with the other suggestions here and see what you come up with!
More Screenwriting Tips
If you’re keen to explore more comedy screenwriting tips, or writing in other styles, try our online screenwriting session for some more screenwriting ideas.