by Biljana Likic
So today is April Fool’s Day! Just about the only day you can get away with lame jokes like tying people’s shoelaces together and messing with the kitchen faucet without getting a smack upside the head. And what other day could possibly be so fitting to talk about a couple rules of comedy and kick off a contest?
So that’s exactly what we’re doing! (And yes, the contest is real. And no, that’s not a joke either.)
Write a maximum 1000-word story or comprehensible excerpt using at least three Rules of Comedy. It may be written in narrative or script (with stage directions included.)
The winner will receive a bag of confectionary goodies and a critique of the first 50 pages of your novel. The 50-page critique can be substituted by a critique of the first three chapters of a novel, a query letter critique, or a guest post on Let the Words Flow.
The Fine Print:
The contest begins today, April 1st, (once again, it’s real!) and ends on May 1st at midnight, EDT. We will not admit any late entries, so be sure to send it in time. The winner will be selected by the LTWF contributors, and announced on Tuesday, May 11th.
No multiple submissions!
No plagiarizing or stealing jokes from comedians or other writers! In the comedy scene, as well as in the writing scene, stealing jokes and ideas is considered very low. If your work is inspired (there is a difference) by another’s idea, tell us so. No Fan Fiction, but parodies of pop culture are allowed.
Send your admissions in to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If there are any general questions, or if there is any confusion about the rules of the contest, let us know in the comments.
Today, I’m going to talk to you about all the glories of being funny. Funny, (and this might surprise you, because of the ease with which I do it,) can be harder than drama. Telling a joke can be harder than telling someone their car has been impounded. Coincidentally, telling someone their car’s been impounded can be as funny as telling a joke. And that is the beauty of comedy. Totally versatile. And therein lies the problem.
There are so many people out there, and there are so many styles of humour, that you will always, from the start, have to accept that not everybody will find you funny. There’s no way to be King or Queen of Comedy, (unless you’re me, of course,) so you might as well just tell yourself right now that some people are either going to think that you’re an idiot, a very crude person, a pompous jerk (chiming in, right here,) or a little bit pathetic.
However! There is salvation! There are certain things in comedy that are pretty much universal to every form of humour. There are rules you can follow, and if you do them well, you can make your way steadily to achieving Comic Gold. I’m going to talk about five basic ones. These aren’t the only ones, but they’re very common. I can almost guarantee that you’ve experienced these in real life before.
So let us begin!
1. Mistaken Identity: Also like a comedy of errors. It’s when a person or a group of people think that somebody or a group of somebody’s are something other than what they are. The comedy comes from the audience knowing what’s going on. Sometimes, the identity is revealed to rip-roaring laughter. Other times, it’s not revealed. Also to rip-roaring laughter.
Example: In the movie The Road to El Dorado, Tulio and Miguel have been captured by the natives of El Dorado. They think they’re going to be killed, but they’re actually mistaken for gods. (Side note: this is one of my all-time favourite movies.)
2. One-upmanship: One-upmanship is when either one or all of the characters involved attempt to continuously outdo or impress the others. Can be the start of many fights, can end in corny ‘yo mama’ jokes, but can also be very funny.
Example: Between two Gr12 high school students in Canada. In dialogue form!
A: What are you doing after high school?
B: Thinking of taking a year off. You?
A: Actually I got into my first choice for university.
B: Oh I…I teach there.
A: Really? I didn’t tell you the name…
B: I teach at…every university. I’m like a sub, like a sub-prof, kind of like a sub-marine, but I’m not actually in the army.
A: Hey my brother’s coming home this weekend. He’s in the navy; just won a medal for courage.
B: Oh really? I’m…Actually I’m a war vet. Yeah I was uh…fought in Vietnam.
A: Canada didn’t fight in Vietnam.
B: Nope. Nope. But I have…triple citizenship. From Bulgaria, Estonia, and Australia. And Canada.
A: That’s four.
B: Yeah they made it special. Just for me. Special. From the uh…government.
A: …Great. Well I have to go—
B: I’m a spy.
3. Straight Man/Crazy Man: This is when there are two or more people. One of them is crazy and the other one is completely normal, and they get into a situation where the ‘straight man’ stays realistic in order to contrast the ‘crazy man’s’ words or actions.
Example: Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie from A Bit of Fry and Laurie. Notice how immediately, Stephen Fry’s character, (like any normal person in real life,) thinks Hugh Laurie’s character is crazy.
4. The Illustrious Magic Three: Magic Three’s aren’t only popular in comedy; they’re popular everywhere. Everybody says how good things and bad things come in threes, and in comedy, it’s no different. If you say something once and it’s funny, it’ll be funny again the second time, but the THIRD time, it’ll be hilarious.
Exmaple: Sorry guys, couldn’t embed this one. The Magic Three is very easy to spot.
5. Specificity: In writing, oftentimes, specifics can get boring. But in comedy…yeah they can also get boring. Sometimes though, specifics can be awesome. Adding superfluous details can make a situation funnier, because they make you think of things in ways you wouldn’t have. This makes it new. Just be careful to not overdo it.
Example: Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry again! I love them… Pay attention to Stephen Fry’s speech patterns.
Now, I know. I know. What works on video doesn’t always work in text. I showed you videos because every time I tried to write a little funny tidbit, excepting the dialogue, it ended up sounding lame. It’s astoundingly hard to show something like a Magic Three in a paragraph without sounding repetitive, and for Straight Man/Crazy Man you have to establish a whole relationship.
So really, this isn’t only a contest, but a challenge. I’m giving you 1000 words to get out everything you can.
Because it’s so hard, and because my examples weren’t very writing oriented, feel free to ask any questions. If you have an idea for let’s say, Specificity, but you aren’t sure if you’re doing it right, don’t be afraid to email LTWF (email@example.com) with “Comedy Contest Help” in the subject box. I’d be more than happy to help. That said though, I will not be helping anyone with the writing. I’ll just be there for guidance about the Rules of Comedy.
That’s all! Good luck everybody. We’re all ready to fall off our chairs laughing.
Biljana Likic is an aspiring author, currently revising her first novel, TIME IS A FUNNY THING. She’s in her final year of high school, waiting and waiting to graduate, finish university, and finally have all the time in the world to write. You can visit her blog here, and check out her work on her FictionPress account.