May 20, 2013

Comedy Writing Masterclass with 'Peep Show' & 'Fresh Meat' Creators Sam Bain & Jesse Armstrong

Comedy Writing MasterclassHow do you teach comedy? Comedy writers Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, creators of the award-winning British sitcoms Peep Show and Fresh Meat, attempt to do so, or at the very least offer some tips on how to make your comedy better in this BAFTA masterclass. The two sat down to talk about breaking into the industry, how to write funny characters and scenes, and even attempt to answer the age-old question of why we laugh.

For all of you comedy writers or those of you who are looking to beef up your comedy writing skills, you'll definitely get you your money's worth from watching the Bain and Armstrong interview -- mostly because it's free, but also because their advice is really, really good. Check out the masterclass below. For those of you who are on the go and need a quick list of the tips they give, I've got you covered.

If you've got a good bit, make it longer.

It seems too simple, right? Bain explains what screenwriter Richard Curtis did with Notting Hill. He found that the scenes where Hugh Grant pretends to be a journalist at different interviews for Julia Roberts' character's movie were very funny, so -- he did 5 rather than 3. When something is working, let it work until it doesn't anymore.

If you need a good line, write 10.

Bain says, "If the 10th is good and the first 9 are rubbish it doesn't matter about the first 9 -- it doesn't matter if you fail 9 times if you succeed once."

Target the people who write the shows you love.

As far as finding an agent or reaching out to people to work with, Armstrong suggests that it's better to approach people who produce work that you really admire instead of just tossing your comedic pearls to proverbial swine.

Start with episode 3.

Bain explains how to teach your audience the "rules" of your comedy by "starting on episode 3". Bain warns against the potential pitfalls of a "how they met" episode, "It doesn't show what the show is like to anyone, so if you start with episode 3 -- the situation is already up and running -- it's a good way to kind of hit the ground running."

Casting is crucial.

If given the chance to have the final say in the final edit or in casting, Bain would choose casting. It doesn't matter if you write good material for a character if the person who plays that character is wrong for the part.

If your plot works dramatically and your characters are funny, then it should work comically.

Armstrong that if you have a dramatic situation it will be a comedic situation as long as you've built your characters right. "If you're trying to work out a plot, it doesn't necessarily have to read that funny on the page, as long as it reads dramatically." Let your funny characters react!

Talk your plot through with someone else.

Pretty self-explanatory, yeah? Get yourself someone who doesn't mind you bouncing ideas off of them.

Hear your script read aloud early on.

What do you do after you finish your first draft? Bain and Armstrong say do a read through -- and early on, because you still have ideas buzzing in your head about how to make the story, characters, or specific scenes better.

Know your tone.

Creating a distinct tone in a story is a skill that all writers have to master in order to draw their audiences in. As far as figuring out how on Earth to do that, Armstrong suggests having pictures of the cast (or of whoever the inspiration was for your character) and knowing what kind of show (or movie) you see it being like. Personally, I do two things religiously to create tone in a script: listen to music and look at photographs that match the tone I'm looking for.

What do you think? What do you think is important when writing comedy? Do you have any advice for fellow comedy writers?

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[via Filmmaker IQ]

Your Comment

6 Comments

You don't.

May 20, 2013 at 2:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Dan

Great, I would also advise taking time to watch the characters in action. That way, the writer can exploit the abilities of the actors when writing the script.

May 24, 2013 at 4:28AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Maliya Mzyece Sililo

Dan.You can't.

May 26, 2013 at 2:44AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Geoff Longford

How can I view a version of this in the US?????

September 30, 2013 at 4:19PM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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Mike, if you're using Mozilla you can download the add-on Hola which works some magic to reverse overseas restrictions on video sites.

October 14, 2013 at 11:41AM, Edited September 4, 11:21AM

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June 17, 2014 at 3:50AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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