Comedy and Character

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Clowns are funny, right? Right?
Clowns are funny, right? Right?

As a writer, comedy is a genre worth understanding. Even if you don’t write comedies, their power is hard to deny. A fifth of the top-grossing films last year were comedies, and many of the others used humour to help tell their stories – Age of Ultron, Ant-Man and The Martian among them. Whatever you’re writing, it’s worth knowing a bit about humour.

All About Character

I recently read Steven Kaplan’s The Hidden Tools of Comedy. It provides some great insight into the fundamentals of being funny, focusing on structure rather than slapstick or smart lines. Intriguingly, Kaplan places character at the centre of creating comedy:

“Comedy is about an ordinary guy or gal struggling against insurmountable odds without many of the required skills and tools with which to win yet never giving up hope.”

To me, that isn’t just a useful tool in writing comedy – it defines the sort of characters I most like. People who, however skilled, are faced with a situation they aren’t equipped for but who keeping pushing on despite that.Their likeable persistence and their most obvious character flaw – the lack of relevant skills – are tied together. Following that thread can lead to tragedy as well as comedy, stirring all sorts of emotions.

Kaplan expands upon this in all sorts of interesting ways, and if you write then I recommend this book. But for me, reading it has been as much about understanding myself as understanding comedy – having something I like defined, and understanding its appeal.


You can read more on this in my latest article for Re:Fiction – Why Every Story Needs Some Humour.