The best way to write a comedy is to start with a serious story. Then add comedic elements to it. The wrong way to write a comedy is to try to be funny, which typically results in a sloppy story where even the funniest jokes can’t save it.
Think of every comedy and you’ll find a serious story that provides its foundation. In “Some Like It Hot,” two men are running from the mob that’s trying to kill them because they’re witnesses to a crime. To hide, the two men dress up like women.
In “Ghostbusters,” an evil entity is releasing the spirits of the dead to come through a portal and take over the world.
In any Austin Powers movie, an evil villain is planning to destroy the world just like the plot of any James Bond movie.
Comedies are most interesting when they tackle serious issues. In “When Harry Met Sally,” the big issue is whether men and women can ever be friends.
In “Harold and Maude,” the big issue is living life on your terms and not feeling depressed enough to commit suicide. In “Borat,” the big issue is the nature of Americans and their attitudes.
Comedies are simply serious stories told in a lighthearted manner. Strip away the comedy and you’ll have a drama, horror, or action thriller instead. Perhaps the hardest part about comedy isn’t telling jokes but in creating humorous interactions between the characters.
In “The In-Laws,” the hero is a dentist who’s daughter is getting married. The dentist meets the father of his future son-in-law and discovers that he works for the CIA. This contrast between the dentist’s ordinary life and the other man’s wild spy life creates humor.
Remember, comedy isn’t just random jokes tossed out as insults to each other like a bad sitcom. Instead, comedy is a contrast between divergent personalities as they try to achieve goals in various ways that are humorous.
If you plan on writing a comedy, remember every scene has to be funny or amusing somehow and the comedy stems largely from the reactions of the characters to each other. Comedy is hard because it’s not easy generating laughs every few minutes. That’s why most comedy movies are around 90 minutes.
If you’re having a hard time telling your story, consider making it fun by turning it into a comedy. If you can’t sustain comedy for the entire story, then use comedy as lighthearted relief sprinkled throughout the story instead. A little comedy can lighten the mood and effectively set up a dramatic point through its sharp contrast.
Comedy isn’t easy, but it’s a low-cost story form that’s easy for anyone to recognize. If the comedy is funny, it’s easy to recognize, which makes comedy screenplays one of the best ways to break into Hollywood.