Absurdity and Reality: the Formula for Comedy

It’s easy to make a bad comedy movie that simply spoofs other movies like “Disaster Movie” or “Vampires Suck,” which spoofed the “Twilight” series. However, making fun of current trends will likely create an empty story. If you want to create a good comedy, you need elements of the absurd combined with a serious dose of reality.

First, let’s focus on reality. Every comedy, at its heart, is about something important that could be told as a serious drama. “Ghostbusters” could have been a real horror story. “The 40-Year Old Virgin” could have been a serious drama about a lonely man trying to find love. Even “Anchorman” could have been a serious story about a television news team. Start with a real premise and that’s your foundation for comedy.

Now combine your real premise for a story and add an element of absurdity to it. “Ghostbusters” is about a group of eccentric scientists who may be quacks and con men, who can capture ghosts. “The 40-Year Old Virgin” takes place with absurd characters in an electronics store who all try to help their friend lose his virginity. “Anchorman” is about weird characters on a news team who have to deal with a female anchor who’s intruding on their territory.

No matter how strange and bizarre your characters may be, they’re all trying to solve serious problems. The only difference is the way they do it is humorous (to us) but completely rational (to them).

Take reality, combine it with absurdity, and you have a strong foundation for comedy. Comedy relies on the strength of its characters, so it actually forces you to delve deeper into the the emotional aspect of your characters more so than an action thriller might do. The more you know your characters, the funnier the story can be.

“Zombieland” is about a zombie apocalypse, so it could be a horror film with serious characters trying to survive. Yet it’s also a comedy because the characters’ reaction to the serious situation is humorous and absurd. The main character keeps track of rules for surviving and these rules form the basis for the comedy as he proves how they work.

“Ready or Not” is another horror comedy film. The horror comes with the reality of a family trying to kill a woman to sacrifice her to Satan. The comedy comes from the absurdity of the rules that require her to play hide and seek in a mansion while the family hunts her down with ancient weapons like a crossbow and a battle ax.

So if you’re trying to write a comedy, focus on reality and absurdity. Reality forces you to tell a compelling story. Absurdity forces you to tell that story in a humorous way. When you combine reality and absurdity, you have the basis for a strong comedy.

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