Comedy is About Serious People Pursuing Absurd Goals

The two cheapest types of movies to make are horror and comedy stories. That’s because both horror and comedy rarely rely on special effects or expensive sets. Instead, they can often be filmed inexpensively in any location.

The key to comedy is not jokes. The characters in a comedy never know they are funny because they’re trying to solve an absurd problem or deal with a crazy situation with seriousness.

In “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the goal (find the Holy Grail) is serious and the knights’ attitude is serious. Unfortunately, the knights are thrown into absurd situations that they approach with seriousness. The knights aren’t trying to be funny. They’re trying to solve problems using logic and their unique point of view, not realizing they’re behaving in absurd ways.

A comedy like “Little Miss Sunshine” isn’t about characters cracking jokes at each other and insulting each other in clever, humorous ways. Instead, the characters are all being serious as they pursue the absurd goal of getting a little girl to a beauty pageant so she can compete.

Study any good comedy and you’ll find that the characters never know they’re being funny. They’re just behaving the only way they know how with a serious attitude to solve their problems, and because their goal or situation is absurd, they create humor.

In “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray’s character keeps trying to find a way to stop the day from repeating over and over again, so he tries killing himself by dropping a toaster in a bathtub. That by itself would normally be horrifying, but in the context of trying to solve his problem with a serious attitude, it’s funny.

So if you plan to write a comedy, remember the key is that your characters don’t think they’re funny and they’re not trying to be funny. They’re trying to solve a problem with a serious attitude, but their attitude is often inappropriate, which creates humor.

Comedy is not jokes. Comedy is a serious story with absurd goals or situations. Focus on telling a serious story and then exaggerate the characters’ behavior and you’ll likely create comedy as a result.

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