What makes a good comedy? Some people might think funny actors or funny scenes, but study any great comedy movie and you’ll find that the one common element is death.
Laughter is often a reaction to adversity and there’s nothing scarier than death. That’s why great comedies often have death at the heart of their story.
A British comedy called “The Four Lions” is about four British Muslims who decide to become terrorists and blow up people during the London marathon. That alone sounds like a drama or an action thriller, but that’s how comedies work best by starting with a serious story and then layering on the humor by thwarting expectations.
In “The Four Lions,” you would expect the four British Muslims to be scary and determined, but in the film they all just come across as idiots. Their bumbling in creating bombs and videotaping their angry confessions to the world only comes across as hilarious, which goes against the serious nature of what they’re actually trying to do.
“The Four Lions” focuses on physical death just like “Ghostbusters” or “Some Like It Hot” where two men have to disguise themselves as women to avoid the mob that’s chasing them. When confronted with deathly serious topics, there’s nothing funnier than comedy.
Of course, not all comedies have physical death as their foundation. Movies like “Legally Blonde”, “Pretty Woman”, and “Groundhog Day” confront their heroes with emotional death where the hero’s lives are at a crossroads. If something goes wrong, their lives will never achieve happiness. If something goes right, their lives will be forever changed for the better.
When thinking about comedy, think of death, either physically or emotionally. The more dire the situation, the greater the potential for comedy. If a movie like “The Four Lions” can get away with making jokes about terrorists, there should be no topic off limits when you want to write a comedy.