Comedy is Not Jokes But Reactions to Events

The two least expensive types of movies to write are comedies and horror movies. That’s because both rely less on star power and more on storytelling that can be done with a minimal amount of trouble. Comedy in particular is often difficult mainly because the screenwriter loses track of what his or her goal is.

In a comedy, the goal is to tell a story in a humorous manner. Where too many comedies get sidetracked is they try to be funny. First, study the mediocre “Stuber,” which is about a policeman teaming up with an Uber driver to solve a crime.

On the surface, this idea is potentially amusing, and that’s where the comedy basically ends. The characters occasionally say things just to be funny, which is out of context from both the story and their personality, which results in a potentially funny joke just seeming out of place and not very funny as a result.

Another flaw with “Stuber” is that it relies on outside references to be funny, such as making fun of Uber drivers striving to get as five star rating. While this is mildly amusing, it can’t sustain comedy by itself.

Now look at much better comedies such as “Free Guy,” which relies on the outside references of the video game that are stereotypes. For example, there’s the stereotype that video gamers are lonely, older men living in their mom’s basement. Since this stereotype is so pervasive and part of the video gaming world, the joke works much better since the story takes place in the video game world as well.

Compare this with a failed attempt in “Stuber” where the main characters are being chased by the bad guy on the freeway and they play the Styx song “Come Sail Away.” The song has nothing to do with the story world and seems out of context and not very funny as a result.

Another difference between “Free Guy” and “Stuber” is that the characters in “Free Guy” pursue an emotional goal while the characters in “Stuber” focus mostly on external goals. For example, at one point the characters in “Stuber” are in a Sriracha bottling plant. Huh? What does that have to do with the story? It’s put there simply to create humor (poorly) and has nothing to do with the story.

In contrast, every scene in “Free Guy” is related to the video game world that the story takes place in, whether it’s the virtual world of the video game or the real world that plays and reacts to video games. “Stuber” tries to be funny while “Free Guy” tries to tell a story using humor.

Big difference.

Watch “Ghostbusters” and you’ll see that the story itself is interesting without the humor and that the humor derives solely from the characters striving to reach a goal and behaving in humorous ways. One key of a key joke is if the line makes absolutely no sense outside of that story.

In “Ghostbusters,” there’s a short scene where the ghostbusters are about to face the villain. That’s when Bill Murray directs everyone to go ahead, which is funny because it shows he’s scared and wants everyone else to risk their lives.

Another funny scene in “Ghostbusters” occurs when Dan Akroyd describes a government official as “Dickless.” When another man asks Bill Murray if Dan Akroyd’s accusation is accurate, Bill Murray replies,” Yes, your honor. This man has no dick.”

Take those lines out of “Ghostbusters” and simply say them in any other story and those lines don’t make any sense so they’re not funny. They’re funny because they’re tightly integrated into the story and the characters.

Then study practically any joke in “Stuber” such as when the Uber driver talks about his electric car being as quiet as a fart. That’s mildly amusing but if you take that joke out of the movie and just say it to someone to describe electric cars, that joke is still mildly amusing. That’s because the joke does not rely on the characters or the story context. Instead, it’s like something plastered on at the last second in an attempt to be funny, not realizing that humor really comes from story context and character reactions rather than just throwing jokes into the dialogue.

Humor is not about telling jokes. Humor is about ordinary people reacting to extraordinary situations in humorous ways that reflect their personalities. To see the ultimate failure in comedy, watch any of those horrible movies like “Disaster Movie” that spoofs disaster movies. These awful movies simply parade out a bunch of jokes that are mildly funny at best, in a story that’s barely interesting. The end result is a dull and predictably horrible comedy.

Comedy is not jokes but context within the story. Remember this and you can write a good comedy like “Ghostbusters” and avoid writing a mediocre movie like “Stuber.”

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