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September 1, 2023

How to Write a Comedy - Step-by-Step Guide

Comedy writing is a broad term encompassing all forms of writing that is intended to be funny and make the audience laugh. IT can be challenging, thanks to the subjective nature of humour. But also rewarding.

Let’s take a closer look at the different elements of comedy writing for screenwriters.

What is comedy writing?

In its most basic definition, comedy writing is simply writing that is intended to be funny. Comedy writing can take many forms, from screenplays to sitcoms. It can also encompass different types of comedy, such as satire or slapstick.

But comedy isn’t simple. The best and most successful comedy is not only entertaining and funny for the audience, but it’s also complex and multi-layered.

Comedy writing examples

You’ll likely be familiar with the most well-known comedies in popular culture. Some of the most popular and highest-grossing comedy films include Home Alone, Meet The Fockers, The Hangover and Austin Powers. TV shows include Seinfeld, The Simpsons, Cheers, Friends, and Frasier.

Within the comedy genre, there are also sub-genres, such as romantic comedies, like the movie When Harry Met Sally and the TV show Gavin and Stacey.

What comedy writing experts say

King of comedy, Jerry Seinfeld, shared a tip about writing comedy and beginning with a funny topic. From this, you can research ideas that interest or relate to your audience and build your jokes from that initial topic.

Sometimes, those everyday, mundane situations are the best because everyone can relate to them.

Emmy Award-winning showrunner of The Office, Brent Forrester, said that the best comedy is realistic and grounded. Sometimes, writing from your own experience can offer inspiration. This is because it feels more natural and relatable. Audiences identify with real-life experiences because it’s a part of life.

When realistic situations and experiences are a part of comedy (as opposed to zany, silly, and crazy gags), the characters’ stories feel more natural.

Five comedy writing tips

Let's dive into some of the best comedy writing tips you should follow.

Observe everything and everyone

The best inspiration for comedy stems from simply observing human behaviour and zeroing in on it, especially the mundane aspects of real life. As empathy is a significant part of comedy, audiences respond best to situations they have experienced or can relate to.

Reform your clichés

You can twist your clichés to keep an audience guessing. This means you use those timeworn clichés and twist them after setting up the expectation and then offering a surprise outcome (this is called “reforming” in comedy writing).

Remember tension

Tension is a vital part of comedy writing. Humous is a release of tension, so build it up through the situation or the joke before releasing it at the end. The laugh has to land at the right time – not too soon or too late.

Contrast is an excellent tool for comedy

This is a great way to keep readers interested and engaged. For example, if your characters are in a scary situation, you can make sure they’re distracted about something minimal instead of the danger that lurks, setting up funny jokes before the reaction.

Remember the callback

One of the best tools in comedy writing is called the “callback”. The callback is repeating a reference made earlier on. You’ll probably recognise them in TV shows, as they frequently become in-jokes, and they also work well for character-building and punchlines.

What to avoid in comedy writing

There are certain things to avoid in comedy writing. Of course, sensitive topics should be handled with care. Avoid overused punchlines or setups; freshness is key.

Getting an outside perspective is always a good idea if you’re unsure. You could do this by testing your material with family and friends, or an open mic night if you’re feeling brave. Alternatively, professional feedback options include editors, beta readers or critique groups.

How to find a comedy writing job

Breaking into the world of comedy writing involves a blend of formal education, hands-on experience, and showcasing your unique voice.

The first step is gaining either a qualification or experience, or both. Relevant degrees or qualifications might include creative writing or film and TV production. Experience might entail internships or runner positions. You can also create a professional portfolio and online profiles (through social media, for example) that showcase your work.

An online platform not only showcases your skills to potential employers but also helps in building a dedicated audience who appreciates your comedic style.

Then, keep an eye out for comedy writing job positions, freelance roles, open calls, and pitch submissions.

Ready to pen the next iconic comedy? With the right tools, your journey becomes smoother. Try Arc Studio screenwriting software – it's free and tailored to refine your comedic prowess.


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How to Write a Comedy - Step-by-Step Guide
Danielle Owen-Jones

Danielle Owen-Jones is a professional writer and the author of two romantic comedies, Stone Broke Heiress and Stuck With Him, published worldwide by Bookouture (Hachette UK). Danielle worked in journalism and PR before launching a freelance content writing business alongside writing her novels.

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