For as long as I can remember, lurking inside me was the heart of a comedy writer. I wanted nothing more than to be writing funny quips for people, like Woody Allen did for Sid Caesar on Your Show of Shows, back in the fifties. I couldn’t imagine a greater existence.
I was hardly more than a kid when I got my very first job as a writer in New York City writing funny ads and commercials for No Soap Radio. There were four of us and every day we sat around a table coming up with funny scenarios, gags, and punchlines. Not only was I in heaven, but I got paid a weekly salary!
Of course, the salary was so low I had to work in the theater at night just to make ends meet. No Soap Radio was a short-lived chapter in my career, but the things I learned sitting at that roundtable with those talented writers held fast for the rest of my writing life.
The art of comedy is serious business and you’d better know your business. You’d better know timing, delivery, and what the funny words are. By funny words – and most people don’t think about this – these are words that automatically cause people to smile or chortle. For instance:
Orange? Not so funny. Kumquat. Funny.
Move? Not so funny. Jiggle. Funny.
Glasses? Not so funny. Spectacles. Funny. Or maybe more funny. Wait a minute. Maybe not so funny.
Testicles? Whoops! Never mind. But in comedy, write toward the unexpected. It often gets a laugh.
Back to words. If you don’t have the words in the right order, with the right rhythm and cadence, it’s probably not going to work, no matter what the thought behind it is. This is why comics will work on a one-line joke for weeks until they get everything right.
I’ve found writing a novel is pretty much the same approach. Imagery, rhythm, cadence, and the right choice of words blending together can create a sock-o punchline. And with a funny mystery series, the corpse better be laughing when it hits the ground.
Otherwise, you’re dead.