Can anybody be a comedy writer? If someone says it’s easy to make people laugh, is it really for real?
To find out, we asked for a few advice from people who have been in the comedy business for over two decades:
Chito Francisco, head writer for sitcoms and gag show, 26 years in comedy writing.
Henry Maceda, a senior writer, writes comedy for 23 years.
Michael V is a comedian and creative director. His longest-running gag show would turn 25 this year.
Caesar Cosme is a Creative Director for Comedy for Television, 38 years in the comedy industry.
Four different people, four different perspectives. Let’s learn from them.
Is it hard to write comedy?
Chito: Yes, it is hard. Because you need a visible reaction, you like to see the person you’re telling a joke to, laughing.
Caesar: For me? No, because it came out naturally since childhood. I believed my creativity was already there. At an early age, maybe 5 or 6 years old, I was already a prankster.
Comedy has an intense conflict. It’s how you go around the conflict to solve it in a funny way.
I always believed that the best comedy comes from truth. I think it’s fundamental in writing that you have to be very observant of details. Why is this happening? Why he or she is behaving that way?
Cosme came out with a sitcom that ran for several years; of a quarreling brother and sister over a duplex house. The story was inspired by his neighbors fighting over the inheritance of their parents’ homes.
Is comedy writing innate or learned?
Chito: It should be innate. I always say to the young comedy writers: You can learn the structure of writing, but the funny content should come from yourself.
Michael V: Not necessarily. It’s academic, and you can teach yourself. There are on-line courses, and there are YouTube tutorials. When you google it, you can get a lot of information about scriptwriting. You need trained eyes, ears, and senses. You must have the ability to discern what is potentially funny.
Caesar: I’ve met people who think that you can learn. But I also met a lot of people who write for comedy, and they told me, “Actually, you cannot teach this.”
Maybe it’s inside you, but you have to develop it.
Where do you get ideas?
Henry: One always need to have new ideas. So, I read books and watched movies and other shows a lot. There was no Netflix back then. I get my ideas outside when I talk to people like cab drivers.
Michael V: A senior actor once told me, anything normal when you turn it into abnormal; it’s potential comedic material. If you put that into consideration, negative things that may happen like tragedies, drama, mishaps. All of those are potential materials for comedy writing.
Caesar: You can never run out of ideas. Continue to observe people, places, and events.
How do you choose a person to be part of your pool of writers?
Chito: We have hired some really young writers who do not know the scriptwriting structure. But they have the funny bone in their bodies. We have to guide them.
Caesar: I have a rule that the person should know poverty. One of the best comedians way back before television came about, those from vaudeville type of shows, came from poor places.
Hardship is one of the best capital foundations of comedy. Universally, comedy or laughter has been part of self-preservation to cope up with life. You need to laugh and see things lightly, not very seriously; otherwise, you’ll die.
Advice for the new breed of comedy writers or those who want to get into comedy writing?
Chito: Stay hungry. Look for something new to present. How can I make my script better? How can I improve on my idea? Or how can I get a better idea? You need to have the passion and drive to learn.
Henry: Be observant of everything. It might give birth to new funny ideas.
Michael V: It’s not hard to write for comedy. When we were writing back then, without any internet connection, we only have a few references. But now there are lots of references.
When you thought that you have this unique idea, but when you google it and search it on YouTube, you’ll find out that somebody has done it already. Sometimes it’s frustrating.
And when you don’t have enough guts, you’re not going to push through with it. But if you’re the type of person who thinks of that as a challenge, that’s where your creativity sparks.
That’s what I do with my parody. First, I tried to find out those who have already mimicked the song. Once I saw what they have done, then I would stay away from doing the same.
Comedy is an ever-evolving process that you cannot be at ease from what you know. The following year audience would like to see something new. But eventually, it goes full circle.
There are viral videos these days of jokes we’ve already done way back before. The difference would only be the audience, but the sense of humor is still the same.
Caesar: Be natural. Just keep on observing and get the feeling. Develop your senses. You always need to have an idea or emotion to share for good.
Comedy writing shouldn’t be that you just want to make people laugh. You should have something to say, and you’re going to tell it funnily.
Cosme did not realize that he’s been in the comedy business for almost four decades. He says, “Because I am not working, I am just playing. If you feel that your work is hard, it means you’re not enjoying your work.”
Now that you knew what these comedy experts have said. Do you think you got what it takes to be a comedy writer?
If you think so, then, go for it!
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