I know humor is something very personal, some jokes that one audience finds a riot can leave other audiences bored or even livid, but are there any good rules of thumb you follow when you write a scene meant to be funny?
The best way to write comedy is to write the scenes "straight". Don't ham them up or have the characters in on the joke. Instead the characters should be absolutely serious about what they are doing and saying - the comedy comes in from the disconnect. When Patrick Stewart does comedy sketches about how much he likes nudity in movie scripts
, it is the fact he is so straight faced and serious that makes it hysterical. Your characters should NOT be aware they just did something funny.
Some other general tips:
1) Include as much truth as you possibly can. This is why observational humor is so funny to a lot of people.
2) Used the Rule of Threes. You have three things, or people, or three items on a list. The first one creates tension or the setup, the second one builds it up, then the third thing releases the tension (delivers the punchline). This is why newspaper comic strips often have three panels. You'll recognize the pattern from old jokes such as "A Thing, Another Thing, and A Third Thing walk into a bar". The third thing is usually a twist on the first two things.
3) Don't over explain things. The more detail you give with a punchline the less effective it is. You'll notice people often can ruin jokes by explaining them. Not everyone needs to get every joke in your script.
Deliver the punchline, smile, and move on. Often those that didn't get it will keep thinking about it after the fact and have a Eureka! moment and the joke will be more funny to them than if you explained it.
4) Combine the funny and the not funny. You'll often come up with something that is more funny than it has any right to be. You'll recognize this style of comedy when you hear people exclaiming or whispering to themselves "That is so wrong!" all the while laughing. Often referred to as "Black Comedy" or "Dark Comedy".
5) Timing is everything, even when writing comedy.
6) You don't need jokes to be funny. Only the story or situation needs to be funny to get laughs. Think of The Producers
. There aren't many jokes in that play, but the situation creates all the comedy. Two producers are trying to scam money by producing an intentionally awful play so it will be a flop, but everything keeps going right, much to their frustration.
7) People find other people being put in uncomfortable situations hilarious. Yes, human beings are cruel. When someone trips and falls (but is uninjured) we find it funny. Someone all dressed up in their finest outfit, running late for a date, running into a series of mishaps, and then finally being splashed by puddle from a passing car JUST as they reach the restaurant - hilarious. As long as these things aren't happening to us, we find them funny.
8 ) Twists on common ideas are funny. Take one or more common ideas and turn them on their head. Use logic to take them someplace else entirely. It is the unexpected result, again, the disconnect, between what the audience expected to happen and what actually does that creates comedy.
Finally, go with what is funny to you. If your script doesn't make YOU smile and giggle, it isn't likely to make someone else either.