My name is Elliot Grove, the founder of Raindance Film Festival and the British Independent Film Awards. I was kindly invited to write for Collab Writers to explain what opportunities exist for creatives as a result of the COVID-19 crises.
In these troubled times of COVID, filmmakers are wondering what story trope to focus on. Choosing the wrong story type could ruin a career. Choosing the right one, and your storytelling career will soar. I, for one, am putting my money on the power of funny.
Laughter can help us deal with the stress and difficulty of living. Here’s something I’ve noticed: We don’t laugh at anything unless they cause us dismay or discomfort at a later stage in our life. The history of comedy is filled with a litany of incidents. The stand batch of jokes ranging from relationships to bowel movements, for instance. And jokes about money, sex, family and work.
A thing that makes us laugh usually has it’s root in deep anxiety and pain. Which is why these dark times will, in my opinion, respond to the power of funny.
Four uses of the power of funny
The beauty of a comic character is that no matter how nasty and horrible they are, if they are funny they are engaging and entertaining. We allow them their rudeness, falsehood and antagonistic behavious. It is seeing these qualities on stage and amplified that makes us laugh.
Here are some ways great writers use comedy
1.Mocking the powerful
There can be little more entertaining than seeing a powerful person mocked. We love to see someone powerful become the victim of a practical joke. When this happens, we the audience, see the comedy as a leveller of social class. For a brief moment we are on the same level as the powerful person.
In this TV interview with Barack Obama, TV host and comedian Conan O’Brien skillfully gets Obama to laugh at himself.
Monty Python chose another angle for their hilarious send-up of greek philosophy.
Their Philosophers’ Football Match pokes fun at the great names in intellectual history. This works on two levels: Firstly, it allows us to laugh at intellectual bullies who make us feel intellectually inferior because we don’t know the teachings of Wittgenstein and Schopenhauer. And these giants of academia are proved to be totally hopeless at football.
2.Therapy for despair
Traditional art has viewed despair with great seriousness. Painting of Christ on the Crucifix adorn coutless churches and cathedrals. The goal of artists like Valaquez was to draw the observer into the despair of the execution of Christ, and emote feelings of servitude.
A comic scene doesn’t deny misery, but has a different relationship. Monty Python’s Life of Brian, for example, demonstrates the power of funny especially when uses as dark and black humour.
In this case, Monty Python didn’t expect you to take this scene as true. In the case of this time setting, the enemy was strong and ever powerful. The point of this was simple: keep being defiant, no matter how ridiculously out-manned you are.
This kind of humour works well in our current pandemic. The success of this Monty Python scene is that the characters mock a deeply and horrible situation.
3.Therapy for humiliation
There is nothing more damaging than humiliation. Last week I was accused of being cringeworthy. And wow! Did that ever sting. It seemed like my entire life’s work was for naught.
What did I do? I fell apart!
I sought the advice of friends and family who all consoled me. I even had a zoom-pat-on-the-back from my lawyer! But was I worked up! And I was glad to get the sympathy of my colleagues, no matter how flawed I am.
Let’s consider Basil Fawlty in Fawlty Towers. In this show we see a deeply flawed man. He’s arrogant, selfish, thick-headed and horribly opinionated. And no matter how outrageous he is, we, the audience, do not withdraw our sympathy. This shows the great skill of the comedy writing team. And once again, the power of funny.
4.The power of funny and mocking social class
The examples of Basil Fawlty and Monty Python are really examples of what Christianity was teaching us over the centuries. Namely, that it is ok to be a worthless beggar and still be seen as a worthy person in the eyes of authority – in this case, moral authority. And to be lowly and worthy of love and attention to the same degree as the most powerful ruler.
What a powerful message. And to be able to deliver this and make people smile and laugh? If you can do that in your stories, I call that ‘talent’.
This is my first attempt to look at comedy. Those who surround me tell me that I can be funny. Although I often suffer the humiliation of proclaiming yet another Dad joke.
I defer my knowledge of comedy to David Misch – a comedy writer of great skill. He is available to you, for free, on Aprils Fools Day, 2021 7pm GMT at Collabwriters.com.
David is also presenting his award-winning class: The Art and Craft of Comedy on Zoom on Saturday and Sunday 24th / 25th April 2021, 16:00 – 19:30 UK time
David Misch is a former comedian, screenwriter (“Mork and Mindy,” “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” “Saturday Night Live”), author (“Funny: The Book”) and teacher (comedy courses at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles). His teaches a two-day class for Raindance, “The Art & Craft of Comedy,” on 24,25 April. He’s also taught the class at Sony Pictures, Disney Studios, Lucasfilm, Oxford, the Actors Studio and Second City.
Why not join the Collab Writers Youtube channel and watch the replay of our past events.