Here are some simple things that you can do to make a great comedy scene.
There are no absolute rules – but here are some ideas and examples to get you started.
Try and make your characters as exact as possible. Give them an “attitude” – which is a bit like an emotion, or an outlook on the world. eg. excited, sad, suspicious. Good “attitude” words often end in “-ful”. Such as playful, careful, bashful. (But not things words like spoonful or cupful!)
In the incredibly successful sitcom Friends, the characters are superbly drawn. For example, Ross Geller is gloomy, dispondent and pessimistic. He often walks into the room and says “Hi-ii” in a gloomy way.
The clearer the character’s attitude, the better. Attitudes are emotional words – so “shy”, “tense” and “enthusiastic” are good. Words that aren’t so helpful are judgemental words like stupid, clumsy or wrong as they are not about the character’s feelings. Also, descriptive words like heavy, tall or well-dressed don’t give any information about the character’s feelings, so they aren’t as useful either.
Each character must be trying to do something in a scene. So if your character is entering a room, give them a definite reason – eg. looking for his lost keys, coming in to get changed, hiding from someone outside. You could get the “plan” from his or her attitude. So a shy man could be coming in to escape from a noisy party in the next room. Or an angry mother could come in looking for their naughty teenage son.
Something happens that hinders the character’s plans. The problem might arise from the characters conflicting “plans”. eg one might be trying to put clothes away, while the other might be taking clothes out to try on.
In the following scene, we see Chandler planning to eat a cheesecake. Rachel causes the problem by pointing out to him that it is immoral to eat it.
Comedy scenes really get going when the characters start reacting.
When they react, their attitudes change. And they try to do something to solve the problem.
These reactions and attempts to solve the problem will result in further reactions and further attempts to solve the problem. And this is the core of your comic scene.
Using the clothes example again:
Betty is excited about going out. (Attitude)
She wants to wear exactly the right clothes. (Plan)
Betty’s mum, Mrs Crocker, is cross because of the mess. (Attitude)
Mrs Crocker tidies up the clothes. (Plan and Problem!)
Betty gets cross. (Reaction)
Betty grabs the dress from Mrs Croker. (Trying to solve problem)
The dress gets ripped.
Betty starts crying. (Reaction)
Mrs Crocker starts laughing. (Reaction)
Betty gets cross at Mrs Crocker’s reaction. (Reaction)
Mrs Crocker teases Betty for getting angry. (Reaction)
To keep the audience interested, the writer must keep everything within the bounds of credibility.
But to really excite an audience, the writer should try to re-incorporate as many ideas as possible. In other words, keep using objects, phrases or ideas that have been mentioned or noticed earlier.
In the Betty and Mrs Crocker scene, it would be great to re-incorporate the ripped dress. There’s other things to re-visit too – where is Betty going this evening (to meet her estranged father?) Why is Mrs Crocker so stressed out about keeping the place tidy (a lover coming round while Betty’s out?) So many options! So much fun!
In his Chaplin sketch, he re-incorporates the bell to great effect.
It is worth noting as well, that in the Chaplin boxing scene there is a crackling rhythm. The bouncing movement of the boxers and referee gives the entire scene life.
So, give it a go! With just a little bit of practice, you will come up with wonderful, satisfying comic scenes.
To see some of my attempts at one-man scenes, visit http://www.thesillyseasons.com