The Show Formula
This is the purging of thoughts that I went through in the early days of my time as editor for The Show. Strange how trite and silly things sound when you look back on them.
I'm gonna wish I hadn't said that, aren't I...
HIGH STYLE Art+Comedy: Tim Burton/Terry Gilliam type direction. Simplistic, post-modern style, both in art/set direction (i.e. the look, or "mood") and in the sketches themselves. Think intense, extreme, stylized characters in very almost pure situations. (If itís at a biker bar, make it the most "true" biker bar you can imagine, make it what any average person visualizes when they think of a biker bar.) Especially in comedy writing, the characters are stereotypes, almost caricatures of themselves. 100% pure; one look at the character and you recognize it for what it is, no matter how subtle or over the top. The actor must also be over-the-top in their conviction that the character is real. The character must at all times be completely portrayed as its true self, by use of voice, movement, and the way in which the character is written.
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF Actors must believe in the character no matter how extreme. Think about how much Pee-Wee Herman believed in his character, which makes him believable to the audience despite his ridiculousness. Become the character. Pure characters. Make your audience get caught up in the belief and the energy of the whole thing. Make your character unforgettable. The conviction of the actors in the characters must sell it to the audience. The characters must be able to go as far as you can go and still be believable. Everything must look, sound and feel real, even if it is outrageous. Even dream sequences should be done realistically. Things have greater impact if the audience can believe they are real.
POOR MANíS PROCESS High quality with a low budget and simple props. It doesnít have to be elaborate to be believable. Plus, the belief of the characters in the reality of the scene (no matter how cheaply produced or recreated) makes not only the simplicity of the sets, props, etc. endearing, but keeps the audience there with the characters. The simplest of props can portray something completely if the character believes in it.
ARTISTIC APPROACH Donít just think of poop jokes, (only funny because poop itself is funny), think of whatís funny in the deeper psychology of poop. Why is it funny? It can be rough and have edgy, even risquť or grotesque content, but from an artistic, almost philosophical viewpoint. Think of how happy and positive and clean the character of Pee Wee is, heís likeable and has very childlike qualities. Yet he is a grown man who is obviously crazy. This is a deeper, darker character than he appears at first, and that is what makes him even funnier. He also knows and believes in the character totally, which allows us to see him as a real person. (Sorry about all the Pee Wee references, but I was watching Pee Weesí Big Adventure movie while writing this! Heís just an example.)Think of other artistically rendered, psychologically twisted characters. That is not to say all characters should be outwardly insane, but even the subtlest of weird idiosyncrasies make a character vivid and real. That is who they are, and they should act accordingly.
DETAIL We must encourage obsessive attention to detail when it comes to art direction and character conviction. Knowing who your character is, inside and out, will lead to deeper understanding of them and will make it easier for the actor to "become" them. Every detail of what is on screen or stage must be refined to itís absolute best, or we are promoting a less-than-worthy performance. Artistry and design is paramount in writing, performing, and sets; every process must be clear and concise in order to make sense and be entertaining and to draw the audience into our world. Therin lies the difference between amateurs and professionals.
CONSTANT IMPROVEMENT Always bring any material, thoughts, etc. to the meetings. Open communication is key. We want to be ideasmiths, constantly generating and improving upon ideas. Sketches can ALWAYS be improved, down to the very last detail. Never let it rest; continually ask yourself "How can I make this funnier?" Think out of the box, different points of view and weird twists make things interesting and edgy. We want originality; donít rely on "standard" sketches like so many well-known sketch comedy shows do. Always turn things, twist and reshape and mold the situations and characters into something really different and artistic.
BEAT Constantly stay one and 4/5 steps ahead of the audience. If the audience expects the joke to go in a direction, take them on a completely different route. If thatís not possible, at least try to throw in a twist. If it has to be predictable, make it over the top in its predictability. Every beat in the sketch must be funny and/or interesting to be a part of.
RANDOMNESS WITH CONTROL Be Random! Whenever you want! If it makes the scene funnier to start screaming nonsense and tearing off other peoples clothes, feel free, if thatís what the character needs to do to make himself or the situation realistic! However, do not use randomness as a crutch if you canít think of a better punch line. Make character and situations as firmly rooted in some kind of reality as possible, even if itís a twisted reality. That is what keeps the audience going, "with" the characters and situations, following along. If something isnít strong enough to be recognizable or believable, it will weaken the integrity of the entire sketch. Everyone doesnít have to "get it," but as long as some people will get it and think itís really, really funny, thatís all that matters. Weíre catering to a specific audience here, AVOID ANYTHING EVEN SLIGHTLY MAINSTREAM!!!
ORIGINALITY Donít plagiarize or do rip offs of characters or situations, even for ideas! When watching the comedy of others, ask yourself "Why does this make me laugh, what is it that makes this funny?" Over the years, a lot of sketches have been written and a lot of jokes have been told by a lot of people. In recent years the same jokes are being told over and over again by different people, itís like churning up the same old chum. Everythingís been done, there are hundreds of recognizable standard characters, situations, plot lines and jokes that have been told and retold over and again. It is our job to breathe life into old jokes that have been the mainstays for so long, and take them in new directions. Some things are inherently funny, they have always and will always be funny, we just have to find a way to use those things that is new, different, unique and artistic. It is also our job to create new, original jokes where there were none before. Weíre simultaneously inventing and recreating comedy.