Steve Kaplan has been one of the industry’s most sought-after experts on comedy writing, consulting for companies such as HBO, DreamWorks Animation, Disney, Aardman Animation and others. In addition to having taught at UCLA, NYU, Yale and other top universities, he created the HBO Workspace, the HBO New Writers Program and was co-founder and Artistic Director of Manhattan’s Punch Line Theatre.
Follow Steve @skcomedy and be sure to catch him as one of the featured panelists at our upcoming event: Professionally Funny: Comedy Screenwriting with The Scriptwriters Network May 28th at the Los Angeles Film School.
1. HOW DID YOU GET STARTED IN YOUR CAREER AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A COMEDY WRITING CONSULTANT?
I actually started in the theater–I co-founded a theater in New York called Manhattan Punch Line. It was a theater completely devoted to comedy–we did plays, presented stand-ups, improv groups, sketch groups. As part of the theater, I taught improv classes to actors, which later evolved into teaching comic acting classes, then comedy writing classes. When I came to LA,I started teaching seminars in comedy writing, and writers and producers started asking me to give notes on their scripts. And who am I to say no?
2. WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO WRITE FUNNY?
Dorothy Parker once put it as “a sharp eye, and a wild mind.” I’d add the perception to see the absurdities of the world we live in, the courage to include yourself as part of that absurd world, and the ability to share that truth with others. And the occasional dick joke.
3. BECAUSE COMEDY IS SUCH A SUBJECTIVE GENRE, HOW DOES A COMEDY SCREENWRITER FIND LIKE-MINDED PRODUCERS?
There are two ways: First, make it easy to find you. Nia Vardalos didn’t just sit down and write the screenplay to My Big Fat Greek Wedding and then wait for producers to call–she staged it as a one-person show and ran it until Rita Wilson and Playtone picked it up. Submit it to The Big Break Contest, or Sundance. Or, and this is the second way, stop waiting to meet a producer, and produce it yourself. And then submit it to Sundance.
4. HOW HAS COMEDY CHANGED OVER THE PAST COUPLE DECADES?
Well, things that were once taboo are no longer taboo. But that’s a two-edged sword, because you can’t just rely on shock or gross-out humor to get a laugh. But since comedy is the art of telling the truth about human beings, and since human beings haven’t really changed that much in the past 3,000 years, comedy hasn’t really changed that much either, except for delivery platforms. Pretty soon, we’ll all have an app for jokes inserted directly into our cerebral cortex.
5. WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR EMERGING SCREENWRITERS BREAKING INTO THE INDUSTRY NOW?
Watch films. Read screenplays. Take an improv class. Get into a writing group. And steal, steal, steal–but please, always call it “homage.”
Watch a full interview with Steve from the good people at Film Courage: