Comedy is Like Gambling for Writers

by Ian Southwood on March 26, 2020

I once wrote a script and sent it to my rep. “It’s a comedy,” I said. She disagreed. “Parts of it are funny, I guess, but I wouldn’t call it a comedy.” The “I guess” was the real kicker. Apparently she wasn’t even sure the parts she thought were funny were funny. I entered the script in a couple screenwriting contests and won both. For comedy.

One person’s funny is another’s “I guess.”

Comedy is like gambling for writers. You throw the dice and see what people say. There is no right or wrong. That’s the great thing about it. From slapstick and screwball to gross-out and shock-value, there’s a wide spectrum of what gets to be called a comedy. At least there should be. Personally I’m more at home at the character-driven end, the Little Miss Sunshines and Silver Lining Playbooks.

I don’t really try to be funny. I’ve tried that. I used to write what I thought other people would think is funny, always second-guessing my own sense of humor. I still do from time to time. I’m doing it right now, in fact. But it never works. Never. Trying to write like someone else is like wearing a rented tuxedo. It doesn’t fit. Not like it should.

Now I just try to be honest, with the writing and with myself.

It helps to have some trusted people around for unfiltered opinions. My husband has no shortage of those. Sometimes he’ll read a scene I’ve written then walk away in silence. That’s always fun. Sometimes he’ll twist his mouth to the side and look at me with pity. Still, other times, many of them, actually, he’ll read some dialogue and laugh out loud. Or simply smile. That’s the great thing about writing in general and comedy in particular—when you hit it right it feels like you’ve won the jackpot. The only way to win it, though, at least in my experience, is to go with your gut.

If you’re going to be judged on whether or not your script is a comedy, I’d rather gamble with with my own sense of humor than someone else’s.

Ian Southwood has written for Paramount, Walt Disney Feature Animation, and Twentieth Century Fox Animation. He lives in New York and is currently working on a development project for Disney/Blue Sky Studios. You can follow him on Instagram: @ianmsouthwood and Twitter: @IanSouthwood 

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