February 1, 2012

Funny Bone

It's the entertainment industry. You gotta be entertaining. I hear this is a common obstacle every writer faces at some point, that big question. Am I funny? Followed by what is funny? And how do I make it funny?
I have enough self-awareness to know that I'm kind of a twisted individual. I love to laugh, but the things that get me going are more of a situational awkwardness than a joke. Sure I watch Sitcoms. I get that glazed-over look and half smile that I guess means I'm having a good time, but I get the belly laughs out of something like Breaking Bad, when the world as gone to shit and bad people get desperate. I love that stuff. 

As I am being fostered to become a better writer, I have assignments. I'm going back to the basics (mostly before my time) to study the art of humour. Reading. Watching. Observing. Self-Reflection. I'm also taking an upcoming workshop with Steve Kaplan from LA (oh... fancy!) to know how to be funny. It's a daunting task and has been quiet frighting. Until I read this:

"Comedy comes from conflict, oppression, repression, and persecution. It comes from unadulterated, horrific pain." Scott Sedita, The Eight Characters of Comedy.

Oooohhh Chills!  I completely connected to this idea and I actually tapped into this at a very early age. When I was 13, I directed a short film with my grandmother's handicam called Christmas with the Family. I utilized my younger brother and cousins from Calgary to play out all the characters we dealt with: the apologetic codependent mother, the abusive grandmother with a wooden spoon, the inappropriate uncle who told racist jokes and scratched his balls in front of the children, and the drunk who fell down all the time. We really focused on how the adults were off in their own little worlds and their complete disregard for the children who were strangling each other right in front of them. We had a wild hoot of a time acting out our family's dysfunction and when they all gathered round the television to watch what we had made, you could have heard a pin drop.

It was FUNNY. It was also dangerous. We mirrored the flaws of the adults and then made fun of them, which is basically telling someone I see you and you can't hurt me. It was too real, but because it was, it was fucking hilarious! We even created this montage of the mother repeating "I'm sorry, it's my fault," and shot it from different angles like this crazy hallucinogenic dream. Later we had her character take responsibility for things that she had absolutely nothing to do with, because she wasn't even in the room when it happened. OUCH, right? Comedic GOLD.

Because of how I grew up and what I saw, I gravitated towards the same kind of painful situations wrapped in sarcasm and absurdity. Hands down, KIDS IN THE HALL were my best comedic teachers.  Staying up late to watch these men dress like women, just me and my dog in the dark, laughing at the absurdity of life, were good times. Well, Charlie didn't laugh out loud, he was a dog. So here are some of my favourite skits that demonstrate the comedic quality of truth.

Girl Drink Drunk - I still reference this video as I moonlight as a bartender and remain fascinated by the gender inequity of alcoholoic beverages, particularly as I don't drink myself. There's always some asshole who proudly requests some bizarre concoction with a stupid name to show off how exotic and "cultured" they are when REALLY they should be slapped in the face for wasting my time. If you don't like the taste of alcohol, order a damn juice. Anyway, rant over, watch this one.

Needed Elsewhere was so painfully true that I cried-laughed through this one and continue to quote it. This one always reminds me of those early family Christmas dinners.

So I think what makes a person funny is 1) awareness of what is really going on 2) an ability to detach or disassociate from that pain - which may cause problems in intimate relationships, but shit, we's gots to get PAID and 3) a sense of hope. It's not funny until you move away from that situation to a better place, where different bad shit happens. So comedy is finding humour in pain? I got this.

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