An Analysis of Comedy Writing

I’ve spent a lot of time watching Netflix comedy specials. They’re great to put on in the background when you are paying attention to something else (which tends to be scrolling through three social media apps on your phone, but that’s beside the point). However, they’re also good on their own.  


Comedy writing feels so effortless to most people, even though we haven’t done it (Actually, most people seem to have this mindset that writing in general is easy. How often do you hear someone proclaim they’re going to write a book and then give up after a few days). We think that these things are easy because most people are funny in real life, or at least think they are.  


However, it is way more difficult than we assume it is. Here is a list of why I feel that we underestimate the effort of comedy writing. 


1: The things we think are funny do not translate to a wider scale. 


Comedy writers are expected to create relatable (or possibly absurdist) content that a big market will enjoy. Sitcoms on prime time television are trying to get jokes out of huge audiences, which sometimes makes them have to rely on cliche or typical bits to get laugher. A lot even use laugh tracks to get laughter out of scenes that aren’t actually funny. These two videos provide really good insight on how laugh tracks effect television shows.  


However, that is not the point. Comedy writing forces us to bring our own personal experiences and make them consumable for a larger scale. Something that may be funny with in your friend group may not translate to even one other person.  


I don’t write comedy, I’m a journalism major. So I don’t speak with much experience. However, I do know the feeling of a joke falling flat that I thought was hilarious (one great experience of this was a sketch I wrote for a grade in high school Spanish).  

Appealing to a global audience with something dramatic is easy, we are all sympathetic. But to get everybody in a room laughing? I mean, isn’t that why stand up comedians have someone open for them to make it easier to get enjoyment? (I’m not saying stand up comedians are weak, I love stand up. I’m just trying to say comedy isn’t the easiest thing in the world). 


2: Originality is especially crucial.  


The things we find funny we take from other people. That’s simply how jokes and stories work, we spread them around because we laughed. But comedy writers need to be original, and they can’t steal stuff from other comedians. 


Amy Schumer has been accused of stealing bits from other comedians, and it definitely had an impact on her reputation. I constantly get recommended videos titled “Amy Schumer stealing jokes compilation” on Youtube. 

My point is you need originality to be a comedian. Especially stand up comedians rely on storytelling, which, yes, they can make up. However, it needs to be realistic. Obviously, as humans we exaggerate when we tell stories to make them more interesting. 


But everything has to be rooted in reality. That’s what makes it difficult. A lot of my friends and I will joke in “what ifs” and hypotheticals. That isn’t rooted in reality, so likely wouldn’t work in a stand up comedy special.  


3: Writing is hard by itself.  

Writing is a difficult task. I’m writing this right now and I have to take breaks from time to time to gather my thoughts. Comedy writing is especially difficult in sitcoms or movies because they have to balance plot and comedy. Too many jokes and you’ll get hit with the fact that there is no story. Too much plot and you’ve lost your comedy. 


Comedy writing is such an artistic way of creativity, something that if you the tip the scales oen way ever so slightly you could lose everything you've worked so hard on. 

A quick resolution for 2019: respect comedy writing or try it yourself.