3) You gotta have heart: the power of drama in comedy.
When attempting to explain the success of The Simpsons, Mike Reiss feels “The key thing on The Simpsons is you’ve always got to have some heart in there. But not too much…If you throw in 25 seconds of emotion right at the end — if Homer can be a goof the whole show and then suddenly realize he’s been bad — that will be very powerful to people.”
Phil Rosenthal thinks the poignancy of something beautiful expressed by two people “grounds them as characters; it grounds them as believable. Because we’re not just ha-ha funny all the time.”
Currently teaching at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, Ken Estin says, “I tell my students that if the show has heart, if it has a soul, if it has those human elements that are so precious to us — it’ll be a better episode. I always thought about finding a really human moment, a really touching moment.”
And how do writers integrate the drama or emotion with the humor? In David Isaacs’ view, it depends on “whether or not the characters and story have a capacity to deal with real issues and real humanity.” He uses Frasier as an example: “The show Frasier was able to do that because the feelings between Martin and Frasier were so strong, and they were such opposites in who they were that their clashes and conflicts could come down to very real father-son attitudes. You could actually have a moment that was fairly dramatic — not for long — but you wouldn’t worry about getting a laugh.”
4) Even great writers get blocked.
James L. Brooks described his struggles while writing Terms of Endearment: “…I was stuck. I was stuck in my script, and I couldn’t go backwards and I couldn’t go forwards. And I spent every day blushing. I’d literally be blushing...It was just intolerable. And I went out one night, and there was a concert pianist there who did pretty well all over the country, but he had never played New York. And he had a fear of what that would be if he played New York. And I described what was happening to me, the blushing and stuff. And he said, “Oh, that’s a state of shame.” And it helped me enormously that there was a name for it, which meant I wasn’t the only one in the world who ever experienced it. And I don’t know what happened from there; I know I went to Hawaii and had a small room at a friend’s house, and I had the illusion that I had cracked the whole thing. And I had one of the most euphoric moments in my life. It turned out I hadn’t cracked the whole thing. But the feeling that I had cracked the whole thing released me from all the tentacles of that writer’s block.”
I asked the writers for their strategies in overcoming a block. Hal Kanter said he’d call a friend to see if they could help “prime the pump” for him. David Isaacs’s advice is “Just keep moving forward.” Sol Saks believed writer’s block is usually a lack of conflict, which is the basis of drama: “If you’re writing a scene and you don’t know what to write, the answer to it is, you have no conflict.” And Leonard Stern gives his prescription: “Actually, I don’t know a writer who hasn’t suffered from writer’s block, and the cure is always the same: patience, patience, and then, if necessary…more patience.”
Wow some great tips in here! I don't even know where to begin! As far as writing blocks, I think I follow the David Isaac's rule of advice, just keep moving forward. I believe in just putting anything on the page, even if it's crap. Because half the battle is getting it out of your head and onto the page. Once it's there, you can always edit.
As far as the power of drama in comedy, I definitely believe in that. My gosh, how many times have you seen something awful in your own life and in the middle of it thought, well to an outsider this sure could be funny. I'm not the only one that does that right? haha I hope not! Since the comedy greats see the comedy in drama, I am pretty sure I'm not the only one that does this.
Would love to hear if you've experienced either the comedy in dramatic moments yourself or have tips to avoid writer's block. Loving these tips from Paula that's gotten from these greats. Hope you are too!