A little over a year ago I decided that I wanted to begin making comedies. I had tried making experimental films, artistic films, mumblecore films, absurdist/surreal films and even a straight-up dramatic film. All of these projects were interesting and valuable experiences, but the resulting films weren’t exactly the kind of thing I would want to kick back on the couch and watch after a hard day’s work much less go through the expense and effort of going to see at a movie theatre.
Comedy sounded like it would be fun. The only problem in my mind is that comedy is deceptively complex. There is a common belief that you are either born funny or you aren’t. It isn’t true, but some people certainly have more of a knack for it than others. For the people who don’t have the knack, like myself, comedy has to be learned like everything else: through trial and error and lots of practice.
When I began graduate school I thought that it wouldn’t hurt to take a few courses on the subject. Thanks to the newly formed Comedy@SCA “movement” (they can’t call it a “track” and they can’t call it a “focus” for bureaucratic reasons) a whole series of classes were developed just for the purpose of promoting the basic skills of comedy including: “Foundations of Comedy” taught by Ken Levine. “Foundations” seemed like just what I needed and it didn’t conflict with any of my required courses so I signed up.
The class consisted of about eighty students; mostly undergraduates who spent their time surfing Facebook and bad-mouthing the Student Assistant. Most of these, I learned, were writers who wanted to learn how to write comedy while I was more interested in learning how to direct and produce it. At the time I didn’t know anything about Ken Levine, but I quickly discovered that I was reasonably familiar with his work: especially from M*A*S*H (I had watched every episode of every season of M*A*S*H thanks to a coworker named Scott back in Chicago). It quickly became evident that the class was being taught by a legitimate work-horse from comedy television. Lectures were delivered, without notes, on subjects like Physical Comedy, Coming Of Age Stories, and Black Comedy (not the Tyler Perry kind) and guest speakers included the likes of Ray Romano and Dan O’Shannon (producer of “Modern Family”). I was appropriately impressed. I have only two regrets: first that the class is over and second that there isn’t a follow-up class called “Applications Of Comedy” that would allow me to try out some of the concepts that “Foundations” introduced.
In an effort to learn more I began following Ken Levine’s blog: http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/. He has been blogging a lot longer than I have so there is quite a lot of back-posts that I am still getting caught up on, but I am already discovering that it is a great resource for finding other ideas and examples that I should investigate further. For example- “Are movies too long?” (I vote “yes”, but my attention span tops out at about 50 minutes.) Or How ‘Downton Abbey’ should have handled the long-delayed engagement between Matthew and Mary.
So the class is over but the learning continues.
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