I took part in a flash writing competition. A genre was decided, and certain items had to be included, all to be presented in a predetermined setting. Participants got a few hours to come up with a story under 1000 words.
My group got comedy. While I came up with a story, or a draft, I’m not sure it was funny. Or not in the way I wanted it to be. Given almost every thing was provided bar the actual plot, I struggled. It felt forced and unnatural, as I crammed attempts at humour into something I hadn’t imagined.
Partly, I blamed the location – a school. Not such an inherently comedic place for me, I’ll be honest, unless tragi-comic. Or funny in a sad way. But that’s an exaggeration too. I had a situation comedy. I don’t think the situation I created was hilarious, but it at least it included the elements required and was the right length. It was a story. It attempted something. But of all the writing competitions and requirements I have attempted only this felt too constrained.
In the end, my lil story probably suffered from trying too hard within too short a time. A few more drafts, perhaps, and I might have made the next round.
What is it about comedy?
Ages ago, I watched Felicity Ward Live at the BBC (ABC iView if you’re in Australia and so inclined). Her show was full of jokes and witticisms, which worked, while her narrative arc was confused and jumpy, or it was initially. But it was also the point of her show. The magic of stand up is repetition (of ideas, gestures, and phrases) and the call backs to unrelated points. For an hour of comedy about anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome, amongst other issues, it was funny. And I could see her ‘working out.’ I didn’t mind that I could work backwards from her act to see how she pieced it together. It was satisfying.
Ward’s beats, meandering anecdotes, accents and explanations were well crafted. When it was jumpy and energetic it was a deliberate choice, when it wasn’t, it was also deliberate. The audience ‘fell’ for it, to quote Ward.
This is not just a long-winded attempt to say her routine was well-timed, although it was also that. Not every piece of it worked as well it each other bit, but it all contributed to the story she was telling about herself. It was odd and gross, and heartbreaking, a bit. But the funny won.
I had a few hours to come up with an attempt at humour. I am struck by the hours of writing and rehearsal to get a comedy routine like Ward’s polished and shiny. And thus, ever, am I dumbfounded at claims that comedy writing is easy or unworthy compared to other kinds of writing.