Sunday, January 18, 2015

Claim: "you need five jokes for every page of your script".

One of the most common things that you can "learn" from a lot of sitcom books is the claim that your script can't have too many funny moments in it. According to these books, every page should have boatloads of them - five or more.

What these so called authors try to tell you is that you pretty much need to have jokes everywhere. Otherwise the audience might not laugh enough. "Jokes, jokes, jokes, punch it up! We need more jokes! Someone bring in the joke writer to save us!"

In my opinion there are numerous problems with this kind of approach to comedy writing. That is because if you pay too much attention to making every single line supposedly funny, the audience is going to get confused and tired pretty quickly.

Just because you're writing comedy doesn't mean that you can be funny all the time. If you try to do that, your script in most cases will become pretty incoherent. If you have too many jokes in your script, your writing is almost certainly going to suffer from it.

In order to put this claim and 'my' theory to test I decided to check the latest episodes of 'Modern Family' and 'Mom'. I decided to pay more attention to how many jokes there were, did the supposed funny moments work or did they make the episodes worse.

The sample size wasn't admittedly that big, but after I watched these episodes, I think I got enough information (or data) to draw the conclusion that sometimes more is less - that you shouldn't try to write in too many jokes in your scripts.

For example, when it came to Modern Family's 6x12 'The Big Guns", I had to shake my head when I watched it. Especially in that cold open where the writers tried to make every moment funny. Every character from Phil to Luke, from Haley to Alex tried to be a smart ass.

I counted six jokes for that one page. Of those jokes or supposed funny quips only the first one was okay. Objectively speaking all the following lines bombed spectacularly. To say that the writers tried too hard is an understatement. I was not amused.

Right after I had seen that episode of Modern Family, I checked the latest episode of 'Mom'. Needless to say - since the show is a multi-cam comedy - the 'joke' count was even higher. The studio audience was laughing at every line that was uttered.

To be honest, I didn't find any of those funny moments to be funny. Even though the studio audience was constantly laughing - and even though there were these so called 'jokes' - all I could think was that the episode didn't really make sense at all.

It became pretty clear that there was no story, so the jokes didn't work or matter. Clearly what the script needed was solid plotlines that would have gone somewhere. It needed situations for the characters that the audience would have been able to relate to.

All those crucial elements were missing, which is something that you shouldn't ever overlook.  'Mom' disappointed me because there wasn't anything going for it. As it is probably with every problem script, the lack of 'jokes' was not the issue.

The truth is that you just can't camouflage the problems with the script with more jokes most of the time. If you don't have a clue what should be done, don't take the easy way out. Don't try to add as many 'jokes' as possible - because it probably won't work.

In any case, comedy really is a lot more about story than it's about jokes - and you probably shouldn't trust a person who tries to convince you that your script needs more jokes. "Five jokes or more on every page", in most cases won't fix anything.


  1. I couldn't agree more! That is why I have stopped watching Modern Family and Two and a Half Men, when Ashton Kutcher joined in. I'm a little afraid BBT( which is in my opinion the best comedy-serie today) is in the risk zone too(Family Guy is nr 1 in it's own cathegory).

  2. And South Park among the best, of course...