Friday, 16 May 2014

5 Questions, with Comedy Writing Guru, Steve Kaplan

Steve Kaplan will be one of the featured panelists at the upcoming event: Professionally Funny: Comedy Screenwriting with The Scriptwriters Network on May 28th at the Los Angeles Film School. As part of the promotional buildup to that, I received an e-mail with the first two answers Steve gave to a short quiz about himself. The rest was shown on the ScreenCraft website. I have shamelessly reproduced it here in the hope of encouraging those who can to get along and learn a bit about comedic writing.
Comedy is underrepresented in every actor's life, because it's so bloody difficult to write. ~Michael Caine


1. How did you get started in your career and how did you become a comedy writing consultant?

I actually started in the theater—I co-founded a theater in New York called Manhattan Punch Line. It was a theater completely devoted to comedy—we did plays, presented stand-ups, improv groups, sketch groups. As part of the theater, I taught improv classes to actors, which later evolved into teaching comic acting classes, then comedy writing classes. When I came to L.A., I started teaching seminars in comedy writing, and writers and producers started asking me to give notes on their scripts. And who am I to say no?

2. What does it take to write funny?

Dorothy Parker once put it as “a sharp eye, and a wild mind.” I’d add the perception to see the absurdities of the world we live in, the courage to include yourself as part of that absurd world, and the ability to share that truth with others. And the occasional dick joke.

3. Because comedy is such a subjective genre, how does a comedy screenwriter find like-minded producers?

There are two ways: First, make it easy to find you. Nia Vardalos didn’t just sit down and write the screenplay to My Big Fat Greek Wedding and then wait for producers to call—she staged it as a one-person show and ran it until Rita Wilson and Playtone picked it up. Submit it to The Big Break Contest, or Sundance. Or, and this is the second way, stop waiting to meet a producer, and produce it yourself. And then submit it to Sundance.

4. How has comedy changed over the past couple decades?

Well, things that were once taboo are no longer taboo. But that’s a two-edged sword, because you can’t just rely on shock or gross-out humor to get a laugh. But since comedy is the art of telling the truth about human beings, and since human beings haven’t really changed that much in the past 3,000 years, comedy hasn’t really changed that much either, except for delivery platforms. Pretty soon, we’ll all have an app for jokes inserted directly into our cerebral cortex.

5. What advice do you have for emerging screenwriters breaking into the industry now?

Watch films. Read screenplays. Take an improv class. Get into a writing group. And steal, steal, steal—but please, always call it “homage.”




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1 comment:

Kathy Smart said...

There are very few times when "homage" lives up to its name. In the extras to Lord of the Rings, Peter Jackson explained that he had always been taken with a foot view of a hobbit and he reproduced the angle on screen. That added to the richness of the original artwork and I always enjoy viewing the scene with that little bit of inside knowledge. But most times, I see something copied and I just think, why am I watching this? I've seen it before.