The Art of Writing Comedy By Norm Barnhart

Comedy is based on people caught up in a situation and their reaction to it. The situation can be ordinary or out of this world.  The writer has to begin with a “who” and a “where.”  The who is our character on stage.  We need to think about who that person is and develop the character.  What are the likes and dislikes of this person and very important is the attitude toward the situation and the things around them.

For example, an entire comedy stage  act could be developed around a cell phone going off in the theater.  The funny guy on stage has an attitude toward it.  Takes it from owner, pretends to talk on it. The act builds as he juggles it, almost drops it, balances it and does a magic trick with it. Finally it is returned to the owner and just then drops, building more trouble from this situation.  All works well in the end as we see it is bouncing on a string like a yo-yo.  The act builds as the comedy is added with attitude and gags to an everyday situation. This complete routine is described at another point in this blog.

Similarly with a comedy balloon act we start with a few balloons, but the humor is added as problems arise such as the balloons get tangled, stuck to the hand or break and spin off into the sky.  Static electricity could build up and a shower of sparks is released.  (This stunt is fully explained in my first DVD comedy and magic with balloons). Available at NormBarnhart.com

The most helpful thing I find in coming up with comedy is to think: “what if?” What if my tramp character is hungry and came across a lunch box. What if my funny guy wanted to make some balloon animals and as he proudly came on stage he trips and all the balloons fly off into the air. What if my character got a job as a chef and we see his first day at work, with silly results.

When thinking with a “What If?” attitude the possibilities are endless. Who is having a problem, what is their prop or problem? Where is this happening? How is the problem fixed?

Charlie Chaplin often used this formula, but in the end things were not fixed, things were the same, He would find himself strolling off into the sunset, still poor and in tramp rags. The story ends with Charlie the same as before he stumbled into the situation or job that he thought would bring happiness.  I love seeing him sadly slowly stroll down the dusty road, away from the camera, and then, straiten up his back, take on a new attitude, kick his heels and go on to new adventures, believing tomorrow would be a better day.

In my tramp/Chaplin style act, Norman discovers a suitcase on the stage.  It’s filled with magic and wonder.  He thinks that the magic will benefit him. He gives it a try and the magic wand makes money, eggs and chickens appear. He discovers the magic as it happens and as the act unfolds the wand starts playing more tricks on him and the magic gets out of control. In the end he runs away from the wand and box of magic and his life is no better off than before. A sad ending, maybe, but like Chaplin, this is a tramp act and he must “loose” in the end.  But his attitude stays happy even though unusual problems come his way.

Comic Magician "The Amazing Normondo the Great"Normondo the Great

Another example is in my comic magic act, “The Amazing Normondo the Great”, the audience witnesses a magician’s act on stage that completely falls apart, as if it was the first time this happened.  Normondo struts with his Vegas style magician mannerisms unaware that things are desperately coming apart.  His pride and ego press him forward, and the audience convulses in laughter as the situations becomes even more desperate.  In this case the “What if?” I came up with is that of, what if a prideful and styling magician’s act fallings apart. Normondo’s act ends with him triumphant even though his tricks have not turned out like he wanted. It is his strong attitude that brings laughter from the audience. Normondo video cam be seen at AboveEverything.com

From these examples you can see that there is endless potential for humor as your funny character discovers a problem, a new job, a skill, trick or juggling stunt. Allow yourself to play and see how the props and situation unfold to make the comedy happen. New ideas for comedy begin with thinking, “What if?”

See more about Norm’s comedy routines in books and on DVD at NormBarnhart.com

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