The book starts with the question "Can comedy be taught?" The answer, of course, is "Yes, it can." I wouldn't have bought the book had it not been the case. And it is one of the books in the "Teach Yourself" series from the publishers Hodder & Stoughton.
However, it's not an easy thing to learn comedy. That's the part I failed to read when I browsed the book before buying it. There are several exercises in the book to put the things learned into practice. Being a lazy person, I now realize why I haven't written anything funny.
The next part briefly discusses the nature of comedy. It discusses the need for laughter, not only as a form of escapism, but as therapy, as well. It also showed "The Laughter Triangle", a model of how laughter works. The triangle's three points are the vehicle for delivery of material, the funny material, and the recipient of the material.
This part also reminds that the writer "should think carefully about the target of [his] funnies if [he] want[s] to be both responsible in [his] humour, and get the most laughs."
The next two chapters are, I think, the most important ones in the book. The first one talks about what a comedy writer is, how he should be responsible in coming out with his materials. It also provides tips on how to generate ideas.
The second one talks about comedy writing techniques. It discusses the golden rules of comedy:
- It must be economical.
- It must be self explanatory.
- It must be funny.
The chapter also discusses about different comedy techniques, such as exaggeration, absurdity, and incongruity.
The rest of the book talks about the different genres of comedy writing, and how one can write for them. This includes script formats, opportunities, advantages and limitations of each genre, dealing on the three points of the Laughter Triangle. This is good reading, especially if one wants to enter the business of comedy writing.
One technique, the put-down, reminds of me of another book that I've read, which I now forget the title. That book says that comedy is really a put-down, a way to "bring down" society, or to deprecate people or established norms. Thus, one should be very careful in being humorous.
An example of a put-down is this: I once had a textmate, and we agreed to meet one day. We described what we're going to wear, where we'll meet, and at what time. I went to the meeting place at our appointed schedule. I saw her, wearing the clothes she described to me. I approached her and asked, "Are you Rose?" She asked back, "Are you Balty?" I answered, "Yes." She said, "I'm not Rose."
Normally, such comedy becomes funnier when the joke is on the speaker.
Never tell a joke to put-down your audience. Hence, if you are asked to give a speech to students of La Salle, Greenhills, you won't tell a story about five dumb Lasallites, even if these five came from Taft. Rather, you should tell a story about five dumb Ateneans.
I am reminded of this because of the uproar on Malu Fernandez's article in People Asia Magazine. In that article, she tries to be funny by putting down OFWs. Her friends thought the article was funny. No, they thought it was hilarious. Fortunately, the rest of the Filipino people thought otherwise.
The situation, of being in the plane with Filipino OFWs, can be a source of humor. She could have put down the people there, but only if she has put herself further down than them. Instead, she wrote as if these people didn't have the right to be in the same place with her.
We've always done that, telling stories that belittle the Filipino. But when we do, it is always with the implicit understanding that we belong to that race. That either we're proud to have the same idiosyncrasies, or that we wish something be done to correct them.
(As I write this, I'm listening to 100.3 Mhz DzRJ. They played the song "What The World Needs Now/Abraham, Martin, John". It starts with a man asking a girl the meaning of the words "segregation", "bigotry", "hatred", and "prejudice". The child did not know these words, except for the last one, which she thought it was when her mother is sick. Then, sounds from a marching group of soldiers, reports on the shooting of John F. Kennedy, a speech by Martin Luther King, the shooting of Robert Kennedy and the eulogy of his brother are interspersed with the music. The song showed how foolish bigotry and prejudice are.)
Going back to the article, Malu used contrasts (another comedy technique) to show the disparity of her taste against the tastes of the OFWs. She writes about "OFWs smelling of AXE and Charlie cologne" while her "Jo Malone evaporate[s] into thin air".
Teka, I like and use AXE, especially the Phoenix scent. I buy the rubber canister because it costs cheaper. Nagmahal na nga. It used to be sold at P 48, but now cost P 64.80 at The Landmark. However, I found a sale at SM Sucat, each cannister being sold at P 25. May libreng scented ballpen pa. I bought the last three.
This post is not a tirade against Malu Fernandez. So many bloggers have spoken against her, forcing her to resign from the magazine. No, she does not deserve the publicity she is getting right now. Albeit it is a bad one, it's still publicity. It will only add to the curiosity, thereby reader(s?) of this blog will go and read her article. That will only increase the number of hits, and, for a magazine, that's additional eyeballs that would not have set on their magazine if this thing has not happened. In the end, it is the magazine who'll be ahead. And what about us, the madlang people? Ganun pa rin hanggang may lumabas ulit na isang Malu Fernandez.
Rather, I would like to thank Malu for teaching me how to write comedy. I guess her lessons taught me more than the book I'm reading.
And Jenny Roche will call this technique "irony".