But first, my announcement. I’ve been looking for a way to meet my readers – not easy to do since you’re spread out around the world. But I found a way to at least connect by phone. Next Tuesday, October 2nd from 4-5 P.D.T. I’m going to hold a teleseminar. It’s absolutely free, will accommodate the first 150 people, and did I mention it’s free? I’ll be answering your questions about writing – the kind of stuff I’ll be doing in print today, talking about specs, getting agents, tips, whatever you want.
Here’s how to sign up.
Just go to this website and register. Couldn’t be easier (I’m told).
It’s a way to talk about this goofy business informally, conversationally, and a way for me to better get to know you guys. And no salesman will call.
Update: We're already half full so if you want to participate please sign up. Thanks.
Now to the contest.
Most comedies are room written these days. So this type of challenge is what you’d face all day every day. It’s obviously easier when there are other people to bounce your ideas off of, and much more fun, but learning the skill of pitching just the right joke for specific situations is something you’ll need to know.
You guys pitched some GREAT entries, really funny, really original. Some not so great but that’s what I’m here for.
Remember the reality of your show. Peter can wake up in the Twilight Zone, Liz can’t. Earl can do voice-over, Larry can’t.
Beware of inside jokes. One had Liz saying, “Lorne, where’s the Emmy?” She’d have to break character to do that. We call this a “Room joke”. Usually there are five room jokes, and twenty disgusting sexual jokes pitched for every real one that goes into the script.
Follow instructions. After saying I wasn’t looking for scenes a few people still submitted scenes. When you’re in a rewrite room and the showrunner lays out what he’s not looking for and you pitch that, how happy do you think he’s going to be? Especially if it’s after midnight. And the Chinese food from six hours ago is sitting in his stomach like a cannonball.
There were some jokes pitched that frankly I just didn’t get. I had no idea what they meant. Not a clue for a couple of them.
Making pop references can be tricky. On the one hand they can really make a show sound hip and fresh, on the other, if the reference is too obscure you lose the audience. The exception to this is what we call “one percenters”. We know only a few people will get the reference but we don’t care and it’s not a big joke, more like a little aside. BACK TO YOU last week had a line blasting a “Mr. Robert Broder”. Bob Broder is a big TV agent. Fifteen people in America got that joke, but those of us who did loved it.
Then there’s the matter of taste problems. Yes, you can stretch the boundaries more today, especially on FAMILY GUY and CURB but there’s still a point where the audience goes “Yikes!” It’s a judgment call. In the room someone would pitch something reprehensible and we’d say, “Fine and then add the stage direction ‘the audience leaps over the railing and stones the writers’.” What if you have a joke and you’re not sure whether it’s crossed that line? Lose it. Err on the side of crowd control.
I loved how many of you realized that there wasn’t just a laugh in the line itself but also where the bed was. Earl winding up in a store window. Liz in a twin bed, Larry in a hammock, Liz on the Staten Island Ferry. Many of you found really hilarious places to put Peter. But you can do that within the FAMILY GUY world. There’s much more freedom in animation.
I’ll bet for most of you it was much easier coming up with lines for FAMILY GUY than 30 ROCK, right? You don’t have to worry about that pesky little thing called “reality”. But that’s why I would rather not read a spec animated script. I want to see if a writer can be funny when the situations and characters are real. FAMILY GUY not only allows you to actually use “room jokes”, they encourage them.
Many of the best pitches really dealt with getting underneath the characters. Larry worried about the sheets (that’s so Larry), overworked Liz saying, “If I’d been kidnapped it probably means I can sleep in”. Another Liz line I appreciated: “I’ll be your self-confidence challenged….whorish wake up call this morning.” I could hear her saying that. Larry would be more repulsed by his surroundings than Earl. Liz would be more philosophical than Larry. A lot of your pitches reflected the specifics of the characters. Good goin’.
Take caution with the Earl voice-overs. Some of them were very lonnnnnnng. Remember, the actor is on screen during all of this – doing what? A few sentences will suffice.
Along the way you guys had some great lines and observations. “Tequila is like the transporters in Star Trek minus all the accuracy”. Any number of stand-out quips.
And my favorite lines were the one that surprised me, that had a twist. All of the versions of “I knew I shouldn’t eat/drink _______ on an empty stomach” were the more expected approach. But Larry waking up in a hotel room and saying, “Yess!!” or Larry waking up next to a transvestite with a prosthetic leg and calling his wife to say, “I think I’m in New York” made me laugh. I didn’t see those punch lines coming.
All in all I would say this exercise was a rousing success. Thanks again to all who participated. I might do this again more often if the interest is there. And maybe I’ll even come up with a prize. Let me see if there’s anything I can re-gift from WINGS.