5 Professional Tips for Comedy Screenwriting

Screenwriter Ángela Armero shares five essential tips when writing stories that make people laugh

Many fiction screenwriters agree that, if writing a good drama is difficult, writing a comedy that works can be even more challenging. And yet, comedy is a genre the critics and awarding bodies love to rip into. It is considered by many as being nothing more than a scripted sequence of jokes.

Nothing is further from the truth. Good comedies may appear as total madness, but, beyond the jokes, they have a clear narrative structure and follow (or consciously break) a set of specific rules. Paradoxically, these rules turn comedy into the least serious of genres but must be taken very seriously by those who commit to it.

There are different approaches to writing comedy. We asked cinema and television screenwriter, novelist, and lecturer Ángela Armero her method. Armero has written a number of award-winning Spanish comedies, including ‘Si yo fuera rico’ which was the most seen film in its first run in Spain in 2019. Here she shares her five essential tips when embarking on such enormous jobs.

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Joe E. Brown and Jack Lemmon in 'Some Like It Hot'

DISCLAIMER: I've been kindly asked to suggest tips to use when writing comedy, and even though it is the hardest genre to write, I have agreed to do so with the utmost respect for its complexity.

1. Aristotle wrote: ‘Tragedy aims at representing men as better than in actual life. Comedy as worse."

Remember that comedy is the realm of characters with one fault or more. It does not mean that they are not good, but that they are hardly ever driven by virtue.
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Jack Nicholson in 'As Good As It Gets'

2. A comedic story must work both as a comedy (to make people laugh) but also as a story. If either of the two elements is missing, it will fall apart.

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Peter Sellers in 'Doctor Strangelove'

3. Characters first, scenes second.

We remember the hilarious scenes in some of our favorite comedies, but it's our characters' personalities that enable the mix of the two to be so funny.

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Cameron Diaz in 'There’s Something About Mary'

4. A lesson from Lester (Alan Alda) in 'Crimes and Misdemeanors': "Comedy is tragedy plus time."

(Almost) everything terrible one day can become comical material through the filter of experience, and the passing of years.

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Alan Alda and Woody Allen on the set of 'Crimes and Misdemeanors'

5. Comedies always end well

The following standard usually takes place in comedies: we can bear all the suffering that the characters endure because we know that they will be rescued from their misfortune.

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Zach Galifianakis, Bradley Cooper, and Ed Helms in 'The Hangover'
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Screenwriter Ángela Armero

You may be interested in:

- Script Writing for Movies and Television, a course by Julio Rojas.
- Script for Animation Series, a course by Fer Salem.
- Development of Fiction Series, a course by Hernán Caffiero.


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