Writing the R-Rated Comedy

Keith Giglio led a great session at last weekend’s Great American Pitchfest on R-rated comedies. At the top of the session, Keith pointed out that comedies are the easiest sells in Hollywood – they don’t require A-list talent (in fact, they tend to make stars), they’re cheap to shoot, easy to market, and they make a lot of money. As Keith put it, comedies are “the quickest way to Oz.”

At their core, R-comedies are about primal human urges – love, sex, hate, success. R-comedy is the only genre in which “a guy wants to get laid” is a perfectly acceptable hero’s journey (40 Year Old Virgin). Usually in the end R-rated comedies come down to something deeper, but the ending is still always going to be about something innate to human nature, something any audience member should be able to connect to.

As with any kind of film, Keith underscored how important it is to know your genre. If you want to write comedy, study comedy. Study what’s out there now and where the things that are out there now came from. As with most Hollywood films, the trick is to be uniquely familiar with your concept, said Keith. You want to have an idea that sounds like something that has already worked because it has some universal quality to it. But the idea has to have something new to give.

Keith suggested an interesting strategy for brainstorming new film ideas (and, he insisted, a writer should always be generating new film ideas):

Take an old movie and give it a new location, a new character, or change the genre.

You’ll be surprised what kind of fascinating ideas you’ll spark using this exercise as a starting point.

Keith also brought up the idea of a well – a stockpile of dialogue, scene, film, and situation ideas that you can turn to whenever you get stuck or could use a little inspiration. Overheard a funny conversation yesterday? Write it down and add it to the well. This technique has been used by writers for centuries, because it makes writing easier. And it keeps you sharp – finding humor in the world is easy if you’re really looking.

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