Lesson Four – Cream Pie Fiasco and the Pregnant Guy spy. (Dodging and ducking the POW’s) Part 2.

Having pretty much thrown the cream pie into the face of slapstick comedy, we’d like to know what is the difference with situational comedy and how do you write situational comedy.

Situational comedy and subtle comedy can have several facets in common, and are very often used in conjunction with other forms of humor. Taking the above definitions situational comedy is generally viewed as a twist on real or imagined events that occur within a real life scenario—more often or not these events put the character into an embarrassing or awkward situation. Readers/viewers find this funny because we can imagine ourselves in that situation, are glad we’re not in it, and aside from having a good laugh at the victim’s attempts to get out of the situation we can admire from afar while they do.

Want some examples of situational comedy. How about:

What would happen if your twin sister, who’s getting married in a few weeks, takes a trip to Vegas and unwittingly has sex with one of the groomsmen—see Moira McTark’s excellent Nothing Stays in Vegas for a rather normal romantic comedy of this format.

For a blend of situational plus silly comedy Terry Pratchett’s discworld series is one of the best. The inept hero, Rincewind, is always finding himself in situations too absurd even for the crazy world he lives in.

Or, if you can bear the thought of reading manga try Rumiko Takahashi’s, Ranma ½. Here the unfortunate hero has been cursed and when soaked in cold water turns into a girl, and only by being soaked in hot water will turn him back—add an arranged marriage to the mix and you get wonderful lines like.

Ranma: (After his bride-to-be was complaining that he’d seen her naked when she’d walked into the shower thinking he was a girl—the hot water had turned him back into a man): What’s the big deal? I’ve seen it all before, and I’m better looking too.
Fiancée: *flattens him with dining room table.*
Ranma’s father: He deserved that.

Sometimes too, the gentle situation comedy can be based on a hypothesis, or a general complaint you’d love to address. How many women loved the movie Junior, when experimental doctors discovered a way of making Arnold Schwarzenegger pregnant? How many times have women wished men could get pregnant to understand what it’s like? How many times have you wondered what it would be like for your local preacher to find himself, accidentally, onstage and expected to perform at a male strip club…? Or what would it be like to have a woman as a quarterback? (Role reversal is very popular for situational comedy.)

So, if you ever find yourself wishing someone could have had the same experience/pain/ trials and tribulations you’ve been through, there’s a good chance you have a story in there.

Think for a moment and see if you can recall making this kind of wish sometime in your life. How could you translate that into something comedic?

Finding an idea that is fresh can be difficult, as TV, radio and movie entertainment has been thriving on situational comedy for years. Whatever can be done, has been done it seems. But using a fresh perspective, different location and other changes in detail can make it work.

The hardest part though, is making it work. Situational comedy is hard to write because, even the silly type, has to be plausible. Moira McTark’s twins are following a behavior pattern that was set up between them in childhood, so this kind of situation is normal for them. Schwarzenegger’s baby followed scientific knowledge, available at the time, that could conceivably help a man conceive through a form of artificial insemination.

Even if the situation is whacked out comedy, like Pratchett’s work, the world he created has it’s own limitations and logics. Rincewind’s amazing good fortune at escaping almost constant death followed that logic.

Ultimately, to be a satisfying read the problem is resolved. Generally this is to the hero/heroines advantage, and frequently to the frustration of any antagonists involved. (If there is one.)

There is a great tendency in situational humor to rig the scenario. To make the characters act abnormally, or to make sure that apple cart seller happens to walk down a street he’s never been seen on before. Simply for the express purpose of providing an apple so a William Tell wannabe can knock it off his sons head with a rubber band. Keep alert when you write this form of comedy for situations that you feel must go in or else. If you get that for else feeling there’s a good chance the characters or the internal logic of the world are acting out. Re-check that scene and make sure you’re not undermining the world and the people you’ve already created.

In summation then. Situational comedy consists of:

1. A twist on real life events, or a reversal of real life, in which people are put into a bad situation that needs to be resolved.
2. Has the look, and feel, of being real and plausible. People either have to believe this could happen to them, or the world of the characters must have a sustainable inner logic.
3. There is normally a satisfactory outcome to the scenario.
4. The flow of the story from conception of the problem, dealing with the situation and the resolution has to be natural and not contrived. The characters must remain in character and the resolution be logical.

If you have the time, take the idea that you have for the earlier question and see if you can plot out some very brief scenes for a) the introduction of the situation. b) the high tension moment where the situation looks like it’s getting beyond control. c) the end scenario where the situation is resolved.