Sunday, February 27, 2011

Comedy Writing: British Shenanigans, Barney Fife and a Bucket

By Kimberly Johnson

“The Bouquet residence. The lady of the house speaking!”

There’s a lot of ha-ha packed into that line. And Hyacinth Bucket is just the social-climbing lady to give it you. By the way, it’s pronounced boo-kay.

In PBS’ Keeping Up Appearances, this middle-aged English housewife bumbles her way, in earnest, to keep up with the Joneses. Think Carol Burnett meets Lucille Ball and brings along Ruth Buzzi for the ride.

These telecasts highlight the mischief and mayhem created by Hyacinth. In one episode, the lady of the house chases her man-hungry, scantily-clad sister, Rose, around the churchyard to prevent her from making moves on the unsuspecting vicar.

Full disclosure—I am not an admirer of British wit and its exports of entertainment: John Cleese (Fawlty Towers), Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous), and Peter Sellers (Inspector Clouseau of the Pink Panther films). Good heavens, remember the vaudeville-esque Benny Hill?

My confession…I like Hyacinth Bucket. She reminds me of Lucy and Ethel’s highjinks of yesteryear. So, what makes Hyacinth’s antics so humorous?

Veteran television writer Fred Rubin offers some insight in “Five Secrets For Improving Your Comedy Writing.” (

Secret #1: Be specific.

Secret #2: Put the funny word at the end. According to Rubin, if the writer uses a word that is paramount to the punch line, put that word at the end of the joke.

Secret #3: Words with a hard “K” or hard “C” sound are funny. “Watch any great comedy movie or any classic sitcom, and you will find across the board that a good majority of the jokes rely on the use of a word with these sounds,” Rubin states. He cites an example from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall: a tearful Annie gets Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) to come to her apartment to kill a spider. He charges into the bathroom with a tennis racket and after much off-screen noise and combat he comes out to announce, “You got a spider in there as big as a Buick!”

Secret #4: Rubin advises: “Never write to a joke; let the joke come out of the character or situation.” He adds that good humor originates from well-developed characters with specific and uncommon behaviors. Rubin adds that comedy grows out of the conflict of the situation. Think Barney Fife making Ernest T. Bass a temporary deputy sheriff and having Gomer Pyle ride shotgun in the patrol car.

Secret #5: Exorcise the jokes that don’t fit, even if you love them. “Don’t be afraid to edit, trim back, and discard, because pacing (again rhythm) is also a key ingredient to a successful comedy."


SCWW said...

Thanks for the reference and link, Kimberly. What funmny are you up to?

monjon said...

I don't know, its sounds pretty complicated to me.