What is it that makes people LOL? That’s what I want to think about today. But before we get down to business, what in blue blazes has happened to the term LOL? I mean, seriously – it stands for ‘Laugh Out Loud’, but it is rarely used in the right context. I don’t want to get too anal about this (I mean I’m guilty of this too), but people really are pushing the limits of the ‘LOL’. When it first came out (whenever that was) I understood it was a response to a joke. For instance…if I txt my mate something like ‘how drunk were we last night? I woke up fully clothed in the kitchen with Dolmio sauce all over my face’ he might respond with ‘LOL’. I’m not saying he’s not allowed to reply with that unless he physically bursts out laughing, I understand there has to be some leniency, but as long as he finds what I’ve written funny, I think that is a perfect example of this acronym being used correctly. What I won’t accept (and sorry if I sound like a right pompous twat) is the constant misuse of LOL where it has no relevance to something being funny. I first noticed this at work – it’s when you’re asked to do something that is a real pain, or that is unrealistic, and the person asking you to do it acknowledges this fact by including a ‘LOL’. Example – ‘thanks for writing that 30 minute script for me, but I’ve just realised it should have been 45 minutes – I still need to submit it by tomorrow…can you just pad it out? LOL’ there’s nothing in this message that would make anyone LOL. In fact, it’s more likely to make them COL (cry out loud) or SAOL (shout abuse out loud). I’ve even known it to be used when people tell you something annoying or upsetting; Examples – ‘I can’t pay you that money back now, I just lost it all on the horses LOL’ or ‘I think we should just be friends LOL’. Are they saying that they’re laughing out loud when delivering this news? Are they that sadistic? I just don’t get it! So that is why I always favour the ‘ha’, ‘haha’ or ‘hahahahahaha’. It’s weird, I stress over things like this – when you start txting someone new you can never tell whether they’re a ‘lol’ or a ‘ha’ person…I tend to wait for someone to ‘lol’ at me first, I just think a ‘ha’ is much safer. And don’t get me started on people that say ‘LOL’ outloud in a conversation without actually laughing…that’s wrong for way too many reasons to list in this blog!!!
Now that’s out of the way, what is it that actually makes people LOL? What a question! Well I think there’s no succinct answer – we each have a different sense of humour, and I think that’s what makes writing good comedy so difficult. Some people might laugh at someone who has just fallen over and smashed their face against a wall, where as other people might find a cat trying to open a door funny where it might make other people want to smash their face against a wall. Anyway, I’ve been writing a fair bit of comedy lately and it’s hard to determine whether something you’ve written is actually funny or not without having someone else read it, or see an audience watch the finished piece, and read their reactions. I think there are certain things you’ll write that you’re pretty sure will get a laugh, if only from someone that has a similar sense of humour, but you’ll also be surprised by not only what people don’t find funny, but the things they find funny that you never intended to be. The first time I ever had my work read out was on my MA course. We each submitted a few pages from our feature script, divided characters between us, and acted the extracts out. When it came to mine, I had no idea what to expect. It was awesome! I got a laugh from everyone and it just flowed really well…I was shocked. It was a great experience and it taught me a lot – I even came away with a page of notes regarding lines that didn’t quite sound right etc. I’d recommend a script reading to anyone, even if you do just get a group of mates together to do it (be careful not to do it when too inebriated – we tried it at about 2am in the middle of this bar/club place; lets just say the dialogue didn’t quite ‘flow’, and I hate to think what we looked like). So you’ll get a sense of whether something is funny, but I guess for me the important thing to remember is – DON’T TRY TOO HARD!!! I’ve never studied comedy writing and have no idea what all the formulas or conventions are, but I do know how bad comedy can be when you can see the writer is really trying to be funny – I don’t think this works. I’m trying to think of examples, but they’re not coming to me right now…hopefully you can understand what I’m saying without them. I must admit I’m quite a fan of stupidness – I like it when something random or odd is thrown in to the mix (sometimes these moments happen by accident or are improvised), but I think they should be few and far between. I listened to Fay Rusling (writer on Green Wing & Campus) on a comedy panel at the Southern Script Fest, and she explained her writing style – she said they don’t necessarily plot an actual episode in terms of story, but their producer will ask them to write sketches and then they’ll piece them together. I remember her saying that her producer would be in the next room shouting ‘more random, more random….’ Then ‘more story, more story…’ – an interesting way of working, but personally one that I don’t think works. I apologise if I miss quoted her on any of that, but that was the basic gist of what she was saying (and apologies to any avid Fay fans out there – I know a few). So why do I think it doesn’t work? Well I was watching her latest comedy ‘Campus’ on channel 4, and it’s just packed full of too much randomness. There are some bits that are funny and have made me LOL, but really it’s just a bit too all over the place. I hate to say it, but it just looks like they’re trying WAY to hard to be funny and quirky, when you can achieve that without cramming something full of weird little moments and outrageously stupid scenes. I think the key to great comedy is striking the right balance and making things subtle. I’ve been working on a comedy pitch for Channel 4, along with a director, Will, who has been giving me notes and feedback on the drafts I’ve been sending him. I sent him (possibly) the final draft last night, and I’m really happy with it – not because there are loads of gags or stupid moments, but because we’ve both worked together to tighten the script and make those comedy moments subtler and therefore (hopefully) funnier. It’s been a really great way to work, and I think it’s always important to get feedback from people on your scripts – especially with comedy. So, without any authority at all, my advice for anyone writing comedy is – keep it simple, keep it subtle, have the odd stupid/random moment, but make sure it all works around a structure and avoid trying too hard. If you create funny situations, things will be funny – FACT. You don’t need to spoon feed your audience. Let them find their own funny moments – trust me, they will…and the great thing is, they won’t always be the moments you expect.
Before I wrap this up, I’ll tell you what makes me LOL; then maybe you can tell me what makes you LOL? Well I could list TV shows and films all day, but just some of the comedy I love (which has also influenced my own writing) includes ‘The Office’, ‘Alan Partridge’, ‘IT Crowd’, ‘Flight of the Conchords’, ‘The Inbetweeners’, ‘Man On The Moon’, ‘The Big Lebowski’, ‘Napoloeon Dynamite’, ‘Shaun of the Dead’ and many MANY more. I also like a lot of comedy moments that aren’t necessarily from comedy films/shows, but I won’t sit here and list them all…I’m sure you all have your own, but mine are usually for quite personal reasons, so if I told you them you’d probably think I was mental (if you don’t already).
And finally, in the name of comedy and all that is funny, I’ll leave you with some funny things that you may not know about me – when I was younger my brother and sister found a hole in the floor of the bathroom that was directly above where I sat in my highchair in the kitchen – they used to poor water and other fluids on me when my mum wasn’t looking. When I was a bit older (about 3 I think), I spent a whole day soaking my teddies and stamping on them until they were completely flat…then I threw them down the stairs. I used to be addicted to Weetos and would eat at least three bowls a day (I even think I used to have pretend conversations with ‘Prof’) – I kicked the habit when I was about 16 and have never eaten cereal since. I used to do ballet and performed as a fly at the Royal Opera House in London in an opera called The Cunning Little Vixen – I was also a sailor in a Christmas variety show on BBC2. I have a phobia of the cinema. I once got very drunk and woke up with a full jar of Dolmio sauce all over my face (no, that wasn’t made up earlier). My favourite film as a kid was ‘Splash’, and I wanted to be a ‘Merboy’ (is that what it’s called?)…this obviously stuck with me as I now know all the words to the songs in Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’. And before I completely destroy my reputation, as well as lose all my subscriptions (and friends), I’ll leave you with a joke only me and my sister Hannah seem to understand – to be fair, we have many jokes that no one understands…but I don’t think it’s them, it’s definitely us! …Knock knock……….Who’s there?…….’S’………..’S’-who?…….Is she? Hahahahahahaha did you get it?
Thanks for reading guys! Until next time…