Hootenanny and Humor Desensitization

So, there’s a third round of Hootenanny auditions. Huzzah!This means the chances of skit from James entering in the running again is much higher than it was several days ago, when the chances were zero.

We even have (extremely busy and pressed for time) actors this time.

To prepare (and because most of the penn2ers are noobs and needed to see it anyway), I watched about half an hour of the show from last year. My previous skit? Painful. Horribly painful and embarrassing. We were nervous, we fudged up lines, and most of the (extremely frequent) puns were either too subtle to show up in dialog, or not funny when they did. Overall, it just didn’t flow well at all.

Part of the issue was just how long and elaborate the lines were. Having taken speech since than, I now realize that part of the issue was that the script was not written to be verbal. One of the great and unique things about authors like Dickens and Wodehouse is that most of their work reads great on paper and sounds great when read out loud. I definitely lack that gift. Hence, the target time for this year is two to three minutes. Much longer than that, and the audience looses interest.

Another part of it was just The Stage and Preparation. Joking around and having fun with a skit while auditioning was great. We were all loose, we had scripts, and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that what we had was a decent skit. I was wrong, but it didn’t really matter at that point because we didn’t know I was wrong, and it’s much easier to convince people that your skit is funny if you think it’s funny.

However, as the event drew closer, I became completely immersed in the dialog. I began to doubt that it was really as humorous as I’d previously supposed. Others in the cast felt the same way, so we began to edit. Humor is so much easier to deliver if you know exactly what part is supposed to be humorous. You can build up to it, emphasize it, and all sorts of wonderful things like that. But after going through the same lines so many times, we lost track of what was funny.

The writer behind Portal was interviewed recently, and he said something that resonated with me.

“Tough guy dialogue is just about as macho the 50th time you hear it. Funny dialogue is funny once — maybe.”

I can’t really say much about macho dialog as I can’t write it without instantly deleting my work and washing my hands to get rid of the slimy cliche,  but the latter part is definitely true about humor. This year, I am relying much more heavily on 3rd parties to see how much they laugh when reading the script.

But there are still issues. Especially tying it off neatly. Everyone loves a climax directly followed by a witty comment. Do you have any idea how insane that is to write? This is why half my skits don’t even have real endings and sort of trail off into the distance, much like this post.

Ah, well. At least I can write code.


1 Response to “Hootenanny and Humor Desensitization”

  1. 1 Ben Leggett March 25, 2008 at 7:13 pm

    If you want to see some good tough guy dialog, read the greatest American crime novelist ever, Dashiell Hammett.


    I can personally recommend Red Harvest. It’s truly stunning prose.

    But rather decidedly not humorous.

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