I went to see The Heat yesterday. It’s a typical buddy-cop movie—aside from the fact that both the cops are female—and a good one. I laughed, my husband laughed, my mom almost burst something laughing.* And so did most of the theatre.
Now, it’s in my nature to break stuff down.** So, of course I had to figure out why I found the movie so damn funny. Because, frankly, most Hollywood comedies don’t do it for me. I find them either too awkward (ie, the Will Ferrell Effect) or too idiotic (people who forced me to watch Team America World Police, I hope you’re proud of yourselves). So why did this one? I’ve seen McCarthy in other stuff*** and found her capable, but nothing special. Likewise, Bullock is a capable awkward straight woman.
I figured it out, eventually: it was the unexpected.
You know what there weren’t any of in that movie? Fat jokes. McCarthy is a big woman. Fat jokes would have been easy.
But here’s the thing: easy is rarely funny.
Humour comes from the unexpected, the unusual, the slide of your expectations away from what should be. If you can’t see the absurdity in a situation, chances are you’re missing the humour. Easy jokes, easy targets, those just come off as mean.
Not only that, I will argue that easy jokes and easy targets represent a lack of confidence on the part of the writer. If you can’t make something funny without going for weak targets, then you’re not much of a writer. The easy shit is lazy. And boring. And nothing that a monkey with a typewriter couldn’t bang out.
So, when writing comedy, go further. Go beyond the obvious. Find the moment when your audience’s expectation are drifting one way, and then yank them in the other.
And, if all else fails, have someone fall down a lot. Losing to gravity: always funny.
*Especially during the Spanx part. Fucking slayed her.
**Or just break stuff in general.
***Though I haven’t seen Bridesmaids. Tell me, Internet: worth the watch?