August 17

THE FUNNY THING ABOUT THEME….

DUCK SOUP GIFJim from Dallas, TX asks:

You’ve done a good deal of discussing theme and its importance, nay, necessity, in any script. What about the theme of a comedy? Are there thematic considerations to be made when writing a comedy or does theme remain the same and its execution change? Is there such a thing as a comedic theme?

The fact that I write mostly drama does not stop me from having an opinion about comedy. However, take this opinion for what it’s worth. In my opinion, there is no difference with respect to the need for and the formulation of theme in any genre. There may be certain themes common to specific genre, but mostly by practice rather than necessity.

Here are a few classic comedies and my interpretation of their themes. You can see the variety of themes the genre can accommodate:

“Duck Soup” (Marx Bros.) – make peace, not war.
“Airplane” (Zucker Bros.) – face your fears.
“Big Lebowsky” (Cohen Bros.) – It’s better to be honest even if you’re a schlemiel.
“There’s Something About Mary” (Farelly Bros) – Letting go is part of true love.
“Manhattan” (Wood Allen & Marshall Brickman – they’re as close as brothers, really) – You have to have faith in people.

A classic difference between comedy and other genre has been that comedies often involve characters that fail to learn anything about the theme and fail to grow in any way. However, these days, comedies are often essentially indistinguishable from dramas in terms of character development, structure and theme. The only real difference is that comedies are funny.

For more on theme in comedy, look at Artful Writer’s many entries on theme. Craig Mazin, who writes most of the entries over there, is an A-level comedy writer.