So I’ve been bustling around the 2013 Austin Film Festival, wishing I had either a clone or a Harry Potter-esque time turner so I could take in more of the conference. But I thought I’d take a moment to share some comedy writing insights I gleaned from “The Kings of Sit-Comedy” panel with Lee Aronsohn (co-creator of Two and a Half Men), Phil Rosenthal (creator of Everybody Loves Raymond), and Peter Mehlman (writer/co-executive producer of Seinfeld).
Mehlman and Rosenthal emphasized how simplicity can lead to great results. Mehlman wrote his episodes for Seinfeld based on very simple premises. His advice: keep the concept simple. When he pitched ideas to Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, he always managed to do it with one sentence. Similarly, Rosenthal always envisioned Everybody Loves Raymond as an uncomplicated little play, with very few scene cuts. He wanted each scene to captivate the audience’s attention and interest. Rosenthal described the essentials of a sitcom in three parts – the premise, act break, and conclusion (beginning, middle, end). This, he said, is the structure on which the sitcom story is built.
Rosenthal and Aronsohn both had tips for writer’s block. Rosenthal suggested the starter: “What would really happen?” to help generate story ideas. “Try real as a road to go on,” he advised. Aronsohn suggested writers look “on the edges of the scene” for inspiration. For example, while a scene is occurring in one room, what’s going on with other characters in the adjacent rooms? If all else fails, Aronsohn pointed out that watching bad comedy can bolster your own confidence as a writer.