From Aristophanes to Woody Allen, audiences have been drawn to comedy. Specifically, written comedy--staged, purposeful lines created to get people to laugh. It's the total opposite of improv, sure, but it is the one aspect of the craft that people think of most when they think of comedy. We here at the Dallas Comedy House embrace the written word, too. It's not all improv 100 percent of the time. Our goal is to get you to laugh, and one of our funniest performers, Terry Catlett, is also one of our best writers. He is teaching an Intro to Comedy Writing class, starting January 8.
Terry was kind enough answer some questions for us about the class and how he'll lead you by the pen into the world of comedy writing.
What is your background in comedy writing? How did you get involved in it?
I grew up watching shows like The Carol Burnett Show, Saturday Night Live, and the Kids in the Hall. Sketch comedy was a big part of my comedy education. I had never been much of a writer, but when I started taking improv classes at DCH, it seemed like a very natural progression to start writing. There was so much great material created in improv class, it just seemed like common sense to write some of it down. I was fortunate to get in a writing class with talented writers, and a teacher that was passionate about writing. It was easy to get hooked.
What are some of the difficulties with comedy writing? How do you overcome them?
The biggest difficulty I face is finishing a script. Ideas are everywhere, but it takes real dicipline to sit down and really work through an idea. It took me a while to learn that sketch writing is a long process. It's very rare to have a perfect first draft. Sketches change so much during the creative process. I have found that it is best to get the idea down on paper in a simple form, and then collaborate with others. New perspectives and new ideas can really elevate the material.
What are some of the rewards of comedy writing?
The most rewarding thing for me is seeing a script come to life. Watching people take the material and build off of it is fun for me. Seeing the finished product, and hearing people laugh gives me a good feeling.
What can improv performers learn from comedy writing that they can translate to their stage work?
I think writing sketches really puts you in touch with character dynamics. You learn how to work relationships in a comedic way. It also makes you focus on a character's point of view. The more you understand a character's point of view, the better the character. I have found that it has really helped my character work on stage.
Who are some comedy writers that you admire and why?
Mitchell Hurwitz (Arrested Development) made one of the best series of all time. Great characters and episodes that are really dense with comedy. Tina Fey is setting the standard for writing now. I particularly enjoy her self depricating humor. Watching her assault on pop culture is a weekly highlight. Jennifer Saunders (Absolutely Fabulous) always writes great stuff. The Brits know how to do comedy. I'll throw in John Cleese and Connie Booth in for giving us Fawlty Towers.
What do you hope people will walk away with after taking your class?
If I can create the environment that I had, and give people a new outlet for their creativity, I will think that I have done a good job as a teacher.
Thank you, Terry, for taking the time to answer our questions. Spaces are still open for the Intro to Comedy Writing course. Please check out the registration page for more info.