How Not to Write Comedy

A confession. I am not well-read. I am not even particularly widely read (and that goes for my book too, but that is another matter altogether). Oh, I read, of course I do, have done for as long as I can remember, and my house contains more books than bedbugs. But a “well-read” person scanning my bookshelves would probably describe 80% of the titles thereon as “trash”. Most literary novels leave me cold. Most so-called classics.  Dickens? Read a handful. Go on a bit, don’t they? Brontes, no thank you. Joyce? Shudder (bad O level memory, that). I could go on, but that is not the purpose of this little piece, except inasmuch as to explain that, despite being a “proper” author with a published book under my belt an’ all, I still feel a fraud.

So to be asked to commence a series of blogs with something called “How To Write Slapstick” gives me cause for concern. Mainly because I don’t write slapstick (although the scene in A Very Important Teapot where Dawson finds himself on Victoria Station in the rush-hour comes quite close). I don’t even like slapstick. (I was really glad when they invented talking in films.)

So let’s broaden the brief to encompass writing comedy. Forget the “How to” part. Nobody can teach you or tell you how to write comedy, not a Wodehouse, not a Tom Sharpe, not a Ben Elton, not an Armando Ianucci – nobody. For one thing, comedy is subjective. What makes you laugh? Probably wouldn’t agree with you there. What makes me laugh? Goodness knows.

Let’s get one thing straight. I do not set out to write comedy. At least, I certainly didn’t with A Very Important Teapot. It just sort of happened that way – if indeed it did and, as I say, you may think it didn’t, which is perfectly fine. However, having received favourable comments about Teapot and deciding that a sequel would be my next project, I am now worried sick that said sequel (having finished the first draft) is not funny enough. My only concern with Teapot was, Is it good enough? If it made people laugh in places, that was just a bonus. But Book 2? Yes, I’m worried the funny is neither funny nor consistent. Oh, and I’m still asking Is it good enough? too, so that’s a double whammy.

In the two years since somebody other than myself first clapped suspicious eyes on Teapot, I have been asked countless times who my influences are. (I was going to say “literary” influences there, but as we have established in para 1, I don’t have any). And I usually mention Wodehouse (of course) but despite his god-of-humour status, actually that isn’t true. There are two. The first was Leslie Charteris. I devoured all The Saint books in my teens. The Saint, funny? you’d say. Yes. Read some. Mind you, that’s just my opinion. Might not be yours – and I refer to para 3 above. The second is someone you may not have heard of. Guy Bellamy. His early stuff, particularly The Secret Lemonade Drinker and I Have a Complaint to Make is really funny. And as I read him during my 20s and 30, when I was starting to think I had a book in me (yes, all right, it was in me for 30 years but who’s counting?), more than anyone else, he made me want to write.

And so, if what I write is “comedy”, it’s hats off to Guy.

Steve Sheppard

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