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Leigh Anne Jasheway p3

Leigh Anne Jasheway explains some comedy techniques...

READERSVOICE.COM: I liked what you wrote about misdirection in your Writers Digest article. I notice in comic strips and other gags, the funny ones use this. But sometimes it’s hard to know when to stop. One character says something, another says or does something stupid or otherwise unexpected in response. But sometimes it feels like you should have the other character top that with something. How do you know when to stop?

LAJ: The rule in comedy is stop with the biggest joke. You can add “tags” (lesser jokes), but you have to keep in mind that they will reduce the climax. I think the “topping it” concept comes from a more traditional male approach to comedy. (Remember: I teach academic comedy classes at the UO). Men tend to use comedy as a competitive sport, while women use it more for storytelling. For me, once the story is told, you’re done.

RV: I was reading P.G. Wodehouse’s novel Bachelors Anonymous, and noticed many of the things you mentioned in your Writers Digest article: repetition (e.g. of dialogue), running gags, callbacks. What are your favorite humor writing principles or techniques for novels and other humor?

LAJ: I’m a big fan of mixing it up so that readers get variety and your writing doesn’t suffer from predictability. Comedy writers have to work hard at that because I have found that most of us are much better at certain specific techniques while others are much more difficult. I can write list of three jokes in my sleep, while putting together a good observation joke is difficult (perhaps because observation jokes don’t use much exaggeration and I’m great at exaggeration). I love callbacks as way to tie up what might seem to be loose ends. Repetition is such an effective way to parse dialogue in comedy screen and stage plays, so that’s high on my list as well. My favorite type of comedy technique is pure misdirection that relies very little on a set-up. When Steven Wright says, “My school colors were clear,” I just marvel at the beauty of his mind.

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