How Did I Get So Goddamn Funny? (My Influences In Comedy)

Way back in 1657, when Jebediah Quincy Alphabet seared twenty-six symbols onto leather pages made from the skin of nonbelievers, he couldn't have known how profound a contribution he'd made to the world.

Those twenty-six symbols, or "letters", as they would later come to be known, can be arranged in limitless combinations to express ideas and create all of the world's great literature.

Likewise, there are elements of comedy which can be rearranged and manipulated to form new material. Comedy doesn't exist in a vacuum. Nothing exists in a vacuum. That's what the word fucking means.

In my own writing, I've aspired to take the lessons I've learned from those who have come before me, and give the world something new. Here they are...

7. Buster Keaton

A lot of you may not know Buster Keaton, or might just know him as "that silent movie guy who isn't Chaplin", and that's a shame. In a time when all an audience expected from their comedy was people slipping on banana peels and getting pies thrown in their faces, Buster strove to give them more. 

Don't get me wrong. He could fall down like no man you've ever seen, but he'd do it with sublime acrobatic grace, making use of meticulously constructed set pieces built around his vision for dazzling (and oftentimes extremely dangerous) sight gags. Take a look at these clips...

What have I learned from him?

On the surface, I write some pretty low-brow stuff. But I try to give my readers more than just a simple fart joke. I want the fart to happen at the most inappropriate time possible, or to be mistaken for something else at first, or to ignite and melt the face off of a giant spider.

6. Monty Python

As I suspect is the case with many a humorist born after 1975, the film pictured above is where my education in comedy began. What impresses me most about this movie, and what I believe makes it hold up after forty years, is its successful balance and blend of silliness and intelligence. Go too far in one of those two directions, you're back to throwing pies in people's faces. Go too far the other way, and you're a pretentious, unfunny asshole. Get the mix just right, and you've got some Goldilocks shit brewing. The best scene to demonstrate this that comes to mind right now is the Constitutional Peasant scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

What have I learned from them?

I've learned to strive for that balance. The books I write are undeniably goofy, but I want my readers to come away from my books impressed at the craftsmanship that went into chronicling the adventures of my bumbling band of idiots.

5. Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was the first book that ever made me laugh, and it made me laugh a lot. If 'I ever wrote a book', I thought, 'it was going to be a book like that.' As I mentioned in a post I wrote a few weeks ago, the first draft of Critical Failures was an attempt at mimicking Adams' free-flowing, Third Person Omniscient prose style.

What have I learned from him?

If you read the blog post I linked to in the previous paragraph, you'll know exactly what I've learned. I'm not Douglas Adams.

4. John Ritter

John Ritter might seem like an odd entry on such a short list of comedy influences. While he may have never reached the heights of comedy fame as my previous entries have, there's one particular line of one particular scene of one particular movie of his that always makes me laugh when I see it. The movie is "Real Men", which maybe twelve people have ever seen, and if I was ever asked to choose my favorite 1987 comedy, this would certainly be it. Here's the scene...

What have I learned from him?

At the end of that clip, when Jim Belushi's character asks, "Is my presence here upsetting you, Bob?" John Ritter replies, "Hell no!", and it's the funniest thing in the world.

So much is riding on those two little words. It's a sad attempt at faking confidence as he tries to engage with Belushi on his level, just after ineptly failing to attack him with a rake. And you can tell it's the strongest language his character's ever used. In game terms, it's a natural one attack roll immediately followed by a natural one Diplomacy roll.

For a writer of comedy fiction, it demonstrates the importance of the timing, delivery, and context of a line. Comedy is hard. It's more than just stringing together a collection of "jokes".

3. The Columnists of Cracked.com

Even occasional readers of Cracked.com who are also familiar with this blog have no doubt already recognized certain similarities. Some might even go so far as to call my blog a sad imitation of Cracked's style. I do what I can. 

But Cracked has taught me about more than just list based articles and pictures with funny captions. While generally always good for a laugh, I'll occasionally run across a particularly inspiring or insightful article, like this one by David Wong.

If I had read that during the ten years after college when I didn't write anything, it would have inspired me to get writing. As it turned out, that article was published right around the same time I was publishing Critical Failures. Still, well worth a read.

You should also go read all of the Robert Brockway articles, because they're very good. (And totally not because I'm kissing his ass for being the most famous person to date to read and write a favorable review for Critical Failures.)

What have I learned from them?

I used to read Cracked and wonder how these writers could keep coming up with new content week after week. It used to be an aspiration of mine to write an article for them, and I still may one day, but I have trouble coming up with enough material to keep up with my personal goal of a blog post a week. And I could never even think of enough entries on a given topic to write about.

And that's when I figured out their secret. They park their ass in a chair, do what research they've got to do, and tap out some words until they've written an article... because that's their fucking job. Employing the same just-sit-down-and-fucking-do-it attitude, I've managed to put out a blog post a week for the past four or five months.

2. Judd Apatow

Judd Apatow is one of my favorite forces behind contemporary comedy. He directs and produces movies that, in my opinion, master the art of creating greatness while appearing to not give a fuck.

His directorial debut, The 40-Year-Old-Virgin, changed the game for me as to what was acceptable in today's comedy. 

What have I learned from him?

You can do whatever you want, as long as it's funny. "Bad" language and toilet humor had previously been the hallmarks of second rate shit. This is no longer the case. People aren't as prudish as they once were. They want the ante upped. 

1. Danny McBride

You might be thinking that I put Danny McBride at the number one spot on this list as some sad attempt at kissing his ass in the hopes that he'll see this and want to play the role of Cooper in the highly anticipated (by me) screen adaptation of Critical Failures. And you'd be right.

But there's a reason I like him for the part. Danny McBride can look at a script that's 40% comprised of the word "Fuck", and dismiss it as too prudish. 

"Do I look like a fucking Bible school teacher to you?"

"Do I look like a fucking Bible school teacher to you?"

What have I learned from him?

This entry isn't just an exercise in ass kissing. In his HBO series, Eastbound and Down, Danny McBride has shown me that the protagonist(s) of your story can be complete shitheads, and you can still get the audience to care about them. 

If you've read my work, you can see that Danny McBride is a legitimate #1 entry.

Have your people call my people, Danny.


If you're Danny McBride, Judd Apatow, HBO or just someone interested in throwing shit tons of money at a screen adaptation of my Caverns and Creatures series, shoot me an email. As for the rest of you, you can buy my books here.

Come find me on Facebook as well.

Thank you, EM Kaplan, for making that Real Men clip.