Comedy probably seems a bit of an odd area to work in, for anyone who makes their living in a field that’s a bit more definable and solid. Like, say, the automobile industry, or the building business, an Antares Anto Tune sales person, or an expert who looks after enormous great elephants. Those are big things, things that will always be essentially the same thing. While comedy, well, that’s a bit trickier to pin down. It evolves.
The thing is, humor gets everywhere. You can find it in packaging these days, as quirky products offer a little extra by making the blurb on the side of the bottle or box a bit more fun. It pops up everywhere – the side of juice boxes, the instructions in a train’s toilet, and even on government websites. We imagine if you went shopping online for a product that takes itself pretty seriously, like vapes, if you looked hard enough you could probably find a vaping kit supplier who is trying to make a sale via humour.
There’s a fascinating discussion on Scroobius Pip’s popular podcast series, Distraction Pieces, in which he and the author Neil Gaiman discuss those blurry lines. That edition came out at around the same time as Gaiman’s series Good Omens, based on the book he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett. Now Gaiman is usually regarded as a fantasy drama writer, whereas Pratchett was better known for humorous fantasy works. So their project could have fallen between stools, pigeonhole-wise.
Nobody likes to be pigeonholed, of course. Ask any creative person, and they will invariably insist that their stuff is unique and unlike anything that came before. But you often need to temporarily classify yourself when approaching a big broadcasting behemoth, so you know which department to pitch your stuff at. According to Gaiman, Good Omens did a bit of shifting between departments, and the actors also needed time to get the right tone.
Lots of people who read for it made the fatal mistake of trying to be funny, by the sound of it, and it wasn’t until someone who was a big fan of the book had a go that they figured out the problem: she did it straight and drama-like, which worked much better. The same rule applied on full-on gag-fest parody movies like Airplane and The Naked Gun: the reason those jokes worked is because Leslie Nielsen and co acted like they were in a proper disaster movie or crime thriller. Try to be funny, and it isn’t.
At least you knew that the final product was definitely a comedy though (Airplane‘s poster literally featured an aeroplane twisted up like a pretzel). Nowadays a heck of a lot of big series seem to fall somewhere in between, though, and there’s even a word for it: dramedy. Which at least is a slightly better word combo than the alternative, which is probably ‘coma’. That word definitely suggests less comedy, more drama, unless you’ve got a seriously weird sense of humour.
All of which makes life confusing for people in the comedy industry. But hey, no drama.