The 8 Characters of Comedy

The Eight Characters of Comedy: A Guide to SitCom Acting & Writing

By Scott Sedita

If you are looking for a breakdown of the formulas of comedy, I recommend this book.

Remember, A) just because you use the archetypes that Sedita identifies, it doesn’t mean your show/character will be hackneyed and B) just because a character is primarily of these 8 doesn’t mean that they don’t explore other sides of their personality.

Who are the 8 Characters?

  1. The Logical Smart One – responsible, stable
  2. The Lovable Loser – sarcastic, optimistic, needy, impulsive
  3. The Neurotic – awkward, nervous, controlling, worried
  4. The Dumb One – friendly, naïve, gullible, no ulterior motive
  5. The Bitch/Bastard – mean, insensitive, insecure, doesn’t apologize
  6. The Womanizer/Manizer (AKA “Slutty Spice”) – charming, seductive, horny, superficial
  7. The Materialistic One – judgmental, entitled, spoiled
  8. In Their Own Universe (AKA “Spacy Spice”) – odd, eccentric, uses illogical logic

I tried to find these characters in sitcoms that I watched. There is definitely room for interpretation and, for a long-lasting series, like Friends, characters will probably take a turn in each of these archetypes.

Post a list for your favorite show or let me know if you disagree with my lists.

Arrested Development

  1. The Logical Smart One – Michael, George Sr., George Michael (sometimes Maeby)
  2. The Lovable Loser – George Michael, Tobias
  3. The Neurotic – Tobias, George Michael
  4. The Dumb One – Gob, Maeby
  5. The Bitch/Bastard – Lucille
  6. The Womanizer/Manizer – Gob/Lindsay
  7. The Materialistic One – Lindsay
  8. In Their Own Universe – Buster

Friends

  1. The Logical Smart One – Monica (occasionally Chandler, Ross, Monica, Phoebe)
  2. The Lovable Loser – Ross, Chandler (I think all of them have moments here)
  3. The Neurotic – Monica, Chandler, Ross (same here)
  4. The Dumb One – Joey
  5. The Bitch/Bastard – None, they are Friends!
  6. The Womanizer/Manizer – Joey
  7. The Materialistic One – Rachel (this kind of faded away overtime)
  8. In Their Own Universe – Phoebe

Will & Grace

  1. The Logical Smart One – Will
  2. The Lovable Loser – Will, Grace
  3. The Neurotic – Will, Grace
  4. The Dumb One – Jack
  5. The Bitch/Bastard – Jack, Karen
  6. The Womanizer/Manizer – Jack? (I think all of them spend time here)
  7.  The Materialistic One – Jack, Grace
  8.  In Their Own Universe – Jack, Karen

Scrubs

  1. The Logical Smart One – Carla, Turk
  2. The Lovable Loser – JD
  3. The Neurotic – Eliot
  4. The Dumb One – Todd
  5. The Bitch/Bastard – Perry, Kelso,
  6. The Womanizer/Manizer -Todd
  7. The Materialistic One – Eliot
  8. In Their Own Universe (AKA “The Spacy One”) – Janitor

Community

  1. The Logical Smart One – Shirley, Troy
  2. The Lovable Loser – Britta
  3. The Neurotic – Annie
  4. The Dumb One – Pierce
  5. The Bitch/Bastard – Jeff, Pierce
  6. The Womanizer/Manizer – Jeff?
  7. The Materialistic One – Jeff
  8. In Their Own Universe (AKA “The Spacy One”) – Abed, Chang, Dean

Sedita lays out some comedy guidelines. Obligatory Note: All rules are meant to be broken.

Rules of Comedy:

  1. Chose a specific character with specific personality traits
  2. Be committed to the character
  3. Good comedy comes from pain and conflict
  4. Follow the script and punctuation (for delivery, know your lines and make to pause for commas and periods)
  5. Be Louder!
  6. Be Faster!
  7. Be Funnier!
  8. Hold for laughs (if in front of a crowd or live-audience)
  9. Don’t mug for a laugh/ Don’t distract from verbal humor with physical movement
  10. Have fun!

Sedita, who teaches acting classes, promotes a simple and easy-to-remember method of character analysis.

Analyze the Script (WOFAIM):

  • Want – What does the character want?
  • Obstacle – What obstacles are standing in the way?
  • Feeling – What feelings will you explore in the scene?
  • As If – What is your personal substitution? What can you draw from in your own life to relate to your character?
  • Intentions – What will your character do to get what they want? What actions will they take?
  • Moment Before – What was happening before this scene? Physically and emotionally, where is your character coming from?

I’mwriting screenplay, a comedy, with my friend and, since I don’t have experience with writing fiction, I found this to be helpful. The point of Sedita’s book isn’t to put your characters in a box or provide a rote method of acting or writing, but to open your eyes to commonly used character types that allow for conflict (which will lead to funny situations).

And Here’s the Kicker

Eventually comedy fandom evolves from mere appreciation into the search for every behind the scenes detail, including what is inside the minds of the writers.

And Here’s the Kicker is a compilation of 21 interviews with comedy writers.  The interviews were conducted and edited by Mike Sacks.

Here is what I learned from my favorite interviewees:

Stephen Merchant: Ricky Gervais and he wrote the dialogue by improvising into a tape recording and then editing it down to be typed; M*A*S*H was shown without a laugh track in England; “…there’s always the danger that we as comedy fans are writing comedy for other comedy fans [as opposed to writing for an audience]; [on the differences between American and British humor] “American humor—they’re not ashamed to use slang and vernacular…Whereas in England, there’s a need to display one’s intelligence”

Larry Wilmore: decided to devote his life to comedy after his family’s roof caved in, “I already had nothing—it’s not like I could achieve that twice;” he does a “writer’s stand-up act” (meaning it isn’t personality-driven, jokes are somewhat disconnected); worked on a canceled pilot for Fox about a white writer who joins the writing staff of a black sitcom (it was canceled because the lead wasn’t attractive enough—the actor? Paul Giamatti); “There should be no racial loyalty so much as comedy loyalty”

Bob Odenkirk: reputation as a perfectionist; considers the Mr. Show sketches “Clumsy Waiter” and “Philouza” to be the worst; “honesty is everything;” was unhappy with SNL’s writing process (if something didn’t go over well at the pitch meeting it was permanently rejected)

Paul Feig: “I’m very much a purist about memories and the truth in stories…I can think of a lot of funnier endings for everything that’s ever happened to me in my life, but that’s not the point;” while working as a script reader he realized that 99.9% of script are terrible; “the cruel side of me likes creating situations where people get buried deeper and deeper [thus raising the stakes for humiliation]

Mitch Hurwitz: earned theology and English degrees from Georgetown; [on being reluctant to encourage people to go into entertainment] “It can make a lot of people very, very unhappy;” “In retrospect, perhaps a majority of people didn’t want to see such a detailed show [Arrested Dev] and didn’t want complexity with their humor;” writers need to have compassion for their characters/stories; there was a hug in almost every episode of Arrested Dev

David Sedaris: if you want to be a good writer, you need to read; rejects exaggerating in his earlier stories (he was ‘trying too hard’ and that embellishing made it hard for audiences to believe him); edits his pieces while reading to an audience; “My main concern is to not be too corny;” he gets out of bed at 10:26 am every morning

Each interview is 10-15 pages, and covers what the writers think of their previous work, how they write, what motivates them, and their advice for aspiring comedy writers.

There’s also advice about getting hired as a sitcom or late-night writer or acquiring a literary or screenplay agent and a list of recommended reading.

Arrested Downton and Texts from Avonlea

I’m not a huge tumblr person but these are two with really creative ideas.

Also, no sound with this post.  Idk, just hum a tune.

Arrested Downton has gotten some press recently and it combines two of my favorite things, Arrested Development and British stuff.

Texts from Avonlea is not updated that frequently but the idea is just so absurd that I love it (Anne of Green Gables has never been so bad ass!).  Plus, TFLN is just a gold mine for captions.

Veep Premieres in April on HBO

OMG.  SO excited.  Not only do I love Julia Louis-Dreyfus, but I love the director of this new series, Armando Iannucci.

From HuffPo:

In “Veep,” Louis-Dreyfus plays former Senator Selina Meyer, the new vice president of the United States. Her character quickly learns the job isn’t exactly what she thought it would be.

The show also stars Sufe Bradshaw (“Overnight”), Anna Chlumsky (“My Girl”), Tony Hale (“Arrested Development”), Reid Scott (“My Boys”), Tim Simons (“Days Together”) and Matt Walsh (“Outsourced”).

Iannucci was the co-writer and director of In the Loop, one of my favorite films and a great piece of political satire, and he wrote and directed The Thick of It, a fantastic tv show satirizing British politics.

In the Loop:

 

The Thick of It:

Iannucci is a genius.

I Love British Comedies

I loooover British comedies.  As a kid I would watch As Time Goes By (Judi Dench!) after school.  I have to recommend Whites, Green Wing, Twenty Twelve (mockumentary about the London 2012 Olympics; bootleg it online), and Spy.  These are all really, really great.  Green Wing is probably my favorite, kind of like Arrested Development.  Spy is less dirty, but just as funny.  Out of all of these shows, only London 2012 and Spy are still on 😦

British shows seem to get cut off right at their prime.  They never go stale and they always leave you wanting more.

Recognize Tamsin Greig or Stephen Mangan?  They are in Episodes, with Matt LeBlanc.  They were nominated for two Golden Globes and won one.

 

Anyway, segue. Black’s Books is another British comedy (with Tamsin Greig), but it didn’t capture my interested as greatly as the others I mentioned. Dylan Moran, the creator and star of Black’s Books, whose doppelganger is Matthew Macfadyen (Mr. Darcy from the remake with Keira Knightley), was in this cool short film a few years ago:

Tell It To The Fishes – http://www.laikapictures.com