Rebecca Elliott is an award-winning and bestselling author and illustrator of over thirty books for children, including her ongoing Owl Diaries series, which has sold nearly six million copies worldwide. Her new book "Pretty Funny" stars Haylah Swinton, a fifteen year old girl with a secret - she's got big dreams of being stand up comedian, but is pretty sure girls who look like her don't belong on stage. The series follows her as she gains the courage to stand up, stand out and step out into the spotlight - with a few mishaps and embarrassing teenage moments along the way.
Rebecca took the time to write a special article for young people looking to enter our national funny award, exploring how you can find your confidence with comedy.
How to find your comedic confidence by Rebecca Elliot
“When you find the funny in this serious world that is so often full of pain and cruelty, it’s like discovering a diamond in a pile of crap. It’s precious.”
So says my character Haylah in my YA book “Pretty Funny”. She’s a wannabe stand-up comedian and like me, she’s had a life-long obsession with comedy and sees laughter and humour as one of the most important of human endeavours, connections and emotions. Laughter and jokes aren’t the frivolous froth surrounding the more ‘serious’ lives we lead, to me they are what makes us human, what unites us and makes us able to carry on even when things are a little dark. The bonds that are formed through laughing with our friends and family are arguably just as strong as those created through ‘serious’ conversations and experiences.
We all laugh and we all have the ability to make each other laugh but of course there’s a huge difference between giving your mates a giggle and actually writing comedy, whether it’s stand-up jokes like Haylah, or a funny (I hope!) piece of writing like my book.
And the slightly pathetic ‘I hope’, there is a good example of one of the reasons why writing the funny is so difficult - there’s a huge vulnerability in it, somehow it feels way easier to write a piece of drama and give it to a friend for their feedback than it is to write something funny and show it or perform it to others, with the potential that they stare back at you with a stony-faced, ‘sorry, is that supposed to be funny?’ look. Because although laughing is a social activity, writing the funny somehow feels a bit secretive, personal, and finding yourself funny feels arrogant somehow, plus the rejection felt when your joke is not laughed at is frankly mortifying! But equally the joy felt when you write or perform a joke that is laughed at is a high like no other. Which is why we keep at it! And you just have to accept the fact that because humour is so subjective you will fail, you will feel that sting of rejection felt when your joke is met by silence and a metaphorical tumble weed rolling across the dessert. But, like with any skill, if you keep at it you will learn what works and what doesn’t, and you will get better at it. Plus, the good news is there are certain tricks and tips for making your comedy writing work.
The main thing is if you’re going to write the funnies you need to understand a little of what makes a joke work. Jokes are little tiny plot twists. They lead you in one direction before dramatically changing course, flipping the familiar and relatable to something surprising and ridiculous. Which is why it’s actually no surprise that historians recently discovered that one of the first recorded jokes from around 1900BC was, of course, a fart joke. Farts are simple, familiar, yet always unexpected and ridiculous. I’m not saying you should write jokes about farts but that your jokes should be the comedic equivalent to the simple joy of a well-timed booty belch.
It’s all about taking one expected thing and turning it into something unexpected that still works, which can be by twisting the context, suddenly introducing a surprising point of view, or simply using double meanings of words, for example one of Haylah’s little one-liners;
‘Watched a documentary the other day on the most important technique in rock-climbing.
. . . Gripping.’
My other quick top-tips, for what they’re worth are;
- watch and read as much comedy as possible and really think about why you laughed and why the jokes worked.
- Edit! Sometimes just changing a single word in a joke can make all the difference. And cutting any extraneous sentences and words immediately makes for a snappier and therefore funnier piece. Remember, you’re a farmer not a pet owner. If any of your words aren’t working for you, take them out the back and shoot them.
- Be vulnerable and honest in your writing, don’t try to sound like someone else as your audience will smell that a mile off, be you and the comedy will come out of your uniqueness.
- Everything has comedic potential - so much comedy comes from noticing the ordinary things that everyone knows but hadn’t paid any specific attention to. So go around with your eyes open to all the world’s mundane weirdness and WRITE THEM DOWN.
- Enjoy it! Writing the funnies is hard but to my mind just THE most rewarding thing in the world. As Haylah says,
“I’ve heard that snogging’s pretty good but nothing beats getting a laugh. Plus, when you make someone laugh, you don’t have to swallow their spit. Unless you tell a joke to my fat-tongued Auntie Pam.”
And finally, humour comes from deep within so if you feel it bubbling up inside you don’t be afraid of what others will think, just look ‘em straight in the eye and proudly let rip (and yes, that was a fart joke. I make no apologies).
To have the chance to win a copy of Pretty Funny, by Rebecca Elliott, submit your entries to our new national funny award before August 31st.
Pretty Funny is released under the Penguin imprint in paperback and is available to buy here.