Today on the show we have comedy legend, author, and writer Steve Kaplan. For years, Steve Kaplan has been the industry’s most sought-after expert on comedy. In addition to having taught at UCLA, NYU, Yale and other top universities, Steve created the HBO Workspace, the HBO New Writers Program and was co-founder and Artistic Director of Manhattan Punch Line Theatre. He has consulted and taught workshops at companies such as HBO, DreamWorks, Disney, Aardman Animation, Sony Pictures Network India, Globo Brazil, and others.
In New York, Steve was co-founder and Artistic Director of Manhattan Punch Line Theatre, where he developed writers such as Peter Tolan(Analyze This, The Larry Sanders Show), writer and producer David Crane(Friends, Episodes), writer/producer Tracy Poust (Ugly Betty, Will & Grace), Michael Patrick King(Sex and The City, Will & Grace), David Ives(Venus in Fur), Howard Korder (Boardwalk Empire), David Fury(The Tick, Buffy, The Vampire Slayer), Lisa Loomer (The Waiting Room), Tom Donaghy (The Mentalist), Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester by the Sea)and Mark O’Donnell (Hairspray) and introduced such performers as Lewis Black, Mercedes Ruehl, Oliver Platt, Helen Slater, Fisher Stevens, Veanne Cox, Sam McMurray, Vickie Lewis, and Illeana Douglas.
In Los Angeles, he created the HBO New Writers Project, discovering HBO Pictures screenwriter Will Scheffer (Big Love), and performer/writer Sandra Tsing Loh (Aliens in America),; and the HBO Workspace, a developmental workshop in Hollywood that introduced and presented performers such as Jack Black and Tenacious D, Kathy Griffin, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross (Mr. Show), Josh Malina and Paul F. Tompkins. At the Workspace, he was Executive Producer for the award-winning HBO Original Programming documentary DROP DEAD GORGEOUS. Steve has directed in regional theaters and Off-Broadway (including Sandra Tsing Loh’s ALIENS IN AMERICAat Second Stage).
In addition to private coaching and one-on-one consultations, Steve has taught his Comedy Intensive workshops to thousands of students in the United States and countries around the world, including London, Toronto, Galway, Athens, Paris, Tel Aviv, Sydney, Melbourne, Rio, Munich, New Zealand, and Singapore. This year, he will be presenting seminars and workshops in Los Angeles, Brussels, London, and via Skype, Sweden.
His new book The Comic Hero’s Journey: Serious Story Structure for Fabulously Funny Films. I can’t recommend it enough.
A comic hero or heroine also goes on a journey, but for the comic hero, it’s often quite, quite different. The hero decides to go on the adventure; the comic hero often has no choice. The hero has a wise old man; the comic hero often meets an idiot who inadvertently says something that can teach him a thing or two. Steve Kaplan will show you the diverse paths that comedy takes in The Comic Hero’s Journey.
This interview is EPIC! If you want to learn how to create “funny” in your screenplays or projects this episode is for you.
Alex Ferrari 0:02
I like to welcome to show Steve Kaplan. Man, thank you so much for jumping on the show today.
Steve Kaplan 2:52
Alex Ferrari 2:53
Thank you, man I've been I've been wanting to get you on the show for a long time. And as you've like I said earlier Off, off off air is like I've seen your work fly through my feed so many times and it's just like, I gotta reach out to see one of these days. I gotta reach out to sequences. It's just everything get caught up. And I finally have you here to talk comedy.
Steve Kaplan 3:12
We're both excited. Good.
Alex Ferrari 3:14
So you have a a long and illustrious career in the business. How did you get started in the business?
Steve Kaplan 3:22
I started out as a as a bad actor, or mediocre actor, okay. And, and a and a kind of a frustrated comic. I was I was not very good as a comic places asked me never to come back like not even as a customer. And, and I was I had two friends who were actors. And I started doing some directing. And they they said, Well, you know, we can't get we want to control our own careers. So we want to start a theatre company in New York. And I said, Great, let me think about it for a second. So I came back to a meeting with them and I said, Let's do something that no one else is doing. Everybody else does, you know serious theater and they do productions of checkoff in turtlenecks and, and expressionistic abstract plays I said, let's, let's be different. Let's do comedy. Let's be a theatre company that's devoted only to comedy. And, and they thought about it for a second and they they realized that it at the time in New York, it kind of filled a niche that no one else was filling. So we started this, this theater company. We called it Manhattan punch line. It wasn't a comedy club it. We did plays we did, but we did stand up nights we did improv and a lot of great people came out of it. We had David Crane who went on to do a little thing called friends. And Oliver Platt is great actor and We had people who later went on, like skips Grove in and David Currie they later went on to become executive producers and television. Michael Patrick king who did Sex in the City, two Broke Girls. He was the he was in our improv group. So a lot of great people came out of it. And as, as a young man, in the arrogance of youth, I thought I knew everything there was to know about comedy. Of course, I would. I was fascinated by comedy as a kid. I watched all the old Bing Crosby pop, road movies, Stan, Laurel and Hardy all you know, African Costello, I thought I knew everything there was to know about comedy. But after producing and directing for a couple of years, I thought to myself, Okay, I don't know everything. But I know it's not funny goddamnit. And shortly thereafter, I thought to myself, how the frick does this stuff work? Why is something funny on a Thursday, no longer funding on a Sunday? Why is Why is a script, sometimes the funniest the first time you get some actors around the table to read it. And after that, as when you're working on it, the more you work on it, the more you rehearse it, the less funding it becomes. So I saw what was going on. So I started doing experiments, I started, I was teaching an improv class to actors. And I started creating and designing improv games and exercises to try to understand what comedy is, why it works, what's happening when it doesn't work, and how can you fix it? And, and out of that 25 year exploration came this book, The Hidden tools of comedy. And I did that because when I came to Los Angeles, a guy who had been working with Robert McKee, your first Yeah, right? Story, of course, yeah. Yes, story. And he said to me, he said, you know, you could do for comedy with Robert McKee does for story. And I thought, Oh, that's interesting. Because up to then I just been a theater director, I'd work with actors, I taught acting, and improv. And so then I started to work with writers and do workshops for writers. And that kind of snowballed, and pretty soon, I was being flown out to Singapore, to London, to New York, to to Australia, and, and pretty soon on traveling around the world and, and doing comedy. And it all came out of the fact that I was this frustrated performer who tried to get his class to laugh successfully. I was, you know, most people are class clowns. I was a failed class clown. Well, you
Alex Ferrari 7:55
know, it's interesting that you say that, because I, you know, I find it that there are people who are innately funny, like, they could just you throw them in front of a room, and they could just make the crowd laugh. And then there's people who can write funny, but you throw them in front of a crowd, they just won't be able to do it. And sometimes, and then sometimes you get the magic of both, you get someone who's amazing writer and amazing performer. But it sounds like you were more of the writing style, as opposed to
Steve Kaplan 8:24
actually actually I was I was more of the, if you get me in a room, at a party, put a couple of drinks in me, maybe, you know, maybe a cigarette or two, you know, and, and I can be pretty funny, but, but it was getting up in front of strangers and, and writing materials. So what I found was my, my skill or my, my gift was was not in creating material, but in working on other people's material. And that's, that that's why I was good director. And I became a very and I am a very accomplished story, analyst and story consultant. So I do a lot of script consulting, for writers and, and producers and production companies. You know, what, I,
Alex Ferrari 9:16
when when analyzing comedy, because I've loved comedies, I've been I follow comedies on like I you know, even every every part of the kind of work I do as a director or as a writer, I always have some sort of comedic element into it. It's just, it's innate in me. And I've been fortunate or unfortunate to know many standard comics and worked with many standard comics over the years, which are generally the saddest people.
Steve Kaplan 9:43
They are they are big, dark, broken, broken people. Ray Romano one said that if he had been hugged once as a child could be an accountant. Exactly. And they're you know, they're filling their you know, even more than Then actors, comics are trying to fill in an unfillable hole that can never be never be completed. Doesn't doesn't mean that every comic is is depressed or has to be depressed. But well adjusted. People do not go into
Alex Ferrari 10:22
Amen, sir. Amen. So no, what I find funny is like growing up in the, you know, I'm an 80s kid. And I, you know, a lot of the comedies from the 80s, and even from the 70s, a Mel Brooks stuff, Spaceballs, Blazing Saddles, silent movie, history of the world. Some of that stuff's still still like Young Frankenstein. You can watch him Frankenstein today. And it holds
Steve Kaplan 10:46
it whole Frankenstein holds up. high anxiety does not
Alex Ferrari 10:53
correct. Yeah, there's certain there's certain things that do so in your opinion, why
Steve Kaplan 10:58
I think the difference is, a Young Frankenstein, even though it's full of gags, is about is a story. Yeah, that a guy trying to create a relationship and trying to figure out his place in the world. Whereas high anxiety is simply a series of parodies on Hitchcock with, with a disposable story that you you know, if you think about it, you can't really believe in it, you don't really believe in the relationship. So to me, comedy that that sustains and that, that that holds up over time. Even if it's as silly as airplane is always it is always about characters in crisis, as opposed to Scary Movie four, which has, which has as many gags per minute as airplane does. But you don't care about those characters, your your they never asked you to take them seriously. They never ask you to care about them to empathize with them. So that's to me, that's the big difference
Alex Ferrari 12:03
airplane is it's on my top, top 10 comedies of all time, I mean, it's just a brilliant thing. And those kinds of films, though they do hold over time. You watch even Some like it hot. You watch some like a high. And that thing is like it's like a Swiss Swiss clock is just hitting boom, and boom and a boom. And it's and it holds in how old is that? What that was? From
Steve Kaplan 12:27
the 50s? In the 50s? Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 12:30
so that I mean that movies over half a, you know, a decade a half a century old. And it's still hold.
Steve Kaplan 12:38
Hey, don't be ageist. Hey.
Alex Ferrari 12:44
No, no, no, but it's still no but like, you know, 50 years young, obviously, obviously. But, but there's a lot of things that even from the 90s Don't hold and from in early 2000s that were pipe might have made noise when it came out. But you go back and watch it now just like, like bar at which I still find it. I couldn't believe Borat was made. I went back and watched it a little bit. It doesn't mean I know all the jokes coming. So it doesn't hold as much as it did when it first came out. You know when it did and that kind of comedy. But it was very, it's just very interesting. What makes things hold and what doesn't make you know, and you're saying it's more story
Steve Kaplan 13:22
character. It's character. It's it's a, it's the great combination of character, premise and theme. So that so that even something as silly as airplane again, has all those three things. Whereas you know, deuce Bigelow, American Gigolo does not? For me. When when people ask me, What's my favorite comedy? I have many favorites. It's like asking what's your favorite kid? But for me, one of my favorite comedies of all time is Groundhog Day, because I think it's it's an amazing combination of comedy, you know, just pure laughs great performance by Andy McDowell and Bill Murray. But it's also about about something it's about what do you do with if you had a million lifetimes? What would you do with it? How would you spend it right? How would you how would you spend your day? How should How should you be mentioned the world and bench is Yiddish word that means marriage. That means a good man that means a person. Yes. And, and so. So to me, it hits on all those cylinders, right? And so I look for a film. For me comedies have to tell something true about being human has to tell something true about what humans you know, struggle with and deal within their lives has to has to be based on some incredible impossibility or implausibility. So that it doesn't have to be a fantasy like Groundhog Day, it can be something as simple as that movie with James Gandolfini and Julia Louis Dreyfus. Enough set, right, right, which is just this really cool, you know, simple, quiet story about a misuse, you know, is kind of struggling, she meets a guy, maybe he's going to be her new boyfriend, at the same time, she meets a client who becomes a best friend. And the client is the ex wife of the new boyfriend, who hates James Gandolfini and keeps on saying terrible things about him, which starts to affect her relationship. Now, is that impossible? No. But it's improbable. Yes. So you take, you take an improbable or impossible situation, and then you let it develop. That's the only time that you can lie in a narrative. And then you let it develop, honestly and organically. So a movie like big, and that's one lie in it. A kid makes a wish on a fortune telling machine he wakes up, he's 30 year old man, could that ever happen? No. But if it did happen, what would happen then? And every step of that movie develops organically and honestly, out of that premise. Now, some people might say, Yeah, but how does he get a job? At a computer at a toy toy company? And the answer to that is because that's the theme. The theme of big is sure. What's the connection between adulthood and childhood? So of course, you want him to meet some guy who works in that field in that area? You know, what would be the point of him meeting a guy who, who owns a gas station, so he ends up working at a gas station? You could do it, but it has nothing to do with the theme of the movie. So that to me, are those three elements that make a great comedy, character, premise and theme?
Alex Ferrari 17:08
Now, can you talk a little bit about what are the keys to making a good comedic lead character? Because there's there's you know, there's normally a leading man or leading woman, but a Kumi a good comedic leading character, what are some of the keys for that?
Steve Kaplan 17:25
I think I think the the main key is the ability to, to not only not take yourself seriously, but make fun of yourself. A great example of that is Jon Hamm. Who, arguably, you know, did a great dramatic job in in Mad Men, but he's able to make fun of himself, he's able to let himself be seen in a ridiculous or negative light and, and not pretend that he's that he's pretending to be that guy, he owns it. So that it's the ability to take the pie in the face, and not pretend it's somebody else.
Alex Ferrari 18:11
But that's, that's more of an actor, but I'm talking about like, on an actual character on a writing standpoint, what makes a goal leading character, comedic leading character, in a story
Steve Kaplan 18:23
yourself, yourself or your your, your mom or your dad. So in other words, when you're writing a character, rather than trying to make this character, the stupidest guy you've ever seen, or the, or the or the clumsiest guy you've ever seen. Just tell the truth about yourself all. All narrative, all fiction is actually a autobiography, your your, your writing about the world that you see your perceptions, your take. And so when you create a character, just make him as human as you are. People like to say, Yeah, but my you know, but my, my character is, is is not that smart. And my answer to that is, so what makes you a genius? Hmm. I mean, you know, what I'd like to say is, you know, people are not as smart as they'd like to think they are. On the other hand, they're not as stupid as they, as they feel they are. Right? Ah, you you might my best examples are the classic sitcoms, all in the family and everybody loves Raymond. Yes, the character of Archie Bunker, how did they come up with that character? Oh, my God. It was it was based on a a British sitcom. Till death us do part in which a bigoted British guy was always always in battle with his liberal son in law. But when Norman Lear wrote that, he didn't give two things. For this British guy he wrote his father, he put his father in the in the character of Archie Bunker. Archie Bunker always used to say stifle when he wanted Edith to stop talking. That was an invention. That's what his father said to her. His father would say to his mother stifle one of the, in one of the first episodes, Archie says to Meathead, he says, You are the laziest white man around and and meathead says That's racist. Well, then you're the you know, and then he makes something else. And it's exactly what his father said to Norman Lear. He just took it from life. And the same thing in terms of Everybody Loves Raymond, in, you know, Ray Romanos Italian, but Phil Rosenthal, who wrote the pilot, and was the executive producer is Jewish. That mother, it's his mother. That father is his father. Yes, they they, he used some of the autobiographical elements from Ray Romano, his comedy, but he doesn't live in, in Ray Romano skin, he doesn't walk in his shoes. He's he lives in his own skin. And so he offered his own family as the as the grist for that comedy mill. So how do you create a great character? Look in the mirror, and and, and if you're, if your mirror isn't wide enough, then go home, go home for Christmas or Thanksgiving, and look in the mirror but take a selfie with all those people behind. Look, when we get together at family gatherings with our cousins. What are we laughing? We're laughing at our family we're laughing at her and and how crazy they are. Just Just own it, just share it. The hardest thing in the world is to give up the veneer of respectability and normal sake. Yes. I mean, you know, we all want to appear smart and capable. And this and that. And we know deep in our heart of hearts, how truly messed up and how broken and how crazy we are. But we want to hide that at all times. In comedy. We don't hide anymore. We just, we just let it out.
Alex Ferrari 22:23
And it being you have to be authentic is what you're saying and be vulnerable as as a writer.
Steve Kaplan 22:29
Yeah. And as George Burns once said, The secret of success in show business is authenticity. And the minute you learn how to fake it, you've got it made.
Alex Ferrari 22:41
Very true. Very true. And no, I heard a quote I actually used in one of my podcasts the other day is like your best the best friend you have in Hollywood is someone who stabbed you in the face. And I was like, wow, that's that was such a great. That's I had to use it. It's great, great light. Now Now let me ask you How does comedy structure differ from dramatic structure? Because we were beaten in with the you know, this, you know, dramatic structure. But there isn't a lot of talk about how comedic structure is different?
Steve Kaplan 23:14
Well, when you're talking about structure, you're talking about a three act structure or Michael Haig has his six turning points. It's not what's what's different about the the comic hero's journey, as it were, from the hero's journey. And I use that term only because
Alex Ferrari 23:35
you have a book called The comics, comics hero's journey,
Steve Kaplan 23:40
which my friend Chris Vogler wrote the writers journey, and I called him up and I said, Chris, I'm ripping you off, but it's with love. I'm taking your title, and I'm making fun of it. But out of love, yes. And so So I think one of the differences is, when creating when creating a structure in a comedy, it, like I say, is that you get to make up crap, make up shit once, and then you have to play it, play it straight and play it honestly. So if this weird thing really happened, if I'm in this weird situation, what would happen then? So So rather than thinking about plot, you're thinking about character, you're following the character through the narrative as opposed to and let's throw this at the character that the character so in one sense, dramatic structure is a character you know, heroes have to be thrown obstacles, otherwise they'll just win, right? But think about us think about people. We can't even go we can't even get out of the house on top. let alone have an obstacle thrown at us.
Alex Ferrari 25:06
You're right, you're right. Like not being able to get a cup of coffee. It's It's night. There's no, I didn't ask for soy I asked for whole milk. Ah, the whole days gone.
Steve Kaplan 25:16
Right? So So rather than thinking in terms of, okay, we've got to throw this obstacle at them, we have to have this villain. What you notice from watching a lot of comedies, is that you don't need villains. You don't need antagonists, in comedies, sometimes there are simply because of the structure the story, but you don't need them. Who's the antagonist? In Groundhog Day? It's himself. Yes. He has to he has to evolve from himself who's the antagonist? In 40 Year Old Virgin? There is none no one's trying to stop him from getting laid.
Alex Ferrari 25:55
He has a breakthrough his own thing
Steve Kaplan 25:58
fact. In fact, everybody is hell bent trying to help him. Right. So so so there's there's a number of differences in in a dramatic structure. You have a hero who has all the skills they need to to do whatever they need to do. Bruce Willis in Die Hard. No, he walks on class with with no shoes and he kills off. He kills like a dozen bad guys and, and he's any he has wisecracks all the way throughout. He's got all the skills in the world. And so you have to keep on figuring out, how can I make it harder on him and harder on him. Whereas in a comic structure, your hero starts off with a minus a negative, they're broken, they have a hole inside them that they don't know. They're not aware of. So in the beginning of a comic story, your character thinks that they're fine. We in the audience can tell, well, that guy, Phil Connors, in Groundhog Day, he's a jerk. That guy, Andy in 40 Year Old Virgin, he said, dweep he needs to you know, meet a girl. But they think everything's going okay. They don't want to rock the boat. And when something happens to to rock their boat, the first thing I tried to do is they go into denial, it's not happening, or they are they desperately want to go back to the normal world that they think is working for them, that we that we see is not. And then what happens over the course of the structure. As they, as these broken people who start their stories off with, with damaged or absent relationships, they gather families around themselves. And so and so everybody, every character, every hero character in a comedy is is forming a kind of dysfunctional family around themselves to help them through their transformation. And as and when they get to the end, they there's usually a a segment in which there is and this this is similar in in dramas, there's an all is lost moment, right? But what's what's why that's so important for comedy, is that people sometimes forget that the most important moment in a comedy is the pain is the loss is how characters deal with that pain. And that loss, as opposed to well, let's just make it funny. Well, here's another funny thing. Oh, here's another funny thing. Wouldn't it be funny if we do this? So wouldn't it be funny if we do that? So So part of the part of the difference of the structure is that in the hero's journey, the hero goes off into the unknown world, and brings back in elixir that will heal the world, right? In the comic hero's journey, the hero, the comic hero is thrown inadvertently or against their better judgment or against their will into a world they don't want to be in. And as a result, have to transform and thereby heal themselves to be to be able to be better able to be a person, a mensch in the world. So they're not really changing the world as much as they are changing themselves. So all comedy is transformational.
Alex Ferrari 29:34
That makes amazing sense. A character
Steve Kaplan 29:37
in a comedy doesn't realize that they have to change, but they have to change because the world as they knew it is taken away from them. They're they're in Oz, or or they're, they're a 30 year old men when they're really 12 years old, or they're living the same day over and over again. Or they just find themselves in In a weird situation, and what do they have to do they have to, they have to become different, even though they don't want to become different, and over the course, so another difference in structure is that in a, in a dramatic structure, your hero has a goal in the beginning of the movie, I'm going to catch the killer, or I'm going to solve this mystery. Or I'm going, you know, what is Luke say in the beginning Star Wars, he says, I want to, I want to be a pilot, I want to join the rebellion. So what happens by the end of Star Wars, he saves the rebellion. He's a pilot. But in a comedy, your hero has a short sighted goal. Their initial goal is is wrongheaded or short sighted. What is a? What does? The kid in big one, he just wants to be big enough to ride on a on a ride at a carnival to be with the girl of his dreams? Right? What does Phil Conners want? He just wants to get a job? Well, you just want no in the beginning. He just wants to get a better job at a bigger new station where he can be a weatherman, in a bigger station. You're now in 40 Year Old Virgin, what does Andy want, all he wants is to be left alone. Because these days are filled. He's you know, he's playing Halo. He's practicing the tuba. He's painting his little figurines. He's happy. He thinks he's happy, right? So. So what happens in a comedy is that your characters have a discovered goal, a goal that wasn't apparent to them, or us in the audience at the beginning of the movie, that later becomes something they discover as they're transforming. And, and so, Midway or a half, you know, three quarters the way through, or 40% of the way through, they discover that they want something else they want something new, and then they put all their attention and focus to try to get that discovered goal.
Alex Ferrari 32:07
That's Yes. That's a great great, great answer, sir. To to a question. Yes, the heroes, the comics hero's journey. It's it's quite it's all there. It's all there. It's all here. It's all in here.
Steve Kaplan 32:19
I'm available on Amazon.
Alex Ferrari 32:23
Do you have the audio book yet?
Steve Kaplan 32:25
No, no, I'm even though I have a face. That's right. That's great for Radio. I'm not. Audio books are people have asked me about audio books. But what they don't realize is that you have to pay unless you're James Comey and somebody asked you to make one. You have to pay to make an audio book and then your publisher has to flog it. It's not it's actually it's not as not as easy as people like to think it is also having to stay in the studio and read this entire freakin thing. Oh, man.
Alex Ferrari 33:03
Um, yeah, I know, I know. You're doing the audio version. I am doing the audio version of my book. But I'm a podcaster and I've been playing for a long time and I have the gear. Yeah, so I'm doing it but it is. It's not like this voice I when I'm reading the book, it's not like Hey guys, how you doing? It's not that it's in today. So I have my my audiobook voice
Steve Kaplan 33:25
which is your your like the NPR girls on the SNL sketch. today so we have what he
Alex Ferrari 33:32
calls that similar to that but not completely sweaty balls. What a great what a great bit. Um, no, I wanted to I wanted to touch upon a genre of comedy which, and I just want to hear your thoughts on it fish out of water, which is such a great comedic world to be thrown into like the crocodile, Dundee's Beverly Hills, cops, you know, those kinds of things. Any tips on what, what writers can do to do because I haven't seen a good fish out of water? Comedy in a long time. Honestly, what was the last good one you saw?
Steve Kaplan 34:09
Well, I mean, there's there's there's been a dearth of great. A great film comedy most, almost everything that's really good. Or a lot of everything that's really good is happening in on TV or streaming?
Alex Ferrari 34:23
Yeah. Yeah, there's that's very true. Yeah. The greater the Grayson, Grayson, Frankie's of the wild,
Steve Kaplan 34:29
I guess, I guess, you know, Spy with Melissa McCarthy. She was a fish out of that would be Yeah, that was funny as hell, Todd. You know, for me, for me. We are all fish out of water. We're swimming around. It's everything seems great. And then we're forced as as, as Amy Sherman Palladino wrote, we're forced out through through a hole that's smaller than a lady's purse. And we're we're thrust into a world we didn't make we didn't ask for. And we don't know how the hell we got there, we can't do anything. We are a fish out of water. Our our whole lives are fish out of water. We, we like to pretend that we're in water, you know, we're swimming in our waters, but for the most part, everybody is a tale of a fish out of water. In fact, that's why that's why comedians who are outsiders in their culture are so successful. That's why Canadians
Alex Ferrari 35:38
in America, right,
Steve Kaplan 35:39
yeah, because because they're, they're, you know,
Alex Ferrari 35:43
Steve Kaplan 35:44
They can't fight the in, you know, the encroaching American culture, but they're, they're kind of outsiders to it. African Americans, New Jews, you know, all the all the ethnic comedians who came up in the 20s and 30s, and 40s. They're there in a way outsiders, and so and so in that way, everybody stories, a fish out of
Alex Ferrari 36:09
water. Very, very true. Now, there's a bit when you
Steve Kaplan 36:13
when you when you take a situation in which you tear somebody away from what his normal world is, you create a fish out of water, Bill Murray's a fish out of water is living the same day over and over again, the character big is a fish out of water. So a fish out of water just doesn't mean a a nerd, gets caught in a space capsule and has to be the world's first astronaut, right, they've actually made that movie. But that's not the only way to that's not the only way to tell that story.
Alex Ferrari 36:49
Got it? Got it. So so you're what you're saying because I'm calling it more of like when I say fish out of water, it's more like the Beverly Hills Cop, literally the toy cop in Beverly Hills completely out of out of his place. But you're saying that there's elements of that in almost every story. And one way shape or form almost especially Yeah.
Steve Kaplan 37:06
Well in a comedy once the characters have have experienced what I call the WTF moment. They are, in fact, fish out of water who at first desperately tried to swim back to two more familiar more familiar waters, Tropic Thunder, you have a bunch of give a bunch of actors pretending to be in Vietnam, the director is is literally getting punched out by the studio head. And he gets this idea given to him by by Nick Nulty to bring everybody out into country to have them experience what it would be like if they were really in country in Vietnam and two minutes in he gets blown up and they're they're stranded and they have to make their way back to the extraction point to get back to their hotels right they're automatically fish out of water right they're forced to be soldiers when they don't want to be soldiers they're actors. And and only only one of them Jay bearish only one of them's actually read the manual, so he knows how to read a map. So So I it would be hard for me to think of a movie in which your character isn't a fish out of water at some point.
Alex Ferrari 38:35
That's a very good analogy. Very good. Now, romantic comedies, which is a whole other sub genre of what we're talking about. That's a whole other beast. In your opinion, what makes good romantic comedies work because when it's good, it's really good. You know, when When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, you know, any Hall, right? Those I mean, when they work, they're just hitting on all pistons. But there's been a lot of bad ones too.
Steve Kaplan 39:06
Well, the the I remembering I can't remember the name, but they all have Catherine Hegel. And, oh, and the guy, the guy from 300. But they
Alex Ferrari 39:20
Yeah, Jared, Jared. I'm Tara Butler, Gerald burger.
Steve Kaplan 39:23
They all they all feature Heather and Hegel and Gerald Butler. And I remember watching this movie in about 15 minutes in, she's up a tree, spying on him, I'm thinking, Oh, that'll happen. Here's, here's the problem with bad romantic comedy movies. They think that romantic comedy is about getting to people who are destined to be together. And then because they're destined to be together, you have to come up with ways of keeping them Apart, let's just come up with ways of keeping them apart. But that's not really the problem that people have in relationships. People don't have the problem of keeping you apart. The problem is how do you stay together? And not kill each other? Yes. Yeah, absolutely.
So the so the really good romantic comedies are, you know, I guess I would put sleep as in Seattle as an exception, because that's, that's really a romantic comedy in which to faded people who are a part of the entire right away to figure out a way to get together, right. But but you know, but they start off on opposite ends of the country. You don't have to create an artificial obstacle to keep them apart. But But movies like When Harry Met Sally pretty, pretty well. Yeah, pretty woman I, to me, that's a really a great example of the genre on I'm thinking more like 500 Days of Summer.
Alex Ferrari 41:04
Yes. Any haul,
Steve Kaplan 41:08
any haul, even even about a boy, which is not a not a romantic comedy, insofar as Hugh Grant is going to be romantically involved with that boy, but it is a romantic comedy, because it's about him connecting with somebody else besides himself,
Alex Ferrari 41:26
or Notting Hill, it doesn't matter. We're not or Notting Hill, that's a
Steve Kaplan 41:29
credit. And it's all about not how do you overcome these artificial obstacles? It's how do you figure out how to stay together with the obstacles that are there to begin with, you're two different human beings, your your, your you have different DNA, you your molecules rotate and vibrate at different frequencies. You know, the real problem in relationships is once we figure out how to swipe right and swipe left, you know is that when we meet? How do you how do you stay together? I mean, because 50% of all marriages end in divorce. So that's it. So staying together is not easy. You don't have to create an obstacle, you have to figure out how do we stay together? How do we figure out how to be one in a pair as opposed to the one that we know? So? So that's that's what I think a good romantic comedy is a good romantic comedy explores how we are in relationships and what we do in relationships and why we're so bad at relationships as opposed to, well, these two people are just gonna love each other unless we put some kind of wall between them. They're just gonna break through that wall and rough like animals. No, no, there, you know, people, people have a hard time being in the same room with each other. How do you get past that?
Alex Ferrari 43:01
I mean, When Harry Met Sally is a really great example of that. Yeah, that whole exploration was something Nora Ephron was probably one of the geniuses in the genre without question. And even Notting Hill, it's about it's not. They have obstacles, but the obstacles are just what pack what baggage, they bring each each of them bring to the to the relationship. Julia Roberts is a movie star. He's, he's a book store owner. How are we going to make this work? We love each other. But how are we going to stay together? It's about how do we stay together?
Steve Kaplan 43:30
Exactly. As opposed to how do we get them together? How do we keep them apart? For 90 minutes? Right. One of the examples that I use in my workshops when people ask me this question, I showed them a couple of scenes from Dan in Real Life, which was, yeah, yeah. Steve correct. And and Dan, in real life. This Steve Carell. So a widower, he's been depressed for two years, he meets this wonderful woman, Julia Benesch, in a bookstore and they chat, they talk. And he goes back to because they're having like a family reunion at this, you know, unbelievable. Perfect house with the perfect family, the perfect everything. And he goes back, and and everybody can tell that he's kind of hepped up about something and they say, what happened? He says, I might have met a girl, and then his brother who's Dane Cook. And by the way, when you're in a movie, Dane Cook is out acting you you're in trouble. I just want to say that Dane Cook introduces his fiancee and it turns out to be Julia pinos from the bookstore. And at that moment, the movie goes wrong. At that moment, Steve corral. Ly lies and says, Oh, Hi, what's your name? Okay, here's the result of that. Later on in the movie, about That's 40 minutes later, because they're trying to pretend that they don't know each other, he ends up fully clothed, in a shower pretending to take a shower. If your character ends up in a shower fully clothed, you've made a wrong turn. People don't do that. It doesn't happen in real life. Here's what would have been a better turn for them. She comes in the door. And he says, Well, we actually know each other. Well. She's the girl I met in the bookstore. And she might be embarrassed for a second. And then he would say, No, no, but now I can see Dane Cook while you love her because she's great. Congratulations, my brother. Alright, and so the movie becomes, how long? Can you fool yourself into thinking that you're happy for your brother? As opposed to really wanting her for yourself? And that becomes, to my mind much a much more interesting movie than winding up in a shower, fully clothed, getting wet, because Wouldn't it be funny if I had to? If I had to hide? Why is he hiding? Right? So he's talking to his brother's fiancee? Why is he hiding in a in a shower and somebody turns the shower on.
Alex Ferrari 46:20
And it's interesting, because they, a lot of times when when I feel like when writers and directors and even actors and performers when they, they they they don't have that, that hold on story, structure, or story or like what you're talking about, or character or character. It's exactly what be believable for the character, right? They then automatically lean on slapstick. They write and they lean on like, how can we get a gag out here? Like, oh, Wouldn't it be funny?
Steve Kaplan 46:47
Wouldn't it be funny if Wouldn't it be funny if there's a there's a great story about the making of Groundhog Day. And in one of the earlier drafts in Groundhog Day, when he wakes up, and it's the third day and it's third time in a row? And he's is it really happening? Am I going crazy. And in the script, they have him shaving his head into a mohawk, destroying the room setting fire to half the room painting the other room and de cloak colors. He goes to sleep. Six o'clock Sonny and Cher on the radio, he wakes up the same day. And they looked at that they look at those rushes and Harold Ramis. And I'm guessing I'm guessing Bill Murray or the producers looked at the looked at each other and said, Why would he cut his hair into a mohawk? Why don't we do that?
Alex Ferrari 47:45
I mean, visually, visually, it's funny, but it doesn't work.
Steve Kaplan 47:48
How well how does it help? It doesn't help this right? Why would this character do that? And so at great expense, they reshot the scene. And all that happens in the scene, if you remember is he breaks a pen. Right puts one down on the floor, and he puts one on the nightstand. And he wakes up the next morning and the pencil is whole. And he knows it's happening.
Alex Ferrari 48:12
Right? And it's so brilliantly simple,
Steve Kaplan 48:15
simple, honest and direct. As opposed to Wouldn't it be funny if and from that point on and Steve tap Alaskey, who has his own podcast relates that that from that moment on, the question always was what would they really do? what would really happen? In fact, at the end of Groundhog Day, there was this whole debate, because he ended McDowell wins him in the bachelor auction and takes him home. And there was this whole debate on how the last scene should go. Did Did they have sex? What happened? Did you know what he wake up? Like naked? Would he wake up? And they they, rather than thinking, well, wouldn't it be funny if we do this? They they put it to a vote. The entire cast and crew got to vote on what would happen that night. What would happen with these two characters? Because they were no longer fictional characters. They were real. They were human beings. And what would these two human beings do? And that's why spoiler at the next day, it turns out that all he did was fall asleep. And she you know, Andy McNally says, he just fell asleep. And he says, It was the end of a really long day. Just so
Alex Ferrari 49:34
brilliant. And the song is the song is different. Pop song. It was it was it was great. Oh, such I got to watch that movie again. It's so great. I do want to also touch upon dark comedies. Yes, specifically one of my favorite dark comedies Heather's which was arguably a comedy. Yeah, but it is. It is funny as hell, and you can't make that movie today, like that movie would never in a million years be made today.
Unknown Speaker 50:06
Why can't you? I think there's a lot of PC
Alex Ferrari 50:09
stuff that wouldn't get through like, I mean, like when I stopped bleeding,
Steve Kaplan 50:12
just just kill it just killing
Alex Ferrari 50:16
this school kid in the school killings with a gun in the school. I mean, there's a lot of stuff that just wouldn't fly today. Like when I saw Blazing Saddles for the first time, I was like, well, there's never there's no way in hell that movie could be made today. Like it just, just just not gonna happen. And I saw this years ago, but even then, and then Bharat showed up, I was like, Well, okay, apparently everything. Um, but, but with Heather's specifically that film, which is a it's a it's a genius piece of work, in my opinion. How, what are tips that you could give writers on how to write good dark comedies? Because again, I haven't seen a lot of good dark comedies lately, either. I mean, when was the last good dark comedy you saw? Um, it's a rarity in the genre. Now.
Steve Kaplan 51:01
I'm guessing. I'm thinking about things like wag the dog.
Alex Ferrari 51:08
Still 2025 years ago? Yeah. Dr. Strangelove,
Steve Kaplan 51:16
I think I think the the, the key I mean, listen, Breaking Bad is a dark comedy. So many ways it is it was really bad. Ben is a dark comedy and TV, the TV there is more of these existence. The Sopranos is a dark comedy. I, I think I think besides the fact that that, you know, it's one thing to make a television episode for $2.3 million. And it's another thing to make a movie for 40 to $200 million. But I think the the thing you have to do is you have to know what, who you're making fun of and what you're making fun of. And you have to punch up. Don't punch down.
Alex Ferrari 52:04
That's why Heather's was so smart. A punched so up above the genre of high school. Right comedy.
Steve Kaplan 52:11
Well, it's also it's also you're there. You're you're not making? Listen, we're all living in a dark comedy. All right, we're all we're all with. No, but not just today's political situation. We're all whistling past the graveyard. That's what all that's what all black comedy is. Oh, I guess this is also 20 years ago, A Fish Called Wanda is kind of a Dark
Alex Ferrari 52:36
Avatar. Yeah. And, and
Steve Kaplan 52:40
what it all comes down to is as we're whistling past the graveyard, we're trying to make fun of the things that terrify us. So, to me, the way to make a dark comedy is to focus on how the people are coping with it. How are they coping with it? Because in in a metaphorical sense, we're all struggling in a dark comedy. And, and the the end of all of dark comedies is not too funny, huh? You know, none of us as they say none of us get out of this alive. So or as Clint Eastwood says, in the Unforgiven you know, we all get what's coming to us. Yeah. So so so the the idea is that you're you're not pretending when you say that there's Death and Dismemberment out there waiting for you? How are you? How do people deal with that? How do they react to that? What happens to the living people as they grapple with these issues of death and destruction and extinction? So that so that if you're, if you're making a dark comedy, honestly, you're just finding what's ridiculous and absurd. In in what in what we're doing. To to deal with the fact that we're living you know, we're on this blue cinders spinning through a void. We don't know where we came from, we don't know where we're going to. And yet, we're gonna wake up tomorrow and have frozen yogurt. Because frozen yogurt at least make it a little better.
Alex Ferrari 54:23
You know, we are the only creature on the planet that knows that we will not be here eventually.
Steve Kaplan 54:28
Right? And what do we do based on that? Do we all sit home weeping softly writing haiku? No. We wake up, and we say Thai. Thai food
Alex Ferrari 54:39
Thai. Don't do it today. I think Thai,
Steve Kaplan 54:42
Thai, Thai or, or like dark chocolate, dark chocolate of
Alex Ferrari 54:48
course. 80% of the time, Starbucks every day Starbucks.
Steve Kaplan 54:52
I'm gonna spend 325 Because Starbucks will make my eventual descent into death and entropy, you'll make it a little bit more forth. That's great.
Alex Ferrari 55:05
That's amazing. Um, now another question I have for you is, and I'm curious to hear your answer on this the difference between comedy and funny, because there is a difference. There is a major difference.
Steve Kaplan 55:19
Absolutely. I start a lot of my workshops workshops off with a comedy perception test. I give them seven different versions of a man slipping on a banana peel, man slipping on a banana peel man and top hat slipping, man slipping on a banana peel after kicking the dog and slipping on a banana peel after losing his job. Blind man slipping on a banana peel blind man's dog slipping. Man slipping on a banana peel and dying. And then I asked them Okay, so like which one do you think is the funniest? The least funniest, the most comic and the least comic? And they'll go, somebody will go well, what's the difference? And I'll go Excellent question. I'm glad you asked. Select which one you think is the funniest, the least funniest, the most comic and the least comic? I don't answer the question. I just say select which one you think is they couldn't be different? They could be the same? And so then we'll start with, Okay, how many of you here whether it's 20 people or 300? People? How many of you here thought a man slipping on a banana peel was the funniest how many people thought the man slipping on a banana peel after losing his job was the funniest. And so we'll go through all of that. And then at the end, I'll go and I'll say. So here's the answer to which one of these is the funniest. You're all right. You're all correct. Yeah, it's like it's like, don't you feel affirmed? It's like the 60s.
Alex Ferrari 56:47
We all get a participation trophy.
Steve Kaplan 56:50
Because funny is subjective, completely. What you think is funny is different from what you think is funny. And you're both right. But comedy is not subjective comedy is the art of telling what's true, and specifically telling what's true about human beings. So that so that, even if I'm even if I'm creating a moment, with a character that you are not laughing at, if I'm telling the truth about a human being without white washing them, or would that just ignoring some of their defects? It's comedy, even though you might not laugh, at the end of Dr. Strangelove, when he's when slim pickins is writing the bomb down to what we know is our entire extinction. Talk about black comedy. There some people in the audience laugh there's a nervous tenor. Many people don't. But it's not a dramatic moment. Yes, he's got it right. It's a comedic moment, even if you're not laughing. So there's a difference between comedy and funny. Funny is what makes you laugh. And it's different from it for everybody. But comedy is telling the truth, telling the truthful story of a less than perfect person struggling against insurmountable odds with that many of the required skills and tools with which to win yet never giving up hope. And because of that, what I tried to tell writers and directors and performers and executives is don't chase funny. Because Because you're chasing a fraction of the audience. If it works, people will laugh. If it doesn't work, people won't laugh, then then then change it after your previous but tell the truth. Tell the truth in a truthful way, in an unexpected and yet. And yet ultimately. All the way authentic way thanks. And comedy will occur. Also make yourself laugh. I mean, you you're a human being. Right. So if you're not laughing, right, chances are, don't try to out think the audience don't try to think what will they find funny? Well, wouldn't it be funny if I did this? Use your own sense of humor only guided only kind of limited by telling the story honestly. And truthfully, through character and theme.
Alex Ferrari 59:28
I'm going to ask you a deeper question here. When you say and I think this is this is a question that will go through all all all writing, all storytelling, all art in general, is the ability to be honest, be authentic, be truthful, and what stops an artist from doing so? Because as an artist myself and the work that I do, you know, one of the reasons why this podcast has done as well as it has over the years is because I'm completely authentic, and I asked authentically And I want truth. And that's why people gravitated towards it. What stops the artists from doing so? Is it just pure fear of people making fun of them, or of you know, things like that. But I've always found that when I'm honest about my work, whether it be my writing, whether it be like my new book, which is as honest as I could possibly be a film that I direct, when I'm honest about it, that's when that's when the magic is, but it's scarier.
Steve Kaplan 1:00:31
Well, I'm not sure that there's one answer to that. But I think part of that answer is, is not trusting that your story is good enough that they are your that your point of view is good enough. worrying that other people won't enjoy it. worrying that somebody who really knows finances but doesn't know art is telling you I don't think it's funny. Okay, then then I'll look for somebody who does and you won't produce it or you won't. You won't be my agent. But but but I think it's it comes out of a fear is part of it. But it comes out of the sense that that there's the sense that on not enough. For me, a perfect example is the I'm going to pronounce her name wrong. It's the director who directed enough said friends with money. Please give Nicole holofcener Okay. I don't know. I think I think I'm mispronouncing her name. She She. She makes she makes these beautifully crafted. Beautiful movies, comic movies, and there's very little slapstick there's there's no there's there's no big gags there's no you know, there's not a lot of sex scenes. to 13 year olds are not drawn to her movies. And yet, her movies are wonderful. But it's it has a kind of a limited viewership so far. And I think people are worried that if they don't put in the big dick choke, that, that they won't make money or they're they won't sell or, or or the studio will be disappointed. So there's there's fear. And sometimes it's a justified fear. Because, I mean, how many five star restaurants are there out there? And how many McDonald's are out there out there? So if you're, if you're studying to be a chef, should you go to McDonald's and see what's made them so successful?
Alex Ferrari 1:02:57
Different, that are model different to everything?
Steve Kaplan 1:03:00
Yeah, I mean, you, you, you have to strive towards your own sense of excellence. And know that that doesn't translate into a into an economic model, necessarily. Wow.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:17
You've just honestly you've kind of blown my mind a little bit because it just there was that light bulb that just went off in my head when you said, if you're if you're trying to be a chef, if you're training to be a chef, why would you go to McDonald's to see how because they're very successful. Yeah, but it's a different kind of success, as opposed to why wouldn't you go to a Gordon Ramsay restaurant and and see how he's doing it and why you're fine dining restaurant that has the five
Steve Kaplan 1:03:42
let's not say Gordon Ramsay, because I don't think that fair. It's still that.
Alex Ferrari 1:03:47
Fair. It's one of the few chefs I know. I'm Wolfgang. I hate you you omelet? Yeah, exactly. But, but I think one of the issues with with Hollywood in general is to so many people go to watch studio movies, that are financial vehicles, they're made for money. They're not made, particularly for story. Every once in a while someone sticks sneaks in a store. Every once in a while you get one of these, you know that's has money behind it has big stars and has a story, but they're becoming rarer and rarer. much rarer.
Steve Kaplan 1:04:22
But you know what the studio system does so well, is taking stories that already work and visualizing them correct. That's why the that's why the Marvel Knights do so well. Yeah, because those stories were great when they were 10 cent comics. And these great craftsmen and technicians and great actors, visualize them for us. But the story's already there. The characters are already there and and to give them credit, they don't screw the characters up. The Marvel characters were screwed up human beings to start are off with when they were 10 and 12 cent comics and they're still screwed up human beings. All the movie said was honor that as opposed to justice DC movies in which they can figure out that the stories came out of where we do right. Where the Justice League we do right because that's the right thing to do. Guys not enough really, really. And so they they kind of veer veer between let's go as dark as possible. And let's or let's have lots of wisecracks they still have I haven't seen Aqua Man I understand Aqua Man is a little bit better
Alex Ferrari 1:05:37
than but Wonder Woman was wonderful. I thought Wonder Woman was wonderful. Wonder Woman was good. From the DC world
Steve Kaplan 1:05:44
that is from the, from the DC world. I mean, it was it was female empowerment. And it was in a in a period. That wasn't the modern day. So I think they they kind of solved it in a good way. But you know, I think what what what movies do so well is take existing stories, and and help us see them for who they are like Lord of the Rings. Whereas if you want to see a really good movie, take a look at an independent see what's coming out of Sundance. See, see what somebody has made? That wasn't made through the studio system, but made because this is the story I want to tell like eighth grade. Yeah,
Alex Ferrari 1:06:29
I haven't seen it yet. But I hear it's amazing. Oh,
Steve Kaplan 1:06:31
it's it's so good. And, and it obviously or maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm totally wrong about this. But it's but to me, it obviously wasn't made after a story conference at Sony.
Alex Ferrari 1:06:44
No, I'm almost positive. That's not since one of your books is called the hidden tools of comedy. Can you give us a few hidden tools?
Steve Kaplan 1:06:53
Well, I've already given you a couple. Okay, we start off with, with the paradigm what I call the comedy equation, comedies about an ordinary guy or gal, Jackie Gleason used to call him a Moke struggling against insurmountable odds without many of the required skills and tools with which to win yet never giving up hope. Now, from that paradigm, we draw usable, practical tools, the tool of winning comedy gives your characters that permission to win. Not that they're trying to be funny, but they're trying to when I do I do an exercise in my in my workshop, I asked three people who I make sure are not performers. And I tell them that they're lawyers, and the most important court case, in the in their careers began in a courthouse, four blocks away five minutes ago. I tell them, I say to them, what what would what what should you do to solve the problem? And they are people in the audience say they should run there? And I'll ask them, What would actors do. And they say, act as we talked about it, they'd create dialogue. So then I tell them, Okay, for muscle memory, just run out the door, your three lawyers, you're five minutes late, four blocks away, run out the door. So they run out the door, then I bring them each individually. And I say, Okay, here's the crazy thing, for some crazy reason. You have to be the second person out the door, don't tell the others now bring each of the three yen out to them, you have to be second. I'll bring them all in. Now, these are not performers. So I bring them all in. And I say most important case of the three lawyers most important case happened starting five minutes ago started five minutes ago in a courthouse four blocks away, go. And what will happen is they'll rush the door, and then begin this odd little path of trying to trying to get through the door. And occasionally somebody will figure it out. But most often I'll have to side coach and say, I give you the permission to do what you need to do in order to win. And what I usually do is I usually pick two big guys and a tiny girl, right? And at some point, one of the big guys gets the idea. Oh, I don't have to be a gentleman picks up the girl throws her outside leaves, so he can be second. It's an experiment. It doesn't work the same way all the time. It doesn't work all the time. But invariably the audience laughs and I'll bring the people back out and I'll say, who directed that? And they'll say no one. And I'll say to the audience, I'm sorry, Directors. I'm sorry. We don't need directors and I'll say who wrote that scene? And they'll say no one oh they'll say you did Mr. Kaplan because now I said I didn't write it. I just set up this situation. What happened at the door? That was that was you. And so I'll say you don't need you don't need directors. You don't even need writers you just need characters who are given the permission to do what they need to do in order to win. Because when they were doing that weird dance at the door, they weren't trying to be funny. They were simply trying to solve a problem and unsolvable problem as it turns out, but simply tried to solve a problem. So rather than trying to be funny, characters are given the permission to do what they need to do in order to win. Which is why when Woody Allen is arguing with some guy on a movie on the line in a movie, he's able to drag Marshall McLuhan out from behind a poster in any Hall to win his arguments.
Alex Ferrari 1:10:34
Brilliant. That was such a brilliant move I love
Steve Kaplan 1:10:37
ya. Although now that I find that that Woody Allen is really a creepy, yes, yes. You know, that's unfortunately, not all the best people are are great artists. And he happens to be one of the not great people. But right. But so, so winning, the idea that comedy gives you the permission to win is one of the tools non hero, not that not a comic, you're not a fool, not the ridiculous person, but simply somebody who lacks some if not all the essential skills and tools with which to win. Straight line wavy line. Most people think of comedians or comics as funny people, and then they're the straight man, the straight men who kind of just set the funny people up to do something funny, right? And, and what what the tool of straight line wavy line does is it recognizes the fact that that's a false dynamic. John Cleese once said that when they started Monty Python, they thought that comedy was watching somebody do something silly. They later came to realize that comedy is watching somebody watch somebody do something silly. watching somebody watched somebody do something silly. So that in in a, in a comic dynamic, you have somebody who's blind to a problem or creating the problem, like Kramer, and somebody who's struggling with the problem, but because they are not here, or they can't solve the problem like Jerry. So if you look at comedy, if you look at sitcoms, you're always seeing a straight line, somebody who's kind of blind to who they are, or what they're doing, like Joey friends, and somebody who kind of notices it, but doesn't quite know exactly how to deal with it, or what to say to it. Like Chandler. And so you have this dynamic. And and the dynamic can switch because it's not about character. It's about focus. Who is the story about at that moment? Who's in focus? And so, so those are some of the tools in the hidden tools of comedy, along with art types, comic premise, metaphoric relationships, a lot of stuff also, so 280 pages of genius
Alex Ferrari 1:12:55
itself, obviously, obviously, sir, I know you haven't mentioned it a few times. But let's talk about you two books that you have out there. The hidden tools of comedy, you
Steve Kaplan 1:13:03
mean, this book? Yes. This book?
Alex Ferrari 1:13:07
Yes, those two books? Yes,
Steve Kaplan 1:13:08
I should mention that.
Alex Ferrari 1:13:11
Tell us about your your older book is the for the book first came out was a hidden tools of comedy, which is done very, very well. So tell us a little bit about that?
Steve Kaplan 1:13:22
Well, like I said, it's a it basically talks about the things that are not taught at AFI, or USC, or NYU. Because people still think comedy is, well, let's do something funny. Let's do some gags. And it talks about the things that actually create, increase or decrease the comedic elements in a scene. And what you can do because it's not about, well, you just born funny. It's about if you give a character skills, if you have them be a hero, you're creating a dramatic moment. And a skill could be something as simple as awareness, kind of so in a character's aware of his situation, that could depress him. That's a dramatic moment. But if a character isn't aware that he's kind of lively, just going along, not realizing how screwed up they are, and how hopeless their situation is. That's a comedic moment. So you can actually increase or decrease the comedic elements in a scene or the dramatic ohms in a scene simply by giving or taking away skills for your character.
Alex Ferrari 1:14:32
Got it. And then your new book, The comedic hero's journey, we've kind of touched upon a lot of elements
Steve Kaplan 1:14:37
that, that basically it kind of is a riff on the, on the hero's journey, and talks about so what happens in the comic hero's journey, what what differences are there, what tweaks you have to make and how is that journey different either either in a great way or in a subtle way different from The dramatic hero's journey. And it's, it's, as I say, it's serious story structure for fabulously funny film.
Alex Ferrari 1:15:08
Now, I also heard you had a few workshops coming up. Yeah,
Steve Kaplan 1:15:12
um, what one of the things I do is I go around and do these, for the most part, their two day workshops. And you can find out all about them on my website, Kaplan comedy calm that's Kaplan with a K comedy with a C, because if I spelled comedy with a K, that would make me a hack. So it's got to be Kaplan comedy all one word.com. So we're doing one in Belgium, in Brussels on February 16, and 17th. I don't speak Belgium, but they speak comedy. So I think we'll be okay. And then I'm in Los Angeles in March, march 2, and third. And I'm in London on April 27, and 28th. And I think I might be going to New York or San Francisco later in the year, but those still have to be worked out.
Alex Ferrari 1:16:06
That's, that's amazing. And because you mentioned Belgium, in Brussels. What, how does comedy because comedy doesn't travel well, what's funny in one country is not funny in another. It does. But if you but funny doesn't a comedy does.
Steve Kaplan 1:16:23
Right? It you know what the language may be may be different. I've taught these workshops in Singapore, in Melbourne, in Paris, in Kiev, the language may be different. culture, customs government may be different. But people are the same. We all were all born. We all go to school. We all have secrets from our parents. Our parents have secrets from us. We all want to fall in love or get as much love however we define it any way we can. We have relationships or married we have kids. We have parents we have uncle's need. Human beings are the same all over the world even though we might use different words for different objects, even though some customs might be different. But but people are the people stay the same. And what I've noticed going around the world is that I can show a clip from an American movie, or or a American television show and people laugh because they understand what's happening to those people in that situation. And and and so so there's people all over the world can laugh at Groundhog Day, even if they don't speak English as the first language.
Alex Ferrari 1:17:44
Fair enough. Now I'm gonna ask a few questions. Last questions. I asked all my guests. Okay, what advice about Libra?
Steve Kaplan 1:17:50
My favorite color blue, long walks on the beach. I was born a small
Alex Ferrari 1:17:55
Steve Kaplan 1:17:58
I was born in a very early age.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:01
That's great. That was actually that's a great line. That's a great.
Steve Kaplan 1:18:06
That's my that's from my palm reading. I see you are born in a very early age.
Alex Ferrari 1:18:13
I have to tell you, I will steal that for parties. Okay. Now, what advice would you give a screenwriter or comedic writer wanting to break into the business today?
Steve Kaplan 1:18:23
Okay, I would recommend three things. Buy your first five books obviously, that's actually not my recommendation. But thank you for thank you for putting that out there. I would recommend three things. One, take an improv class. Even if you don't want to perform even if you're not looking to be on SNL, or part of UCB. Comedy is an actor centric art form. It's about the character. So the some of the best training you can get is to be is to be in a class where you pretend you practice being a character seeing through a character's eyes hearing through a character's ears. So that's the first thing. The second thing I would say is that as you're writing, and we're talking about screenwriters, right, yes. Hear your stuff read out loud. You cannot figure out what's going what's happening just based upon you and your screen or you and your your legal pad. You have to get people in a room halftone reading parts, half of them just listening. Tape it because you're going to go into a coma at certain parts where it's not working and listen to what is happening when human beings say your words in context. I also I also suggest that you have wine and cheese,
Alex Ferrari 1:19:48
much wine and plenty one plenty,
Steve Kaplan 1:19:51
plenty one, but you have to you have to hear it read out loud because comedy doesn't exist in your head or in a vacuum and Third thing is, is that no one ever got a job because you they have, they have a great resume with a great font. It's, it's all about who you know, and who you have gone to college with, or went to summer camp with. So one of the things I tell people to do is, is all the stories that they've heard about, about some guy who, who went to a dentist, and the dentist also did the teeth of Jim Carrey, and they got those things are obnoxious, but something like that does happen. Oh, yeah. So that, so that, what you need to do is you need to make a list of everybody who you've ever known, or might have known or stood in back of a line at Starbucks. And you want to make sure that you you maintain those connections, and you want to maintain, you want to know that you have no idea where your next job is coming from. So your job is to be out there in the universe, say yes to the universe, I don't want to go to the screening co you don't know who you're gonna meet, I want to take this class, take it, you don't know who you're gonna meet. Because your next job is going to come from somebody who knows you. And that's not networking, just networking for networking sake, like, you know, the when you're at a party, and somebody is looking over your shoulder to see who else came in the door, because you don't have any idea who's going to help you. And the best way to figure out who's going to help you is for you to help other people. Be on a film crew. Yep. Help out. Be part of a reading. You know, hold it, hold, hold a microphone, hold a boom, and see where it leads you. Because there are a million ways to break into the business. But you can't break into the business sitting at home wondering how am I going to break into the business?
Alex Ferrari 1:21:57
I was talking to Daniel NOF, the creator of Carnival, and and he said he's like ours is the only business that has larceny in it. How do you break into the business? How to? And he's like, it's true. Like you never like how do I break into the cookie business? Like no one says that. People always want to break in or, you know, how do I break through the door? It's always larceny involved. Breaking into this business.
Steve Kaplan 1:22:23
Well, I'll say I'll say there's one other thing. Yeah, they're there. It's really simple. But there are there are only two rules. Rule one, number one be brilliant. Yes. Rule number two, let people know about it.
Alex Ferrari 1:22:41
That's, that's it, man that
Steve Kaplan 1:22:43
said, if you've got a story, and you've written a script, and nobody wants it, turn into a novel. Make it up, make it a podcast, write a blog, get it out there. Let people know about it. Because you don't know what's going to happen. I had a client, a guy I worked with on a trip to Australia through through Screen Australia and film Victoria. And he wrote this wonderful script about a guy on the Asperger's spectrum, who was who came up with a way of of getting relationship for himself. And he wrote the script. I thought the script was funny. Nobody wanted it. Especially Australia is the kind of place where you get government funding. And the government doesn't want to fund silly comedies. They want to fund serious works about itinerant inarticulate sheep herders who are on a on a lighthouse in Tasmania who haven't talked to anybody in 10 years. That's still fun. Yes, yes. Yes. So I so what he did was, he said, eff this. I think it's great story. I'm not getting anywhere. I'm not a young, I'm not a spring chicken. I've made the bad decision to be over 50. So I'm going to write this as a novel. So he wrote us a novel, it got published. And it got optioned by the same people who turned down his screenplay. And as part of his option, he gets to write the first screen. So so so there's, there's more than one way to skin a cat. So when I was doing a project for HBO, they had this performance space in Hollywood. I think now, it's gotten taken over by Comedy Central. And we we had this one actress who did did a show and she was pretty funny, but she for some reason, she wasn't getting any jobs. So she wrote a one person show for herself. And she did it at the at the HBO workspace, which no longer is there. So don't don't ask me to share sure to get you in into the HBO because they're no longer there. And we did it and people are making came to see it and people laughed it. They loved it, nothing happened. She didn't just say well, I guess I'll just have to work at Starbucks now for the rest of my life. She rented a theater on on Melrose, and ran it one night a week for like a year. And she went to the kind of groups that she thought would come to see it as she sold tickets. One night. A woman named Rita Wilson Kang, Rita Wilson is Tom Hanks wife, and Chris Rita Wilson was intrigued by her title, My Big Fat Greek Wedding wedding. Yeah. And she saw it, and she saw near Vardalos to this one person show. And she brought Tom Hanks the next week, and play till they made it. And it was the highest grossing independent romantic comedy ever made, because she had something brilliant. She wouldn't take no for an answer. She didn't just send the script, you know, to the same person over and over again, she said, if they don't want this, I'm just going to keep showing it till somebody comes along. Who does want it? So So Kalahasti brill, be brilliant. Let people know about it. And and while you're not taking no for an answer, figure out a way to not live on your credit card. Exactly. Please. That'll should come. That'll shit. We'll come back to bite you in the ass.
Alex Ferrari 1:26:27
Oh, and then some my friend and then some. Now, can you tell me what book had the biggest impact on your life or career? Besides drones, obviously.
Steve Kaplan 1:26:35
Wow I guess I guess I would, I would have to say, Lord of the Rings. Okay. I read that. I read that when I was a kid. And it took me to a different world. It took me to a different world when I was I was not a very happy kid. And it's it showed me the power of the amount of imagination. So I knew I knew even if the world wasn't working out for me a world in my imagination could so maybe that's what that maybe that's where I should go.
Alex Ferrari 1:27:18
Now what is the lesson that took you the longest to learn whether in the film business or in life
Unknown Speaker 1:27:29
yeah you can't force funny.
Alex Ferrari 1:27:36
Amen. Not spawning. Now. Um, what are three of your favorite films of all time?
Steve Kaplan 1:27:44
Ah, Godfather, okay, Groundhog Groundhog's Day. And I the three way tie between It's A Wonderful Life. Meet me in St. Louis. And oh, god dammit. Gene Kelly dancing in the rain.
Alex Ferrari 1:28:13
Okay, Singing in the Rain thing in the rain. Singing in the rain. And then just for you.
Steve Kaplan 1:28:21
Before we tie this thing
Alex Ferrari 1:28:24
Oh, such a great film. I love this thing. I see that's a movie that holds that hold still to this day. It's sad because
Steve Kaplan 1:28:31
it starts with loss. Yeah, no it starts it starts death Yep. And there's death is death near the near the end there's sadness and death.
Alex Ferrari 1:28:41
Now I normally don't ask this question but I have to ask you three of your favorite screenplays of all time that when you wrote your you know comedic stuff that you read, you're like Jesus, this is good. A
Steve Kaplan 1:28:53
Groundhog Day? Uh huh. But the finished script not not like right unfortunately Annie Hall
Alex Ferrari 1:29:04
Yes, I look I know that we all apologize for it. It is still a really he ruined it. He really ruined it but it's still a brilliant piece of art regardless of the artist.
Steve Kaplan 1:29:16
And every Billy Wilder screenplay ever
Alex Ferrari 1:29:24
pretty much Absolutely. Anyone listening if you guys don't not know who Billy Wilder is please do yourself a favor.
Steve Kaplan 1:29:30
How could you not know who Billy well? No, there's no muscle
Alex Ferrari 1:29:34
like there's a lot of look there's a lot of young uns listening or watching this. Please go watch something like
Steve Kaplan 1:29:42
the apart like at Sunset Boulevard. Please please go
Alex Ferrari 1:29:47
go go read a bit. Now. Where can people find you in your work sir?
Steve Kaplan 1:29:51
They can find me at Kaplan comedy calm. They my Twitter. Handle is At SK comedy you can find me on Facebook Kaplan comedy or you can find me. Now I have 3000 odd and they are they are odd but I have 3000 Odd friends your Facebook cuts you off at 5000 So you better another dozen 2000 come in I'm stuck on the other hand Facebook will steal all your information and sell it to other people so maybe don't
Alex Ferrari 1:30:28
Steve Kaplan 1:30:29
and and all my books are on Amazon. Although you can you can if you're in the United States you can order directly from me and get an autographed copy. There you go Steve, which in some markets increases value and others decreases value.
Alex Ferrari 1:30:50
Save it has been an epic epic interview and conversation my friend. Thank you so much for for dropping some knowledge bombs on the on the tribe today.
Steve Kaplan 1:30:59
It has anybody ever told you that you remind me of Lin Manuel Miranda.
Alex Ferrari 1:31:03
No, that's the first one I appreciate that. Thank you very much but I've not I've never once gotten lynmarie
Steve Kaplan 1:31:10
if you if you spoken cockney a little bit I'm very Poppins return I
Alex Ferrari 1:31:16
listen, I'm a very I'm a big fan of Hamilton. So I take that with a great, great compliment. Thank you, sir. A pleasure talking to you, sir.
Steve Kaplan 1:31:24
Thank you. Same here.
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- The Comic Hero’s Journey: Serious Story Structure for Fabulously Funny Films
- The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny
- Steve Kaplan – Official Site