Although this is an article about writing comedic fiction and/or comedic comics, I’m going to have to start by talking about TV shows for a while. There’s a good reason for this that I hope will become obvious soon.
Anyway, a few days before I wrote this article, I started watching an American sitcom called “30 Rock“. Although I could spend a while talking about how Tina Fey is a comic genius, I’m mentioning this TV show because it’s a really brilliant example of one of the central parts of writing good comedy that can sometimes be overlooked by writers and/or audiences.
I am, of course, talking about eccentric characters. One of the brilliant things about “30 Rock” is that virtually all of the characters are eccentric in one way or another – in fact, the character list on Wikipedia actually points out exactly how each character is eccentric.
If you look at virtually anything in the comedy genre, you’ll see that it contains at least a few eccentric characters. In fact, the comedy genre is one of the few genres where at least some of your characters are required to be eccentric or strange in some way or another.
It doesn’t matter if they’re eccentric in a subtle way or if they’re eccentric in a really obvious way, they have to be eccentric. There are several reasons for this:
The first (and most obvious) reason is that the contrast between the eccentric characters and the “normal” characters can be played for laughs in all sorts of different ways. In fact, the technical term for this contrast between characters is a “foil“. Curses! Foiled again!
The second reason why eccentric characters are such an important part of the comedy genre is because they are inherently fascinating and very memorable. Since a good eccentric character is totally and utterly different from any character that your audience has seen before, they’re probably going to both remember these characters and want to learn more about them.
From a writing perspective, eccentric characters are great fun to write for the simple reason that you don’t have to worry too much about whether they’re “realistic” or not. As long as your eccentric character has a distinctive personality and they don’t act out of character too often, then you can do a lot of things with these characters that you can’t really do with “normal” characters.
Finally, eccentric characters are an integral part of the comedy genre for the simple reason that they make the audience feel better. There are two reasons for this and they both rely on the fact that literally no-one (no, not even you) is a completely “normal” person. We all have our strange quirks, fascinations, mannerisms, ways of doing things etc…
This means that really eccentric characters can make the audience feel better about themselves, because these characters make the audience feel more “normal” by comparison.
But, much better than this, the audience can often see a reflection of themselves (or parts of themselves ) in subtly eccentric comedic characters (like Liz Lemon from “30 Rock”). This can be a strangely uplifting and reassuring experience, especially since most of the mainstream media tends to promote hyper-“normal” characters.
Sorry for such a short and basic article, but I hope that it was interesting 🙂