WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL SITCOM

A successful sitcom is like a big house filled with funny, topical storylines, memorable, identifiable characters and a plethora of laugh-out-loud jokes. Just think of “I Love Lucy,” “Friends,” “All in the Family,” “Seinfeld” and “Modern Family,” and how hysterically these sitcoms are written and acted.

But what holds up these houses of humor?

Well, like a house, a sitcom needs strong, structural support beams to hold it up, keep it sturdy and reinforce the funny storylines, characters and jokes for years to come. I call these support beams, The Three Pillars of Comedy.

As comedy comes from pain, The Three Pillars of Comedy are derived from Conflict, Desperation and The Unpredictable. For actors and writers, these darker components will shine a bright light on helping you write a funnier storyline, create a funnier character and deliver funnier jokes.

CONFLICT

Storyline – Every storyline needs conflict—and lots of it. Without conflict, there is no drama and, without drama, there is no comedy. That comedy comes from the conflict in the storyline, which centers on the clashing of two opposing sides (their beliefs, cultures, philosophies, personalities, cupcake recipes, etc.).

In every sitcom episode there has to be at least an A storyline 
and B storyline, where a character specifically wants something but faces what I call External Obstacles. These External Obstacles are clearly defined in the story as a “force to be reckoned with.” It’s that person, place, or thing preventing the character in the A or B storyline from getting their Want. And it’s that obstacle, however absurd, that creates the conflict (the funny) in the story.

Characters – A character without conflict is boring. In every storyline, characters must either face conflict as they pursue their Want, or be the conflict for another character’s Want. If there are two characters in a scene, each of them will have a Want, and each of their Wants will be the other character’s external obstacle.

You can also find conflict within your character, what I call Internal Obstacles. Internal obstacles are defined as those conflicting thoughts and emotions such as doubt, insecurity, embarrassment and fear, which try to self-sabotage the character from getting their Want. As an actor or writer, infusing this source of conflict within your character will make that character funnier and more complex.

Also, at one point or another, every character will be the source of conflict for another character, thus becoming the “voice of reason.” There is one character of the Eight Characters of Comedy who is a living, breathing source of conflict, and that character is the Logical Smart One.

It’s also important to note that conflict arises from putting two of The Eight Characters of Comedy together (such as the Neurotic and the Dumb One, or the Womanizer and the Lovable Loser). But more on that later…

Jokes – Conflict gives birth to a very specific type of joke that has been around since the vaudeville days. Conflict plays a major role in the creation and performance of what I call The Turnaround Joke. The Turnaround Joke is when two pieces of dialogue, which are in direct conflict with each other, come together. When a positive piece of dialogue or action is followed by a negative piece of dialogue or action (or vice versa), the clash of these conflicting forces produces a spark. This spark is the joke that makes us laugh.

(stay tuned for parts 2 & 3 of The Three Pillars of Comedy)

 


Scott SeditaWhether you’re auditioning for a co-star or a series regular on a half hour comedy, sitcom guru and acting coach Scott Sedita will teach you The Sedita Method of sitcom acting, which comes with it’s own terminology, coined phrases and unique glossary.

Scott’s internationally best-selling book, “The Eight Characters of Comedy. A Guide to Sitcom Acting & Writing, 2nd Edition” has sold over 100,000 copies and has become a “bible” to Hollywood comedy writers, directors, producers, and actors and is used as a textbook in over 100 colleges and universities. Find Scott and his staff of professional actors, teachers and coaches at ScottSeditaActing.com.

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