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This is Rob Long with Martini Shot on KCRW.
We were shooting a pilot a few years ago, and one of the actresses was, for some reason, wearing a strange-looking headscarf. At some point, I guess, one of us had approved it, but on shoot night, it looked a little odd. It wasn't until we had three scenes shot that someone from the network mentioned it.
"We feel the head scarf is a little weird," was the message, delivered in concerned tones. But we had already shot three scenes with it, so, you know, it's going to be in the show.
"Doesn't it seem weird to you?" was the next question, to which the honest answer was, "yeah, it does." But you don't say, "Yeah, it does" after you've shot three scenes with it. You say, "No! It looks great!" because the rule is, if we shot it, we love it.
We have a lot of rules in the television writing business.
For instance, there's a rule in comedy that we call the Rule of Three. If something happens three times – something explodes, somebody gets hit in the face, someone has to say something embarrassing or emotionally painful, and it happens three times in a row, then it's funny. It's probably not funny the first time – in fact, usually, it's a lame joke or silly pratfall – and the second time it's even a bit tired, but by the third time, that's part of the joke: can you believe we're doing this, again?
There's also the Faster Funnier rule, which is that the solution, almost always, to almost everything, is Faster Funnier. Say it faster. Do it faster. And it'll be funny. You'd be surprised how many scenes have been saved by simply asking the actors to do it again, with no pauses.
Now, a corollary to the Faster Funnier rule is the Louder Quieter rule, which is basically exactly like the Faster Funnier rule, except for volume. Sometimes the only difference between a line that works and one that dies is a dollop of inappropriate loudness.
So, those are the basic tricks: If a line or a speech isn't funny, have the actor do it faster. If it still isn't funny, have him do it louder. If that doesn't work, have him do it softer. And if that doesn't work, have him say it three times. And if that doesn't work, have him do it three times faster. Or three times louder. Or three times softer.
Get the idea here? Only as a last possible resort, after you've exhausted all of the tricks, only then try to come up with a new line. The point of show business, an old and rich writer once told me, isn't to earn the money.
Of course, all of these rules directly contradict the Pitch It Once rule, which states that in any comedy writers rewrite session, if you pitch a joke and it doesn't get a laugh, do not pitch it again. Pitch it Once. Not twice. And certainly not three times, no matter what the Rule of Three says. And definitely not louder. Look, if you pitch a joke and it doesn't get a laugh, it's not because no one heard you. It's because it isn't funny. Pitch something new.
The quickest way to get fired off of a writing staff is to keep pitching your material after it's been rejected. The quickest way to be the hero of a writing staff is to figure out that if the actor says a line faster or louder or on one leg, it'll work, saving the writers from having to do the thing they hate the most: writing.
Standing there on that soundstage, though, talking about an odd-looking head scarf, we deflected the network's concerns with a cheerful, "Are you kidding? It looks great! Quirky and character-y and very very likable."
And we had them, too, until one of the writers unthinkingly blurted out, "It does look weird and off-putting."
If we shot it, we love it. Faster Funnier. Louder Softer. Pitch it once. Do it three times. Oh, and never agree with the network.
That's it for this week. Next week, we love you. For KCRW, this is Rob Long with Martini Shot.