Although you may think that the main point of a comedy film is to make you laugh, it can’t all be jokes, anecdotes or comic interludes. A film needs to have peaks and troughs and even comedies need to have elements where there is a build and a release and, of course, if you are going to watch something that runs for 90 minutes or more, it should be enough to gain your interest.
This is why a good comedy needs to be more than just funny. It has to have a plot and this is where comedy writers can benefit from understanding the basics of a good plot. In order to show how you can take a simple plot and then use it as a platform to develop a great comic film, think about the following plot ideas:
• A misfit (or misfits) down on their luck
• A lucky break and things take a turn for the better
• A love issue / emotional aspect running alongside
• Have an enemy or opponent
• When things are looking up, give the character a real low point that looks to lose them everything
• Let the character save the day
These six ideas are quite simple and are backbones of many films, including comedies and broader genres. In Ghostbusters, for example, you initially have three men who are out of a job and struggling to find a purpose for their skills and expertise. In another great comedy, Mrs Doubtfire, you have a man who has lost his wife and kids through a divorce and custody hearings.
The lucky break in Ghostbusters comes with the team getting hired to examine a hotel whereas in Mrs Doubtfire, it is with Daniel obtaining the role as the nanny. The love interest in Ghostbusters is Sigourney Weaver and she gets used by Zuul and in Mrs Doubtfire, the emotional attachment of a man and his kids runs through the story. There is still fondness between man and wife but it is the father and children aspect that really drives it.
People want Ghostbusters to fail and major enemies are summoned from other realms. In Mrs Doubtfire, there is a new love interest for the mum and the local authorities don’t believe that Daniel is a suitable dad.
In both films, things are going well for both characters when a twist occurs. The Ghostbusters (now up to 4 members) are thrown in jail and Daniel/Mrs Doubtfire has to be in the same place in both guises, which inevitably causes confusion and his secret being found out and this leads to him losing all custody of his kids. Both films see the main characters at their lowest point but this is where they rise like heroes to save the day and come out on top.
You have two very different comedy films, opting for different styles of humour, but the solid plot behind both films provides the perfect setting for the comedy moments that arise. Whether it is the wisecracks from Bill Murray or the slapstick humour from Robin Williams, these comedies are very different but both achieve massive laughs while taking the audience on a journey.
While great acting, fantastic dialogue, effects and many funny moments are crucial in the success of these comedies, the plots provide a strong part of the success. It is unlikely that people can associate with people who hunt ghosts for a living or with a man who becomes a cross-dressed to see his children but the basic plot points are familiar to most people. The fact that adversity can be overcome in such a funny and natural manner means that these films were always likely to be such a smash hit.