Writing comes in many forms, and different genres and styles have different techniques and requirements. Writing for film or television is necessarily different than writing an essay or a novel, but the great secret is that these techniques are not mutually exclusive. Just because you’re writing an essay for a class doesn’t mean that you can’t be inspired by something you heard in a film. I’ve heard it said that the best way to become a good writer is to read a lot, and I think that’s true, but incomplete. You shouldn’t limit yourself to one form of writing. Novelists can learn a lot from TV, screenwriters can learn a lot from essays, and so on.
It is my intention with this column to find writing lessons in television and film, lessons which I think can be helpful to writers of all sorts. I myself am a great evangelist of popular culture: I’ve turned many a friend and family member into a fan of some show or band or game they were unfamiliar with, so hopefully I’ll also be able to introduce readers to a variety of shows and films they might not otherwise have seen. I’d also like to think that the analyses that will follow might help readers become better critics themselves, and help them to see visual entertainment as more than “merely” entertainment, and instead as mediums that should be taken seriously, and can have as much merit as any novel or opera. I guess we’ll see.
So all that aside, I’d like to talk about a sketch from A Bit of Fry and Laurie. A little background, first. Like most of my favorite sketch comedies, A Bit of Fry and Laurie was a British show. It was created, written, and performed by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, hence the name. Both are quite well known performers, although Hugh Laurie is probably better known in the United States these days for having played Dr. House on, well, House.
What I love about the show is that it’s rather intellectual, and most of the sketches rely on wordplay, context, pronunciation, or definitions for their humor. Oh there are plenty of jokes about body parts and a good deal of absurdity, and no small amount of social and political commentary, but it’s the use of language that really does it for me here. Continue reading