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This is the type of subject matter we’re going to discuss:
What happens when a partner pitches a joke that he thinks is great but the other partner thinks it sucks?
This happens all the time. If it doesn’t there’s something wrong.
The key is this – you have to really respect your partner’s opinion. One main reason writers team up is because they want that feedback. Especially for sitcoms. It can be tough writing comedy in a vacuum. You’ll feel a lot more secure if someone you trust also thinks a joke or bit is funny. But if you think your partner is a great guy, and can introduce you to some hot girls but thinks Pauley Shore is the funniest comedian in the last hundred years – find someone else.
Next, make this commitment to each other: both members have to agree to whatever you ultimately turn in. And make this a cardinal rule.
Now… you pitch the single best joke ever written and your partner makes that “meh” face.
Cardinal rule number two: You can argue but never make it personal. Many times David and I are arguing over the story we're breaking. A half-hour goes by; we’re no closer to a resolution than we were when we started, but we put it down and go to lunch. And if you were at the next table you’d never know that fifteen minutes ago we were ready to kill each other.
It’s hard, I will grant you that. You get very passionately swept up in an argument and it’s so easy to slip and say, “this is why women hate you” but resist temptation.
So when David and I find ourselves in situations where one pitches a joke that leaves the other cold, we have this rule: If the joke pitcher can’t convince the pitchee in like two minutes why it should go in then just throw out the joke entirely and come up with something else. Trust me, it’s easier and takes less time to come up with an alternate joke than to fight for forty-five minutes and ultimately one partner is unhappy, resentful, etc. (which breaks cardinal rule number one). Again, this relies on trust. You may not agree with your partner but you do acknowledge that he knows what’s he’s doing and perhaps he’s right in this instance.
Here’s another dilemma. One partner pitches a joke, the other thinks it’s funny but you’re both on the fence. Is the joke maybe out of character? Is it a callback but maybe one callback too many? Are you sure the actor can pull it off? Is it a little jarring? Too topical perhaps? Might it be crossing a line of good taste? There’s no clear cut answer here. It depends on the joke itself, the show’s sensibility, and what time of night it is. Do you just want to go home?
Most of the time if a line or bit requires that much discussion we’ll opt to discard it. However, there are also times we’ll just say, “Fuck it! This is fucking funny. Let’s put it in.”
And when it doesn't work you can always blame your partner. NOTE: That's a joke. Cardinal rule number three: Never throw your partner under the bus. And if that doesn't seem obvious then you shouldn't be in a partnership to begin with.
More war stories and tips tonight. Hope you can join us.