1 – Put at least one solid laugh on every page. Not witty banter or zany behavior. A laugh. Not just your opinion, but based on other people’s reads. You are having other people read it, right?
2 – Double-check your story structure and make your act breaks strong to keep an audience interested (and surprised) to the very end. Don’t just coast through the last half of the script.
3 – Make sure every scene has a a comedic high point (character-based) and a dramatic high-point (story beat) that advances the plot, hopefully in a funny turn.
4 – Let your characters have clear distinctive vocabularies and rhythms. Check by reading it out loud. You are reading it out loud, right?
5 – Make sure your characters, at least your leads, have more than one dimension; definable qualities that inform every action the character makes.
6 – Take another hard look at the structure. See if you can’t add a twist, turn or escalation. How many beats to the A story? How many beats to the B story? Is each beat a real step forward? What other fuel can you throw on the fire? A lot of comedy comes from escalation and scale.
7 – Do another serious punch-up draft. Try to add at least one laugh to every scene.
8 – Do another even more serious punch-up pass. Try to add a laugh to every page. If you have any funny friends, get them to help you. That’s not cheating, it’s what everyone in Hollywood does when they’re writing a pilot.
These notes are based on Contest Committee consensus, including my own personal experience reading hundreds of scripts as a professional reader and head judge of The Other Network Comedy Contest, plus working with dozens of writers as a consultant.
If you’re serious about comedy, you should really put your ears on The Other Network Writers Room, a series of in-depth interviews with top showrunners about the craft and business of comedy.
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We really want your scripts to be good. Give us something to get excited about.
Previous winners have had their work seen by agents at UTA and Metropolitan, managers at Brillstein-Grey, executives at Fox and Comedy Central, producers and award-winning TV creators like:
ALAN ZWEIBEL (“Saturday Night Live”, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”)
BOB ODENKIRK (“Mr. Show”, “Saturday Night Live”, “Tenacious D”)
JOHN RIGGI (“The Comeback”, “30 Rock”, “The Larry Sanders Show”)
JAY KOGEN (“The Simpsons”, “Frasier”)
BILL OAKLEY & JOSH WEINSTEIN (“The Simpsons”, “The Mullets”)
WINNIE HOLZMAN (“Wicked”, “Thirtysomething”, Creator of “My So-Called Life”)
BRYAN FULLER (“Wonderfalls”, “Heroes”, “Pushing Daisies”)
CINDY CHUPACK(“Sex and the City”, “Everybody Loves Raymond”)
BRENT FORRESTER (“The Office”, “King of The Hill”, “Undeclared”)
ROB COHEN (“The Ben Stiller Show”, “The Simpsons”)
JON KINNALLY (“Ugly Betty”, “Will & Grace”)
Several winning scripts from past years were recently read by development execs at Starz/Film Roman. This year, winners will get read by execs at IFC and Comedy Central as well as by active showrunners.