GREG MILLER - Author & Writing Coach

Helping writers write since 2001

Free Comedy Writers Glossary

Can You Talk the Talk?

ON.pencil

This GLOSSARY OF COMEDY TERMS was gathered from a series of interviews with veteran writers who had worked on Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock, Family Guy, The Simpsons, Sex and the City, and other shows, to help young writers understand what would be expected in the writers’ rooms of network TV. The system of network-studio-TV, the interviews, and the terms are now somewhat out of date, but I think most of them represent important COMEDY CONCEPTS that are still relevant. So, please enjoy.

THE OTHER NETWORK WRITERS’ ROOM – Glossary Of TV Comedy Terms

BARREL – More than one reference to (or joke about) the same thing. i.e., if you have a joke about Jews on one page and a joke about the Holocaust on the next, you’re in a Jewish barrel.

BEAT (THE JOKE) – Punch it up. Make it funnier. i.e., That joke isn’t working yet.

BLOW – A joke that ends a scene.

CLAM – A hackneyed or over-used joke. i.e., ‘Houston, we have a problem’.

GO-TO SCENE – A scene where one character ‘goes to’ another and tells them what’s happening. Usually used to elaborate plot or back-story.

HANG A LANTERN ON IT – Do something to make the joke or info stand out more.

JOKE BANK – A file where you put jokes that don’t fit into a script for one reason or another, for use at some later date. Also known as the ‘outs’ file. Jokes get deposited, but rarely withdrawn.

A MARMEL – Landing really hard on the punchline of a joke. Named after comedian Steve Marmel. i.e., “If that last Batman movie was any gayer, the suit would’ve had a ZIPPER ON THE ASS!” (example courtesy of Seth MacFarlane)

NAKAMURA – A running joke in a script that isn’t getting laughs. Named after a script (potentially from an episode of “Cheers”) with a running gag about a character named Nakamura. When the first joke in a string doesn’t work at a table read or in front of an audience and it recurs throughout the script, you’ve got a Nakamura.

PIGGY-BACKING – Repeating what someone else just said in different language, usually in the writers’ room. Don’t do it!

RUNNER – A gag in a script that recurs but doesn’t rise to the level of a storyline.

SHRINK IT – Literally, physically shrinking a script to make it shorter (and fit in more content) by adjusting margins and/or font. Normal, tight or very tight.

STALL – A section of a script where the plot isn’t moving. i.e., a stall in the first act before the turn. TWO-PERCENTER – An erudite joke that only 2% of the audience will get.

URG BURG – An ‘urgency burglar’, usually a joke that undercuts a serious beat in a script. i.e., don’t have a fart joke in the middle of a ‘heart moment’.

WACKY STACK – Too many jokes right on top of each other.

Please feel free to comment with any addition.

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