Those of you who know me personally also know that I love Studio C. It's a family-friendly sketch-comedy show available on BYUtv and YouTube. A little over a year ago, the original cast decided to start their own company, known as JK Studios, and produce actual sitcoms.
The two sitcoms they've made so far are Freelancers and Loving Lyfe. Freelancers follows five friends who are struggling to make it as a video-production company, while Loving Lyfe is the "vlog" of three women who think they know everything about fashion, parenting, and lifestyle. Quirky characters + situations with lots of opportunities for conflict = hilarity, right?
A lot of people seem to think so, judging by the YouTube comments. But for me, these shows just aren't funny.
See, we've talked before about how characters need quirks. It makes them more human and, therefore, more relatable. But in both Freelancers and Loving Lyfe, the characters are so off-the-wall that I can't relate to them. In fact, I have little to no sympathy for them and thus don't care much about what happens to them.
In Loving Lyfe, the main characters are self-centered and insipid. I know the show is meant to be satirical, but a wife who's worried about the lighting while she's videoing herself waiting at the hospital to hear about her husband, who's been in an accident? A mom who names her first child Porterton (that poor kid) and then says about the twins she's carrying, "In order for me to love these babies, they need to be girls"?
In Freelancers, on the other hand, most of the characters are so brainless that I wonder how any of them managed to survive to adulthood. A video editor who can't tell a stapler from a computer mouse? A cameraman who tries to help pay a four-thousand-dollar debt by giving foot rubs at five cents apiece? A producer who's the closest thing the group has to a sane member but also thinks Danny DeVito is the coolest client they could possibly have?
All this might not be so bad if each show had at least one regular straight man. The straight man is a comedy stock character: a normal and/or sensible character for the wackier one(s) to bounce off of. But when . . .
every recurring character on both shows is ludicrous, dumb, or ludicrously dumb, and
most or all of the potential straight men (the clients in Freelancers and the other characters in Loving Lyfe) are either straight-up jerks or almost as kooky as the main characters
. . . it's not funny anymore. It's just painful to watch.
This is not to say that you can't or shouldn't have zany characters in your stories. They're hilarious when executed well, such as in this JK Studios sketch. The point here is that you need balance. My theory is that over-the-top-ness, whether it comes from the characters or from the plot, is funny only when the audience has an in-universe normal to compare it to. If everything and everyone in a story is crazy, readers start to wonder (a) how the story world doesn't just fall to pieces and (b) how the characters haven't accidentally killed themselves by now. In other words, without some standard of normalcy, the story stretches the suspension of disbelief too far. That's why comedy needs its straight men.
Of course, you may disagree with me about the funniness of Freelancers and Loving Lyfe. That's fine; we don't have to agree. But I think the point still stands that wackiness alone isn't enough for comedy. It also needs normalcy to make the crazy truly humorous.
P.S. What do you struggle most with in writing? Comment below so I can address your questions in future posts!
(Thanks to THABANG MADNSELA for sharing their work on Unsplash.)