The Key to Successful Comedy Writing Partnerships

Posted on: Mar 21, 2024

Photo Credit: Kathy Hutchins // Shutterstock

By Brendan Fitzgibbons

Let’s face it—sometimes it takes a team to be funny. It can be tricky to know when to compromise and when to speak up when it comes to creatively collaborating with a comedic writing partner or team. As someone who has experience with this, here are a few effective strategies I learned.

Comedic Partnerships

Some of our most memorable comedies came from dynamic comedic partnerships: Laurel and Hardy, Nichols and May, Cheech and Chong. There’s so much fun to be had writing with a comedic partner, especially when you learn to amplify and complement each other’s strengths.

Before we go any further, it’s important to point out the distinction between a writing comedy partnership and a performing comedy partnership. For example, the legendary Key and Peele were a performing and writing comedic partnership, but they also had a team of fantastic writers for their smash-hit Comedy Central show. They utilized all three to bring us award-winning comedic gold.

Writing with a comedy partner can be incredibly fun. Some of the most fun I’ve had was crafting the seeds of Alternatino with Arturo Castro—just the two of us sitting alone on his couch, laughing uncontrollably. Neal Brennan said that he and Dave Chappelle had a very similar experience writing Chappelle’s Show—they would be cracking up laughing while taking turns on the computer.

This brings me to the important point here: never, ever lose sight of the fact that it’s supposed to be fun. Your comedic partnership will meet resistance in the form of deadlines, network notes, the other person’s schedule, fashion choices or worse yet, the fact that they’re a DJ. But always maintain a level of levity, excitement and fun because it will shine through in your work.

This sounds simple, but make sure, generally speaking, that each one of you is doing their fair share of work. A comedic writing partnership is not a 50/50 equation where the workload is split cleanly down the middle.

Early on, you will be able to tell the strengths and weaknesses of each other in the writing process and use them to your advantage. For example, one of you may be fantastic at improving dialogue by pacing around the room, talking out loud to your partner. The other may feel most comfortable taking dictation and hammering out the exact wording of your scene or script. There is no wrong way to go about it, as long as you both feel comfortable with the work arrangement.

Comedic Teams

A comedic writing team can be the most powerful and time-saving form of comedic writing, especially if everyone is, well…funny. Writing as part of a comedic team is particularly unique because you will have to constantly negotiate your desire to get your comedic voice heard within the context of several other voices who also want to be heard.

This is where the phrase “pick your battles” comes in massively handy. Let’s say that you’re writing on a sketch team that needs to produce three sketches for the show you’re performing that weekend. You come in with five fantastic pitches, but for whatever reason, the group doesn’t take any of them. You have a choice: be upset and harp on the fact that your pitches weren’t taken, or lend your amazing comedic voice to the pitches they did accept, leaving them with your comedic seal of approval.

It’s vital to always remember when writing with a comedic team that you’re working toward the same goal. Sometimes that goal will involve your contributions and sometimes it won’t. As long as you learn to not take things so personally when they don’t go your way, there will always be 1,000 more chances for you to show off your comedic magic.

This especially comes into play when you’re writing for a show that gets notes from the network. You can be totally in love with the material you’ve written for a show, but if the network has notes or requests changes, you’ll have to once again ask yourself what battles are worth fighting. You’ll also have to ask yourself and what changes you can accept so that your time in the room goes smoother. Or you can just be Larry David—say no to notes, do whatever you want and just be arguably the most successful comedy writer of the last 40 years. That’s pretty cool, too.

Brendan Fitzgibbons is a comedy writer and actor living in Los Angeles. He’s written for Comedy Central, The Onion, NBC, HuffPost and Bravo. As an actor, he’s appeared on Comedy Central, MTV and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.” His podcast, “Spiritual As****e” was named a Top Indie Podcast by Stitcher.

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