Gene Perret’s other book – The New Comedy Writing Step By Step – is a thorough introduction to gag writing. It covers all of the basics, and includes many exercises on which neophyte comedy writers can try out what they have learned. Whilst some of the material may have dated, and it’s focused very much on gag writing rather than performance or sitcom writing, it’s one of the standard texts for people looking to learn how to write jokes, and deservedly so.
The new one – The Ten Commandments Of Comedy – is… different.
A slim volume, The Ten Commandments gives 10 principles for the writing of jokes, and show’s how you can punch a joke up by seeing which of them it violates. All of the rules are good, make sense, and are things every comic should know.
And that – I think – is where the problem is. Any working comic or comedy writer will know these rules, even if they have never thought of them explicitly. They will know from experience the value of being concise, of being understood, of giving the audience definite beats on which to laugh.
Let’s be clear – all of these points are valuable, well worth knowing, and important to bear in mind when writing comedy. However, they aren’t examined in any depth. There’s a little more context than the original Ten Commandments had, but not by much.
The chapters are short, so it’s an easy read, but it also makes it a not-exceedingly-useful one.
it’s difficult to know who would benefit from the information in this book, although all of it is worth having. In terms of what it’s saying and who needs to hear it, beginners would probably benefit most from it, but the absence of exercises or context mean that it’s not particularly helpful as a book to kickstart your comedy writing.
Anyone for whom such a brief book might be useful will probably already know everything that’s in it.
There are 64 pages, each has helpful, well-argued information on. If I’m going to have to imagine who would benefit from this book, I would think that public speakers looking to inject humour into their speeches would do best.
For business people. after-dinner speakers, lecturers, and anyone who has to speak in public but doesn’t want to have to do a whole comedy course to find out the secrets, The Ten Commandments Of Comedy is a helpful primer, with real insight into what makes people laugh. In a few brief chapters you can be apprised of all of the fundamental principles of jokes, and reminded of what you really shold know when you write and tell them.
For comedy writers, however, I can’t imagine a stage in your career when this book wouldn’t either be redundant or too sparse to be helpful.
The Ten Commandment Of Comedy, then, will be most useful for those who don’t do comedy. For the rest of us, start with his other book.
[FULL DISCLOSURE: This review was based on a review copy sent to me by the publisher.]