In comedy, your characters are everything. I’m serious. If you do not have engaging, memorable characters for your audience to identify with, they won’t laugh. Settings can change easily enough (comic strip PVP was originally going to be set in a school, not an office block, and the whole strip more or less used the same characters) and plots are manipulatable but your characters have to be designed from the ground up to be funny. You can make ’em nice, or make ’em horrible. You can make ’em great, or not-so-great. (Actually, the latter is definitely easier for comedy.) But above all, your characters must be quirky, memorable, and identifiable.
Here are some tips I use when designing a World of Warcraft character I intend to play comedically. (Which, as Jess will confirm, is usually every time.)
- Make ’em flawed: Perfect superheroes who have no hang ups just aren’t funny. There’s a prominent social theory of comedy that argues that funny is facist. We laugh at people who do things we disapprove of, this then promotes a social bond between all those doing the laughter and a social rebuke to those being laughed at. It’s fun to laugh with someone, it’s unfun to be laughed at. I don’t know if this theory is totally true, but it’s definitely worth working with. Give your characters notable hang ups and difficulties that can come up in play. Once I had a character who was terrified of squirrels. Big, tough, brave warrior right up until… oh geeze there’s another one of them. Those massive teeth…. OH HELL THAT GNOME HAS A ROBOT ONE IS HE INSANE? It doesn’t have to be that extreme. Even insomnia could be a funny flaw. (Just have him constantly zoned out and falling asleep when he’s not needed in combat.) But whatever it is, make your character flawed.
- Give them unbreakable rules of logic that can be counted on. Believe it or not, I learned this rule from porno-humor comic Sexy Losers. (No link, it’s very not safe for work. Google it if you want.) One of his stated rules for that comic was: “Nobody violates their particular perversion.” But, generalised, it works out as I’ve stated above. Give your character certain unbreakable rules, like, “Katafray will correct every grammar mistake anyone ever makes, even if deliberately goaded into it.” In World of Warcraft, this does two things. First, it sets up an expectation gag, because every time the rule should be tripped, people will wait for it to be tripped. Secondly, it signals to your role-playing buddies a quick and easy way to create a funny scenario. In the early days, one of my standard rules for Ligradi was, “Ligradi will always treat imps like puppy dogs.” You’d be amazed how much comic mileage I got out of that.
- Quirks are your friend. Quirky behaviour is a mainstay of comedy. It can be overdone, but giving your character catch-phrases, unusual behaviours and the like goes a long way to making your character memorable and interesting, essential traits for comedy.
Short post today, I’m afraid. I had a longer one, but my machine ate it. Stupid ecto!