I believe it was Michael Hurst who quoted, “I think comedy is the hardest actual form of writing there is.” This is probably a debatable way of beginning my analysis on how I wrote my comedy, Would You Like Fries With That? But for us upcoming comedians, one would tend to agree with it.
For me, I’ve always had a gimmick for comedy. Combining the fact I come from a family of incredibly funny story tellers with my training in musical theatre and I would say writing is probably the most enjoyable stage for me. Enjoyable being the key word in that sentence!
Would You Like Fries With That? Began with a different title and a sketchy scaffold of ideas printed on paper. As a writer I am influenced by real life situations and experiences, which send my imagination into overload when a simple thought expands into a fully-fledged idea. Perhaps this could explain why I don’t sleep well at night?
I worked at a well-known fast food franchisee (that shall not be named) for 16 months and to be frank, it was the worst 16 months of my life. Not only after every shift did I smell of rotten oil and off ice cream but I also had to deal with some of the rudest people I have ever encountered (sometimes known as "the human race who consume fast food")
Right before I quit, I thought to myself "what have I actually gained from working in fast food that will help me as a performer?" I pondered this question for days, if not weeks! At this stage, I had not gained acceptance into any arts institutes for music theatre across the country. And I love a great challenge that throws me right into the deep end and allows me to improve as a person and a performer.
Towards my last shift ever I recall telling a colleague that our workplace was so theatrical that someone needed to write a comedy show about it, as it would almost certainly be a sell-out. This conversation was the spark I needed for my brain to go a million miles an hour. I sprinted to the crew room and typed out a title with a 2 sentence synopsis and saved the note as "Draft #1". I didn’t touch "Draft #1" for another month.
Previously, I had worked with youth arts organisation Platform Youth Theatre on a variety of short scenes and plays, but felt I had never pursed writing mainly due to the time constraints of VCE homework. Not to mention I studied History Revolutions, English and Literature, subjects that required a lot of reading and essay writing!
So I knew if I was seriously going to pursue writing I needed to write this show. I opened up my notes stared blankly for several hours questioning exactly where to start. During my writing experiences in high school I was given the advice to just write.
So I began writing down dot points of topics I wanted to discuss in my show and various stories I could recall from the 16 months of working in fast food. I ended up with 5 pages of dot points and knew I was into stage 1 of my show. I discussed my show at length with close colleagues about what should be included in this open forum about the good, bad and ugly of working in fast food.
Suddenly, the dot points became sentences and the sentences became paragraphs. If I had writer’s block sometimes I would only write 5 words. I’m not the world’s worst procrastinator, unless there is no due date. I made a promise to myself when I was 75% of the way through that I’d submit the show to The Butterfly Club to potentially produce the show.
I didn’t really have a strong structure I only had dot points, so throughout the process I was consistently reflecting on how I was going to bundle my ideas into a full-fledged show. However, I tried to focus on finishing the writing first as I had faith I could string it together at the end.
Around the 7,000 word mark aka the 75% stage I submitted my show. I heard nothing for two weeks which I was okay with considering I had not actually finished it! Then suddenly out of the blue I got a call from the Artistic Director of The Butterfly Club inviting me to put it on stage in August. And so began the initial stages of Draft 2.
Eventaully, I got to Draft 3, which involved the overall culling and stringing my ideas into a developed and connected piece. Slabs of dialogue were cut, rewritten and the order drastically changed. As a writer, especially of comedy, you need to be your harshest critic. If you don’t have faith in finding your work funny or that the punchline won’t land, it is most likely your work won’t translate to your audience.
The issue with writing comedy is how do you exactly know if the punchline will land? Or whether the audience will laugh at all? In stand-up comedy, they either laugh or they don’t. This question is the one that probably keeps me the most sleep deprived.
I have recently “finished” draft 4 that already has red pen on every page. As a writer I don’t think we are ever “finished”, even after the audience provide their verdict. Anyway, I must be proud of the work I’ve done, put the pen down and start learning an hour’s worth of content, considering the show is in just over a month… yikes!
Would You Like Fries With That? Opens on the 24th August at The Butterfly Club. More information and ticket sales here.