Gag Writing – Just Say No

NotepadSaw this interview with gag writer Robert Rafferty and thought it was interesting.

I don’t personally use gag writers, although there are plenty of good cartoonists who do, but what struck me most in the interview was this bit of advice to folks looking to sell gags:

When it comes to gag writing, don’t do it. It is too hard to get started and the cartoonists that will usually look at gags have no sales record and you will spend a fortune on postage with no return. The cartoonists who are well established already have gag writers, so they don’t need them. I would not try to get into this business today. When I got into this it was fairly new. Unless you are very good and can come up with New Yorker-quality gags, one right after the other, you have no chance.


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Writing Gags

OK, I’ve been pretty off topic lately, so it’s time to rein it in again and get back to cartoon talk.

I didn’t feel like drawing this afternoon, so I decided to write gags instead.

Having recently watched Tom’s coloring vid, I wish I could stick a recorder or camera in my head to show you what happens, but until that’s possible…

I scrawled some notes out, and although observing the process affects the outcome, it’s pretty close to what goes on. Enjoy!

Scanning Chicago Tribune business section from a few days ago.

Pretty boring. No good catchphrases yet.

Read “Chasing dreams” in headline.

Man in bar to another – “I was all set to chase my dreams, but the damn thing is so fast.”

Lame. “Chasing dreams” is weak and not often used. Move on…

More reading. Nothing. Move to another business section.

Scan… Read… “…no frills approach…” Ooh! I can do something with that.

Frilled lizard at conference table of lizards unhappy with no frills approach.

Weak. Reminds me of that Ren & Stimpy with the frilled Ren. That was funny.

All frills. Nothing but frills. Frill heavy.

Man at in meeting looking at Powerpoint with group – “I see your point, but I’d still prefer the all frills approach.”

Nice. Kinda low-hanging gag, but it’ll do, and better than most low hangers. (Note – hat tip to Mike Lynch for the “low hanging joke” nomenclature.)

More reading… Nothing… Nothing…

“On again, off again…”

Light switch boyfriend. Girl comments about relationship.

Need something that something goes up and down on.

Back to the light switch. Will that work? Kinda weak. Did I do something like this already?

(Look on my website for “dimmer.”)

There it is. Kinda weak even there. Scrap it.

Relationships. Dating. Problems. Mixed Signals.

Semaphore flags. A woman on the couch with semaphore flags, boyfriend complains about mixed signals.

Hmmm… Maybe. What’s the problem?

How would she give bad signals? What else could she use to screw it up?

Morse code. How do you show that? What’s that thing look like?

Other flags. (Look on Google images for “signals”.)

Ooh! There’s something. (Shuttered lights for morse code.) Will people know what that is? Too big for the scene?

Traffic light. No… Back to just the flags…

Come back to it later.

“…gold standard…”

Hold… bold… cold… mold… “I’m proud to say our bleu cheese is the mold standard…”

God… Thats so stupid…

Twitter. IM. Texting. Phone. Cell. Ummm…. Email.

“I tried to get ahold you on IM, text messaging, phone, cell phone, email…”

Where’s that going? What’s the gag?

Nothing there, move on.

Back to reading… New business section.

Scan scan scan… “…mating dance…”

Ummm… what’s that thing when companies go together? (My son comes in and talks to me.)

Damn, I had it a second ago… Merger. That’s it.

Meeting in conference room – “Before we continue, Anderson here will perform the merger dance.”

Man dancing in office. Person outside to another “Oh, that’s just Anderson trying to attract a merger.”

Not bad. Let it marinate in the idea box.

Two down. Last one’s always the hardest.

More scanning… Scanning… Another business section…

“…transparent business…” I’ve done one on this before. Translucent accounting I think.

Worker to boss – “Our accounting is now completely transparent, but now we can’t find it.”

“The good news is our accounting is totally transparent. The bad news is now no one can see it.”

“Damn it, I said make our accounting transparent, not invisible!”

OK, got a third.

More reading… Housing problems… Home Depot worried… Do-it-yourselfers…

Aisle in store with signs “Do it yourself” on one section, “Try it yourself then call a professional” over another.

Lame. Already did something like it a ways back. Moving on…

Daydream… Pick something random… Mushrooms… Fungi…

Woman at bar to giant mushroom – “Listen, it’s not that you’re not a fun guy, but you’re a fungi.”

Bad pun. Bad set-up. Still kinda like it. Let it marinate…

Wait – woman to mushroom at door – “When your ad said fungi, I just thought you’d misspelled ‘fun guy'”

Still no good… Still like the pun… Marinate…

This’ll be a long blog. Need to catch up on blogs tonight… Blogs… Dear diary…

Girl writing in diary – “Dear diary, have to cool it for a while – I think my blog is on to us.”

Nice. OK, that’s four pretty good ones.

And that’s it. It’s both faster and slower, but you get the idea.

Police Squad – In Color!

I just got my copy of the new “Police Squad” DVD yesterday, and I’m in heaven.

To whomever greenlighted this release – thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

A typical series of sight gags:





A nice set up with the first set of feet, and then a series of great gags that makes the cartoonist in me go “Damn! Why haven’t I thought of that?!” And that’s about the best compliment I can give.

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