Jun 292006

I am of the belief that we find things funny which are incongruent to our expectations. I find this theory has held up to some scrutiny and it adequetely explains most funny things. For example, a stately business man in a suit is not expected to trip and fall. Therefore, when he does, it amuses us. Of course, once we’ve seen it and come to expect it, it is no longer funny, such as when you know the punchline to a joke already.

A skilled comedian or comedians know this and work hard to lead the audience one way but then surprises them. This can be done in a number of ways, including dress and behaviour. Take the Daily Show and Colbert Report as examples. We buy into the illusion that they are a real news show because we want to and because they do their part to make it seem like it is by wearing suits and talking like them. So it’s funnier when they say something insane or crazy than if they wore shorts and talked in slang. However, there are ways to break that illusion or accepted reality. If one of them starts laughing when they’re saying something, for example. That’s why I believe Colbert is more successful than the others from the Daily Show. He says everything with a completely straight face. He makes it very easy to make us believe that he is a real pundit, and therefore the incongruencies are funnier.

It is for precisely this reason that shows like Canadian Air Farce aren’t funny. They are a comedy show and you are always made conscious that they are comedians playing a skit rather than creating the illusion that they are real people being filmed. They make faces, smile and act unnaturally. It doesn’t work.

House, MD is one of my favourite shows on TV and works in a similar principle. It breaks the expectation that doctors are supposed to be compassionate and caring by portraying House as a callus rebel. The real comedy comes in the outrageous things he does. They become even funnier when you juxtapose them with the audience’s acceptance that the patient is actually very sick and could die. We buy into it as a drama show and find it funnier when he does crazy things.

The Office works this way as well. They create an illusion or a reality for us to expect and then once we’ve accepted that reality, they defy it in subtle ways. To understand the appeal of The Office, you have to understand what a documentary is expected to do. Documentaries have a sort of claim on the truth. When you watch a documentary, you are expecting to see the truth. In that way, we accept that these characters are real people and that is further accentuated by the actors’ natural delivery. We come to accept them as real and normal people and we expect them to do normal things simply because we expect humans to act normally. Then, when they do outrageous things or act like idiots, it’s all the funnier.

Perhaps it is just my bias because I like to do satire and parody work, but I feel that to create a truly funny show, you must be breaking expectations that you set up and/or reinforce. To create and defend those expectations until the very last instant when they are completely shattered is what creates a trully funny show.

PS: I finished the animated logo for Insanity Studios Inc. and it looks, sounds and feels damn good. It’ll be in front of my next video, which will be a trials video. Keep an eye out for it in this space.

Jun 232006

Futurama will be returning with 13 episodes in 2008. Let the rain of Futurama quotes fall!

Onto the real update. Watch out, this is a LONG one. Came in at about 1,100 words. That’s longer than most of my assignments this year!

I’ve been MIA in the past three-four weeks, so I suppose it’s time for an update. I don’t wanna get into it, but the bottom line is about this: I told my conservative Pakistani parents that I want to become a writer/filmmaker (a big nono) and I also mentioned that I wanted to move out and learn to support myself (a bigger nono). Obviously they’re not happy about this and have interfered with my work, including writing this blog, but I’m getting back to working now.

I’m not planning on writing 500 words about that though. I wanted to talk about an experiment I did. I tested out certain things for 30 days and saw how they affected my life. In this 30-day trial I attempted to determine the effects of waking up at the same time each day (including weekends), regular excersize, better diet, setting goals, using task lists and setting up a sort of "work day".

I decided to pick the time of 8 to wake up at. I was waking up at about 12 or 1 so I started by waking up at 10 and then up to 8. It was kinda hard at first because I often felt very sleepy and had to take a nap but as soon as I became used to waking up at 8, I found a genuine boost in my motivation throughout the day, as well as a reduction in my "fog of mind". Fog of mind is a strange thing, it’s hard to recognize when it’s there because it’s everywhere. It makes it harder to focus and concentrate, especially for long periods of time. But I felt a marked improvement by waking up at the same time every day in terms of my motivation, focus, concentration, clarity and creativity. The last may surprise you (as it did me) but I was getting a lot wittier and getting a lot more ideas. In that month period I managed to fill up many, many pages of my notebook simply with ideas. I found the benefits of waking up early far outweighing the costs, so I intend to continue this for the rest of my life. This will be easy because after about 30-days it becomes a habit anyway, and you don’t miss staying up late anymore. I used to only be able to concentrate at night and then only for a few hours, but by waking up early and at a good time, I found I had energy and concetration for the whole day. I highly recommend this. You can check out Steve Pavlina.com’s "How to become an early riser" article for some more insights.

I also attempted regular excersize. I must admit, I did not succeed as well at this as I did with waking up early. Originally I wanted to work out on alternate days. Then I tried to add running in between working out days. While I was not successful in motivating myself to go do it every day, I was getting better before the end of the trial. I did however feel many of the good effects. By excersizing early in the morning, I felt energized and motivated throughout the day. Again, I feel the benefits far exceed the costs and I would like to continue a regular excersize regimen for as long as possible.

I tried to better my diet, as well. This was done in a haphazard manner at first but I soon learned to include lots of fresh fruit and protein because I felt completely exhausted by my exersize regimen. After everything settled down, I felt the addition of fruit and cutting back of sugary snacks really contributed to maintaining a solid energy level throughout the day. Something else I would definitely try to continue.

I also experimented with setting goals and writing them down. I used to think of this as hooey because I generally know where I want to go, but I found writing them out to be actually useful. The goals have to be written such that you can look at them and go "yes" or "no" on whether you achieved them. At first I was writing vague goals but after a couple of drafts I came up with a set of goals for 2006 that I felt I really wanted to complete. The second part is, however, remembering them and working on them little by little. This is a little trickier because there are so many things that tend to divert us from our goals. So I started preparing weekly task lists of things to be done. I consulted my goals while preparing them and this helped me to work on my goals. For example, one of my goals is to get paid for a piece of writing. That naturally means writing, writing, writing so that’s what I put down. I was down to one 500 word blog a week (sometimes more) and one short story every fortnight. Some days I didn’t want to write but I did anyway because it was a goal of mine. I also made sure to give myself enough time to enjoy life, so I would stop working at about 5 or 6. Funny thing is, I would often be really bored outside of this time because all the activities I did in my free time, I was now doing seriously in my work time. So I would sometimes find myself doing "work" outside of working hours. I guess that’s a sign that you’ve found what you love to do–that you want to do is 24 hours a day.

Overall, I learned a lot about time management and motivation. I got more done in that 30 days than I did in the three months before. I will definitely try to continue those things. Originally, I did those things individually as a way to build self-discipline and develop the habit of hard work, but I found that together they allowed me great clarity and energy during my day. I found the benefits of each of those things far outweighed the costs. I stopped having "just one of those days". I felt productive and motivated throughout the week and that really contributed to my self-esteem and confidence. I was walking taller and was happier. I had originally thought that I would burnt out by the amount of work I was doing but working on what I love was great for me. I strongly feel that such good habits as waking up early, excersizing and eating right will be a definite part of my success in the future.