Comedy Songwriting with Jeff Bouthiette, Second City

As well as Writing 1, this week I also had comedy songwriting. I am not sure when I will get a chance to use this skill, however, lots of the things we worked on in this course were useful for other things I am doing, and things from the other things I ma doing proved useful for this course too. A fun week, even if doing two writing courses (3 if you count “Telling your story” which I have on Tuesdays) was certainly challenging regarding the amount of work I had to do!

And, actually, having it as a skill under the belt is useful for as and when I decide that actually maybe I do want to do this. I can already write poetry, so comedy songs may one day enter my repertoire. Who knows.

This was a nice, small numbered class, so we got a great deal of attention for our work. A good crew of 7. Well, there had been an eighth, but he left half way through the first class. We speculated that we might have been a little too rude for him… Oh well, fuck him 🙂

That first day we did come up with some quite filthy stuff, it was fun, however I will come to that in a separate post.

Jeff discussed taking an existing song and rewriting it. He said that this is a great exercise for the brain, but that is not something that Second City do, so not what we’d be doing during the week. What we would be doing was loads of speed writing, pumping out stuff rapidly to be worked on once it had emerged rather than to try to make is god as it came out. And so it turned out.

We started the class with a name and motion game.
Firstly everyone said their name and made a motion, which everyone copied. Once everyone had done this, someone would say their own name and make their motion, followed by someone else’s name and motion. They would then do the same thing.
Next we did the same thing, but only with the motions.
Then we just passed the motion to the next person without doing our own motion first.
Finally, we would say someone’s name, while looking at them, but doing someone else’s motion, and the person whose motion was made would have to do the next one.
Quite complicated and lots of fun.

Next we did the “Up your butt” rhyming game.
Going round in a circle, someone would say “There’s a ____ up your butt”, the next person would then say the same thing, filling in the blank with a word that rhymed with the last person, until people ran out of rhymes and then another word would be said and the game continued.
Lots of fun, lots of cock jokes. Well, what do you expect.

Then we discussed points of view for songs. The key is to have a point of view, and it has to be specific enough to work, but at the same time with enough scope for a longer song.

We discussed two types of songs, Satirical vs Direct. Satirical is useful if the subject is not inherently funny.

The first thing to think about is whether we use contrasting or complimentary music. For instance, satirical songs often work better with a complementary music style. A direct song often works better with contrasting music.

Once you have chosen / discovered your style, decide on a title. Then think about the chorus.

The chorus.
The standard for this is one of the following:
4 lines repeated.
2 lines repeated, 3rd line variation, 4th line repeats the first.
3 lines repeated, 4th line variation.

It is a good thing if the variation line doesn’t rhyme with the rest as this makes the chorus distinct from the rest of the song.


There are a variety of rhymes, some which work better than comedy than others.
A, B, C, B
A, A, B, B
A, B, A, B

The two that don’t work so well – mainly because the punchline is too far away from it’s rhyme
A, B, B, A
A, B, C, A


Think set up / pay off

Remember, funny is more important than craft. We are writing fast, so don’t worry about brilliance.
The scan for the lines should be 1 more syllable or one less syllable than the lines in the verses they are imitating.
Use very specific words.
Write twice as many verses as you will actually use.
When you are thinking about the words, think about who is going to be speaking them. Use their words. Character comes first.
Keep heightening the game through the verses.


The Bridge:
3/4 of the way through the song. Each verse up to here should have heightened the game of song until it is as heightened as it possibly can be.

The Bridge should be emotionally and musically different, to make it distinct to the audience that something different is happening.
The Bridge is either a “Yes, and”, or a “Yes, but” – either continuing the point of view or giving a counter argument.

If you are going to make a serious point, you probably want to do it here at the Bridge.

If you do a “Yes, and” Bridge, after it, you return to a final chorus.

If you do a “Yes but” bridge, you need a final line where the protagonists from earlier are either persuaded by the Bridge’s argument or are not. If they are persuaded, this can probably be done as a change in the chorus.


Other notes:
Prosody – how syllables are emphasised when set to music. It is important to have this as best as it possibly can be for these types of songs as they are song speeches, not poetry.
In the same vein, it don’t move words around, think like speech. Also, do be saying things in a weird way.

When choosing the song order, there are a variety of options, for example:
C, V, V, C, V, B, C
V, C, V, V, C, B, C


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