Comedy Songwriting with Jeff Bouthiette

Here are my final notes on Comedy Songwriting. Jeff talked to us some more about the Second City song writing structures, formats and give us a few tips about pitching. Also, where to put a song, how to use a song, and how to write a satirical musical. Cool!

Warm up games
Cat – miaw
Here, someone stays in the middle of the circle until they cause someone else to make a mistake, at which point that person goes in the middle and does the same.
The possible pitches the person in the middle can make are any one of the following 6. However, the response to each is its pair and only its pair.
Cat – Miaw
Cow – Moo
Llama – duck

This gets fast and competitive.

Rhyme Tree
Someone says a word to you (going round in a circle) and you come up with as many rhymes as you possible can – but as fast as you can too.

Your love is like
Going round in the circle, you will say. Your love is like an X, it’s very Y. The reply in the same formatting, making sure to rhyme with both x and y.

Beastie Rap
You say a phrase to the next person (decided on by who you point at), they reply to you, but in rap, and on it goes.

Jeff’s Nuggets
At Second City, they tend to finish the first act of a revue with an upbeat, funny song.
The whole show tends to be finished with a more serious one – a song making a point.

When pitching, do so confidently, don’t apologise for it and pitch slowly – it shows confidence.
Give: What we are seeing; Style; Title; If there is a scene before it (and what it is).

When writing, have a bit of a melody in your head.

In songwriting, avoid the cliche. Or subvert the cliche.

If you give two characters conflicting wants in a scene. From this, Drama will just happening.

Not every song requires a bridge, especially if it is just for hightening.

A song is a natural climax to a scene.

Tagline songs
Great for solos and duets
There are no choruses in tagline songs
The tagline is the line that always stays the same.
The tagline is always the first or last line

Verse 1
Line 1, line 2, line 3, tagline

Verse 2
Line 4, line 5, line 6, tagline

Bridge (with no tagline)

Verse 3
Line 7, line 8, line 9, tagline


In a duet, it is easier to heighten if you both have the same point of view. It is difficult to have back and forth in an argument. So, even if there is opposition, find something both agree on, even if the other person is an arsehole.

In Jerry Springer the Opera, it uses style in every possible way it can.

A set up scene can be a very good way to lead us into the song.

Building songs off a script
You want to come more directly off the bat, get straight to the point. Often, the “first turning point” in a scene (see Joe Janes, Writing 1) is the beginning of a song.

1  Who, What, Where
2  1st Turning point (Here the song begins)
3  Heightening (These are the verses of the song)
4  Second turning point (The Bridge)
5  Succeeds / fails (Final chorus, then out)

As with other things, but particularly in a song, build the emotion at the top, so that it is suitably strong and can grow.

We did a scene, where I was a baby being born, being pushed out between a girls legs. It was quite graphic and lots of fun!

When improvising a song, be specific, specific things that are awful.

These techniques are great for Sketch, Second City style. But also:
Other types of sketch
Web video
Stand up
Musical theatre
TV / film

Think about web video and stand up, there may be some fun to be had, especially thinking about doing these things fast, pumping out a song a day (or at least spending 20 minutes a day writing a song for shits and giggles)

Satirical Musical
We have a protagonist who is likeable. The protagonist has a want (expressed in an “I wish” song) that they either get or they don’t get.

The protagonist is what gets the audience to sit through the 50 minutes. So, think about who it is that we are writing about, and what do they want?

Writing this, go from:
Idea, to
3 paragraph synopsis, to
Outine / detailed scene description

Only when you have done all this should you start to write the songs – so that the songs work within what you have created.


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