This post was written by Jennifer Lee, a mentee in our Writing & Mentoring Program, who attended our TV Sitcom Screenwriting workshop.
I went into the screenwriting workshop with no idea what to expect. “Sitcoms?” My mentor and I had asked each other the day before. “Aren’t those, like, TV shows that are supposed to be funny?”
Well, yes. It turns out that sitcoms, or, “situational comedies,” are in fact, hilarious. Not only that, but apparently based upon our lack of knowledge about sitcoms, my mentor and I were in the extreme minority — the moment the mentee sitting beside me realized that I knew absolutely nothing about them, she proceeded to list a dozen or so of her favorite sitcoms along with detailed descriptions of each show. “Come on,” she insisted. “You have to have watched a sitcom before!”
Well, no. I watch anime. But after having spent a day listening to everyone talk about sitcoms, trying to write a scene from one myself, and then watching others perform scenes aloud, it’s hard to justify continuing to not watch them. After listening to Terry Minsky – who was both hilarious and immensely inspiring — remind us all that humor on the TV screen originates from an author grappling with their deepest fears and insecurities, we split into smaller mentee-only and mentor-only groups to develop our own sitcoms.
Having been terrified of having to write in a genre that I knew almost nothing about, it was a massive relief to find out that we would be doing a lot of group discussion before writing scenes on our own. My group decided to write scenes about the divorced, middle-aged manager of a community center struggling to pass the annual inspection and keep the center open despite her sabotaging ex-husband, who had recently been hired as a community center inspector. While I can’t say much for how realistic the plot was, it did make for lots of great jokes about grades and plumbing!
After deciding upon the general plot of the sitcom, we freewrote for twenty minutes or so, coming up with funny situations and jokes and comebacks we wanted to include in the sitcom. Then each person from my group read aloud the scene they had written, so we could compile lines from everyone’s scenes and create a version that we’d perform in front of all the other groups.
It was incredible to see the sorts of scenarios all the groups had come up with, from an argument over missing tape at a workplace (it turns out one of the employees had used it to make themselves a shawl) to an incompetent school principal who had hired a math teacher to teach art (she claimed that because the art teacher hadn’t known anything about art either, it didn’t make a difference).
Overall, I laughed a lot, got to know my fellow mentees better, and walked away from the workshop with a newfound appreciation for sitcoms.