Clichés are overused expressions or scenes that we continually see in movie scripts over the years. A famous example would be a scene where a car won’t start when one character is desperately trying to get away.
While clichés aren’t necessarily a bad thing, bad ones can distract from the plot. It certainly won’t help you craft screenplays that sell.
Some of the most popular that seem to never go out of style include the “He’s behind me, isn’t he?” stance. One character talks smack about another while the one being talked about is present all along.
Other excellent ones include cute animals attacking characters. Quiet scenes with characters being hilariously loud also never get old.
Clichés can provide a net of safe humor for comedy flicks. They offer a guideline that writers can rely on for killer humor. Some clichés however actually kill the humor. It some cases clichés can be too on-the-nose.
Often done in poor taste and typically insulting in some way, bad clichés will have audiences booing and reviewers scathed. The underlying of bad clichés is that they are stereotypical, contain sexual innuendo, among other derogatory aspects.
Any sensible comedy writer looking to make a successful movie would do well to steer clear of the following:
It’s all a matter of perspective when it comes to clichés. A misunderstanding of etiquette is a common subject that comedy movies often leverage for purposes of humor. Usually, a character is traveling to a foreign land or is unaware of the local etiquette for some reason.
He develops a liking for a form of greeting or salutation that seems perfectly okay to him. In reality, that greeting is usually insulting or derogatory. Others around him can’t stand it, and the more he develops a penchant for it.
We all love Mr. Bean. For the longest time, the clumsy British funnyman has inspired laughs and admiration from all around the world. One scene from his 1997 movie, however, sits uncomfortably in the plot. The part where he newly arrives in LA and salutes a rude biker with a thumbs up, to which he replies with a middle finger.
Here is the movie trailer:
Construing the gesture as a foreign way of saying hello, Bean dishes out the middle finger to passersby as he cruises the city in a convertible. From old women to innocent joggers, no one is spared in the onslaught.
Imagine walking down the street with your young nephew, and this random guy out of the blues is waving both middle fingers at you.
How would you feel? Certainly, not very nice. It’s understandable what the writers wanted to do here.
However, the scene was actually a little cringeworthy and would most certainly not make it into modern television or cinema without censoring. Mr. Bean was actually rude to strangers. What’s worse, clearly uncomfortable by Bean’s actions, his American friend who drives him around does nothing to correct him.
Whiny characters have their charm and place in the comedy genre. Their relentless complaining and back and forth with other characters make for hilarious interactions. They question the most obvious and sometimes anything and everything. When used sparingly and strategically, they offer huge doses of humor that crack us up every time.
However, some comedy movies go overboard with their whiny characters to the point that they’re intolerable. They either whine a lot, are too loud, and are smash-your-tv annoying because of it. Like all else in scriptwriting, this attribute demands subtle use or none at all.
You’ll find loads of the poor use of the cliché in 2010’s underwhelming family comedy, Fred: The Movie. It’s a television film about an overly childish 15-year-old trying to win over the girl he likes while battling a bully who stands in the way.
Here is the trailer:
The title character is instantly unlikeable because he whines a lot. The problem is not even what he says but how he keeps saying it. His constant high-pitched squeals will have you scampering for the remote each time. It takes a special kind of person, maybe a deaf one, to sit through its 1 h 21 m runtime.
Fred constantly throws baby-like tantrums. He is painful to watch, and his attempts to win over the girl of his dreams delves into voyeurism and stalking. A character constantly pining over the affection of a girl is also another cliché that’s on its deathbed. Don’t let your movie go down with it. The same goes for others such as love at first sight.
If you’re thinking about lightening the mood with a fart sound scene in your comedy script, please don’t. Fart sounds may hack it in cartoons and toddler movies, but they are simply falling out of touch.
Dumber and Dumber may have found success in comedy fart sounds at the time, but the scenes wouldn’t be as well-received today.
Remember the one where Lloyd holds up a lighter to his behind and “lets a rip,” surprisingly to the amusement of his friends? Well, it’s best to steer clear of scenes such as these.
The toilet scene in the Mr. Bones movie, where a man mistakes a home for a toilet, is also similarly hard to watch. It goes overboard with all the complementary sound effects and makes for really uncomfortable viewing.
Gags around toilet humor such as one character laughing at another for thinking he said “doody” instead of “duty” also doesn’t have the same comedic spark anymore. Toilet humor can be a sign of lazy writing and you’d best be served by its absence.
That is not to say that you shouldn’t have fart scenes in your movie. If you really have to, please leave out the sounds.
Let it be implied or said rather than heard. A great example would be the telephone booth incident in Rain Man. We don’t hear it but through both characters’ discomfort in the tiny booth, we can fill in the dots. It makes for a really funny scene.
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