SILICON VALLEY, CA--Believing that laughter is the best medicine and wanting to learn if we can we use humor to improve our anxieties, Cultural World Bilingual decided to interview STEVE KAPLAN who, for several years, taught comedy at UCLA, NYU, YALE and other Universities and who today is recognized as one of the industry's most respected and sought-after experts on the Art of comedy.
For those unfamiliar with KAPLAN, he was the cofounder and Artistic Director, for years, of the Punch Line Theatre Company in New York City, a theatre company completely devoted to comedy, where he produced plays and presented stand-up comedy nights in which many of the now famous comedians, got their start. In his Theatre Company, KAPLAN also taught classes on the Art of Comedy to his young writers, some of them, still working in Hollywood as staff writers of TV's comedies today.
Speaking from Hollywood, in a telephone interview STEVE begins our conversation by explaining to us that there is a difference between comedy, which is an art, and what most people consider to be "funny".
S.K: "I believe that before we start talking about comedy," he tells us, "We first need to learn that comedy is an Art and separate comedy from what is funny. What most people define as "funny" is actually something which causes laughter and that everybody could do it. Everybody can tell a joke and some people may laugh at the joke and some people may not laugh at the joke and the reason is that funny is very subjective. But because Comedy is an Art, the art in humor, it can teach you (the writer) how to create the characters who can create their own comic moments."
C.W.B. How do you describe COMEDY?
S.K. "As "The art of telling the truth about a human being,"
C.W.B: Can you explain your statement?
S.K.: "I will give you an example. If you are writing a drama about injustice, you are writing about what society is doing (to the people ) or not doing. But, if you are writing a comedy, about injustice, you need first, to explore the way people are living from day to day. The Greeks understood that. They had their TRAGIC THEATHER where the protagonists were Kings or Gods, but they also have their COMIC THEATRE, where they portrayed the people who had been wronged by society and showed how they were coping with the injustices and trying to get ahead. Those of us who are not Kings, Gods, or Presidents, are doing the same thing. We all are trying to live from 6AM to 10PM from day to day without hurting ourselves or hurting other people, and the art of comedy is what help us find out who we are and let us accept ourselves as we are. I believe that when we laugh, we laugh at our own images. We laugh at the recognition of our own flaws and our idiocy, and what comedy does, is to teach us to recognize that we are humans and not super heroes. I say that Drama lets you dream about who you could be. but that comedy lets us be who we are.
C.W.B. When did you discover the Art of COMEDY, Steve?"
S.K. "When I was around 29 year old, living in New York and I opened Punch Line a theatre completely devoted to comedy. Years later, when I closed it, I thought that I knew everything about comedy, but I discovered that the only thing I had learned about comedy during all those years were about all the things that were not funny. So,I started asking myself, how does comedy work? Why was this script funny when we read it, but is not funny in the life performance? I was intrigued. I was perplexed. So, I began to experiment until I discovered that the reason was that comedy is and Art and, after that, I learned how the Art works."
After STEVE KAPLAN closed his theatre in New York he moved to California and started working as a project developer for HBO. He also taught workshops at Dream Works, Disney Animation, Aardman Animation, NBD's Writers on the Verge and in other studios and privately, and authored two books on comedy: THE HIDDEN TOOLS OF COMEDY, which is still a best seller, and his recently: THE HERO's JOURNEY; SERIOUS STORY STRUCTURE FOR FABULOUSLY FUNNY FILMS.
C.W.B. What prompted you to write books?
S.K. "I wrote my first book because after I came to Los Angeles, I was approached by a noted top movie consultant who was working with Robert McKee an scriptwriter who had written several books about film writing, and he encouraged me to put my knowledge on the Art of comedy in writing, and after my first book became a best Seller, I wrote a second book on the subject of comedy. Now I am working on my third book, with a collaborator. This one about how to write television comedy.
C.W.B. And what happened to your workshops? I remember that the last time we talked you told me that you were thinking about teaching them overseas.
S.K." I did. Before COVID, I taught my courses in Mexico, Brazil, Ukraine, Moscow, London and Italy.
C.W.B.: Is comedy Universal?
S.K. "No. But what I found to be "universal" is that people (from around the world) have many things in common. For instance in every country there are husbands and wives, parents and children, work places, schools and situations, among those people or taking place on those places that are universal. So. when you write about those situation in your comedy, even when the language may be different, people will laugh because they recognize themselves in those situations. So, I learned that as long as there are people in similar situations in any country around the world, when you, as a writer, describe the situation and present it properly, it will be understandable to your audience and it will make them laugh.
C.W.B. Did you stop teaching your workshops because of the pandemic?
S.K. No, I will be teaching a completely new Comedy Intensive: The Industries's #1 course in Comedy, online this month.
C.W.B. What is the course about?
S.K. "It is an interactive workshop on the Art of Comedy, so it explain the tools of comedy, which in the modern times, without Vaudeville, travelling troupes, and even burlesque very few comedians has a chance to practice. This course will teach comedians how to act, directors how to direct and writers the many things I have learned about comedy from inside out.
C.W.B. What is the purpose of your course, Steve?
S.K. The Comedy Intensive Online is a course that will teach the students the tools of comedy: how it works, why it works, and what is happening when it is not working. Why I am teaching them in this course, is how to fix the things that are not working, starting with the idea that comedy tells the truth about people and teaches people to cope. When a person dies, for instance, everybody may say: how sad, but the comic will say: "but look at how he lived" and go from there because the Art in writing comedy is giving hope, because if you are writing comedy and lose hope, at any moment of the story, what you are creating, is drama.
C.W.B. What are you going to teach in this course?
S.K."The course will be taught in four classes:
Class 1: The Art, Science and Philosophy of Comedy.
Class 2: The Hidden tools of Comedy
Class 3; Comedy Characters and Archetypes
Class 4 Comedy Premise and the Comic Hero's Journeys
"The four-week course will be taught on four SATURDAYS, starting on February 27. The classes will be for two hours. From 10Am to 12PM and to register for the course they can go to: kaplancomedy.com
The course is $250.00 for the four weeks but if they click on the code skcomedy that will give them a $50.00 discount."
C.W.B. Is the course for writers or for actors?
S.K. Because the course is a Comedy Intensive, it is ideal for Screenwriters, TV Writers, Directors, Producers, Actors, comedians and Creative Executives. "
Those interested in the course or those who would like more information about it go to kaplancomedy.com. You can also contact STEVE KAPLAN directly by e-mail at: