Roger Nygard is a funny man.
That is, he's a sought after editor and filmmaker, and now author, who has written an excellent book on the art, craft and business of cutting comedy; Cut To The Monkey.
And the book is funny as well as incredibly insightful. It should be on your Christmas list for sure.
an author on com-e-dy.
As a filmmaker, Roger Nygard is known for the feature film Suckers, and the documentaries Trekkies, and The Truth About Marriage. He has also directed TV series like The Office and The Bernie Mac Show.
His work as an editor includes Emmy-nominated episodes of Who Is America?, Veep, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Recently he co-produced and edited the docu-series The Comedy Store, and currently he is editing The White House Plumbers.
Take a deeper dive into Roger's work and world:
- Stream his films: vimeo.com/blinkmovies
Roger was also kind enough to answer a trio of bonus questions too:
Is there a way to 'save' a joke? Does improving the set up make the pay-off land better?
Absolutely. I diagram the ways jokes are improved, or saved, in my book.
For example, when a good joke is not landing, sometimes the first instinct is to blame the punchline. "We need to punch this up!"
But the problem is often a misfiring setup, which has not been presented well, cleanly, clearly, and/or concisely.
To fix it, remove the impediments between setup and punchline: tangents, mispronunciations, distractions, pauses, ums, uhs, you knows, lip smacks, bad sound, etc.
Then consider the timing of the exposition.
It often has to be adjusted, because you don’t want people to be thinking (trying to figure out the plot) when they should be laughing. Those activities happen in different parts of the brain.
You also have to make sure the audience is not ahead of you, predicting what is going to happen, or else the surprise you are cultivating will be undermined, and the laugh reduced.
Is there a way to make a joke 'bigger' - or is it just that, if it gets a bigger laugh than expected, to give it more breathing room?
I will quote show runner Alec Berg (Barry and Silicon Valley), who finds that building a laugh is similar to a scare in a horror movie. There is tension and release.
In comedy, he said filmmakers sometimes make the mistake of trying to keep too many laughs:
“There’s a sense that more laughs means more comedy. But an A-plus laugh is logarithmic. It’s not twice as good as a B-plus laugh. An A-plus laugh is ten times as good.
If you create a film that has four or five massive laughs, it’s a classic. If you make something that has one hundred B-plus laughs, it’s not as memorable.
Those big laughs are the ones that you have to curate. And sometimes that means not being funny for a stretch of time to build that tension.
Those are genre-defining laughs.”
What's the funniest joke you've ever edited? (A stupid question, but...)
There is a scene in The League (season seven, episode two, “The Draft of Innocence”) that is probably the most ridiculous thing I have ever edited.
Rafi (Jason Mantzoukas) is in love with Margaret, who happens to be a watermelon: “My very serious girlfriend, Margaret, and I have been trying.”
But he’s worried she might be seedless. Sadly, Taco (Jon Lajoie) “murders” Margaret, sending Rafi over the edge. This scene is beyond insane. I laughed so hard at Rafi’s idiocy I was gasping in the edit bay.
A runner up would be a scene in Veep set at a Presidential Debate with "candidates polling between 5% and not statistically significant." Congressman Jonah Ryan gets frustrated debating a wizard: "His answer to every question is 'powerful magic!'"