Comedic Writing Is No Laughing Matter

By Brendan Yee Mun Keat, Diploma in Mass Communication | Republic Polytechnic

To the public, comedy seems all fun and games. The process of comedy writing, however, is no joke, according to the creators behind one of Singapore’s top comedy YouTube channels.

Ministry of Funny co-founders Haresh Tilani and Terence Chia, who makes up one half of MOF, said they would often work with three other members in a writers’ room to brainstorm and refine their ideas. The creators have set themselves a goal of uploading new videos on the channel every week.

Each member would need to prepare a number of ideas before the meeting and they would be given a minute to pitch their ideas to the rest. The team then systematically ranks the ideas on a scale of zero to five, with zero being not funny at all and five being the funniest idea.

“If four or more people find the joke funny, chances are other people will find it funny too,” said Mr Chia. Ideas which are not as funny are recorded in an online document and they would be revisited at a later date.

Mr Chia and Mr Tilani gave a sneak peak of their behind-the-scenes work at All In! Young Writers Festival 2017.

SERIOUS AT MAKING FUN: Ministry of Funny duo Haresh Tilani (left) and Terence Chia (centre) outline their creative process at All In! Young Writers Festival 2017. (PHOTO: Asyika Suri)

Speaking at the Festival’s venue at *Scape, the duo told the audience they came from different backgrounds and were not involved with either film making or comedic writing before Ministry of Funny burst onto the YouTube scene in June 2011.

Mr Tilani had a mechanical engineering and economics background, while Mr Chia worked in the finance industry.

Mr Chia was glad he switched careers. “I have a lot of friends who are stuck in jobs that they don’t like and because they are in it quite deep, it’s not easy to get out,” he said.

Mr Chia said the best feeling of his journey thus far was when he shot the first video with Mr Tilani and another friend.  They grabbed the cheapest camera they could get their hands on and shot the video in one night. These “little victories” kept him going, Mr Chia added.

Mr Tilani, meanwhile, said he was inspired by role models who included Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling. Mr Tilani said Mr Schooling dared to chase his dream and surpassed all expectations when he won at the Rio Olympic Games. After six years in the business, Mr Tilani believes that keeping an open mind on projects and working at it for future possibilities is the path to success in the industry.

When asked where they obtained inspiration for their videos, the duo said their ideas originate from their lives. They also make it an effort to set aside time to pen down their ideas, rather than wait for inspiration to hit. “I read that Stephen King made an effort to write 3,000 words a day,” said Mr Tilani.

As they poke fun at people and at topics, the Ministry of Funny have no shortage of detractors they encounter online. “I love reading hate comments as long as they are not directed at people with no voice and don’t have the platform or the ability to change their current situation,” said Mr Tilani. He added he would typically respond in a sarcastically nice manner to further infuriate haters and poke fun at them.

While they are tolerant to most hate comments, Mr Tilani and Mr Chia said they draw the line at racism and xenophobia. “We would take the time to write a substantial answer against racist and other such comments,” said Mr Tilani.

The team believes that there are no topics that they would not consider exploring as long as their jokes don’t beat down on anyone or make other people laugh at the expense of someone else. They said they believe in British comic legend John Cleese’s mantra: “In comedy, you should always punch upwards and not downwards.”