What do THE OFFICE, THE BERNIE MAC SHOW, and the Cookie Monster all have in common? Ken Kwapis made them funny - learn how!
Key Insights

  • Grounding comedic material in emotional reality and hunting for the humor hiding in dramatic material is my job as a director
  • A character should always have a simple, clear objective or motivation. As an example, Cookie Monster wants cookies and will act at all costs to get cookies, and his obsessive need will turn into comedy.  
  • Comedy doesn't have to come from jokes. The comedy of the Larry Sanders Show was based in human behavior which was often reprehensible. The challenge was getting the audience to invest in the characters, relate to them and root for them. Discomfort or human pain can be essential entry points into comedy. 
  • By breaking the 4th wall (or acknowledging the camera directly), you can create a direct relationship between the audience and the actor. This enables another kind of comedy based in personal connection. For the Bernie Mac show, it was taking a comedy star and bringing him into everyone's home, creating a conversation with the audience. 
  • The Office was successful for many reasons. Conceptually, we created a docu-style, using deliberate mistakes in what's captured and casting lesser-known, real-feeling people who weren't "acting".  
  • Preparation is key and precise shot lists, representing what you want can be very useful. But, also embrace comedy as a collaborative process that needs flexibility and improvisation. Create an atmosphere where anyone can contribute an idea and you will find something you couldn't have imagined that serves the characters and story and is even funnier. 
  • The funny of a scene isn't always most clearly apparent on the page. Sometimes something better emerges on the day when you're in the scene, or in the edit.

Ken Kwapis has been a motion picture and television director for nearly forty years. He directed eleven feature films, among them A WALK IN THE WOODS, HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU, and THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELING PANTS. Kwapis helped launch nine television series, including THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW, THE BERNIE MAC SHOW, and THE OFFICE. more...

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