How to criticize, from a critic

Film critic A.O. Scott on how to be more constructive in your criticisms.

  • Criticism is about more than likes and dislikes.
  • NY Times film critic A.O. Scott warns against the "emptiness" of certain adjectives when it comes to giving constructive and meaningful criticism.
  • Pulling from nearly two decades of experience, Scott's book shows why criticism matters and how we are all critics.
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Joke theft: Is it really an issue in comedy?

There are several levels of comedy plagiarism, says Paul F. Tompkins.

  • Comedian Paul F. Tompkins explains the complexities of plagiarism in the comedy world; comedians all spend time together, processing the same current events—to some degree, it's natural that they may arrive at the same conclusions and jokes.
  • "There are certain things that human beings just are predisposed to laugh at and we're just kind of all putting our own spin on it," he says.
  • Some comedians may do it knowingly and others completely by accident, almost by osmosis. There are levels of plagiarism, and if you ask most comedians, says Tompkins, they will have had an innocent experience of realizing something they wrote was not truly theirs.
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John Cleese: ‘Does it make you laugh?’

Laughing is so contagious that we often forget how subjective humor is.

  • People have very subjective senses of humor, which means some jokes may be funny to certain people but not at all for others.
  • It can be hard to notice just how subject humor is because laughter has an infectious effect on people. This phenomenon is especially true in large groups of people.
  • When it comes to reviewing what jokes to put into a show, test it on friends and family to see which parts evoke laughs from them and which parts don't.
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Q: Why did the woman cross the road?
A: Who cares! What the hell is she doing out of the kitchen?
Q: Why hasn't NASA sent a woman to the moon?
A: It doesn't need cleaning yet!

These two jokes represent disparagement humor – any attempt to amuse through the denigration of a social group or its representatives.

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What’s funny? How comedians translate humor.

When it comes to making others laugh, you have to help them observe an absurd fact of life with you.

  • When you're trying to write something funny, it has to be an idea that first strikes you, personally, as funny.
  • The reason for this is that, then, it's something you're genuinely amused by. When this is so, it's based on observation of an experience that others may relate to.
  • The next step, after this, is to try to translate it for others to understand. Sometimes you can't reword it perfectly for others to appreciate because the words themselves carry different notes of meaning to you. Nevertheless, the aim is to try to keep your audience's jargon, their palette of words, in mind.