Inside The Comedy Mind: A Conversation with Dan Mazer

Dan is a comedy royalty. He last appeared at the LSF in 2017 and he is returning to the festival in 2024. If you love comedy, Dan is in fact, the man… Watch the session above and check out the summary below…

A Passion For Comedy

Mazur’s passion for comedy shines through in every project he works on. From his early days in sketch comedy at Cambridge University’s Footlights to his collaborations with Sasha Baron Cohen, Mazur has always had a knack for making people laugh. He attributes his success to one simple principle: make it funny.

“To me, every movie that I’ve ever made, I’ve always started from the point of like, let’s make this as funny as possible, and then everything else on top of that sort of is a bonus.” – Dan Mazer

The Importance of Testing

One of the key aspects of Mazur’s creative process is the importance of testing his material. He believes that comedy is empirical, and the only way to know if something is truly funny is to get a laugh from the audience. That’s why he and Sasha Baron Cohen conduct regular test screenings, gathering feedback from friends and family to ensure that their comedy hits the mark.

“There’s no escape from laughter. If your joke doesn’t get a laugh, then it’s not working.” – Dan Mazer

Finding Your Funny

Mazur’s advice to aspiring comedy writers is simple: find out if you’re funny. He emphasizes the need for self-awareness and the willingness to put your work out there and see if it resonates with an audience. Just like any skill, comedy requires practice and honing your craft.

“You have to spend 10,000 hours and really get to do it and practice, practice, practice.” – Dan Mazer

The Hollywood Journey

Mazur’s journey in Hollywood has been a mix of luck, perseverance, and learning on the job. He started out with small writing assignments, gradually gaining experience and improving his skills. Along the way, he faced challenges and setbacks but ultimately found success with projects like Borat, which earned him an Academy Award nomination.

“It’s an iterative process where you make mistakes, rally against notes, and learn from your experiences.” – Dan Mazur

The Writing Process

Mazur’s writing process is centered around making things as funny as possible. He believes that comedy should be the driving force behind any project, and everything else should fall into place around it. Mazur starts by brainstorming ideas and finding the funniest angle for a scene or joke. He then works on developing the characters, ensuring they have depth and a unique point of view.

“I really think comedy comes from character. You have to believe the character and think of what makes them unique. Comedy should always come from a place of truth.” – Dan Mazer

Mazur also emphasizes the importance of observation and research in comedy writing. He constantly looks for funny details in the world around him and incorporates them into his scripts. He advises aspiring comedy writers to write what they know and draw inspiration from their own experiences.

The Importance of Timing

Timing is a crucial element in comedy, both in writing and performance. Mazur explains that comedy is often difficult to judge on the page without seeing it in action. The timing and delivery of jokes can make or break a comedic scene. Mazur shares that many comedy scripts struggle to find traction in Hollywood because executives struggle to understand the timing and tone without seeing it performed.

“Timing is everything in comedy. It’s hard to capture on the page, but when done right, it can elevate a scene to hilarious levels.” – Dan Mazer

Mazur believes that timing is best understood through experience. He recalls instances where writers had to take matters into their own hands and produce their comedy to showcase its true potential. Executives often gain a better understanding of the comedic vision when they see it brought to life.

The Challenges of Comedy Writing

Comedy writing, Mazur admits, is not without its challenges. One of the biggest hurdles is the subjective nature of comedy. What one person finds funny, another might not. Mazur shares that judging comedy scripts, especially in the realm of screenwriting competitions, can be a difficult task. Judges often have divergent opinions on what is funny and what isn’t.

“Comedy is a tough genre to break into because people have to have faith that you’re funny. It takes time and persistence to prove yourself.” – Dan Mazer

Mazur also discusses the development process of comedy scripts. He explains that the first draft is often the funniest, but as the script goes through revisions, jokes can be stripped out due to lack of confidence or overexposure. Studio executives may prioritize other elements like emotion, character, or plot over comedy, leading to the dilution of comedic elements.

Trusting the Actor

As a writer and director, Mazur has learned to trust his instincts and the comedic abilities of the actors he works with. He recalls instances where he took on the role of director to ensure that his comedic vision was executed correctly. Mazur believes that comedy is empirical, and if misinterpreted, it can fall flat.

“Half the reason I direct is because I was fed up with seeing people get my written jokes wrong. Comedy has a definitive rhythm and tone, and if misinterpreted, it can be incredibly disappointing.” – Dan Mazer

Mazur acknowledges that writing for comedy requires a delicate balance between writing for timing and trusting the actor to deliver the comedic situation effectively. He emphasizes the importance of creating fully rounded and unique characters that serve as the foundation for comedic moments.

The Future of Comedy Writing

Mazur remains passionate about comedy writing and the power it holds to entertain and connect people. He acknowledges the challenges of the industry but encourages aspiring comedy writers to have confidence in their comedic abilities. Mazur believes that writing comedy requires perseverance, self-belief, and a willingness to take risks.

“Write what you find funny and trust your instincts. Comedy is subjective, but if you believe in your material, others will too.” – Dan Mazer

Dan will be appearing at the London Screenwriters Festival in 2024. Get your pass HERE.

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