BPS 341: Creating Comedy’s Hero’s Journey with Steve Kaplan

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Alex Ferrari 1:44
Enjoy today's episode with guest host, Dave Bullis.

Dave Bullis 1:49
This week's guest is one of the most sought after coaches in comedy. His first book, The Hidden Tools of Comedy was one of the one of my favorite books that came out in the past couple of years. And it's been an international bestseller. And his new book, which we're going to talk all about the Comic Hero's Journey is out now everywhere. So without further ado, was Steve Kaplan. So Steve, you've been on twice before, and this is your third time on the podcast? How does it feel?

Steve Kaplan 2:16
It feels good. I'm still waiting for my third time. Jacket, you know, like they do on SNL. But I'll I'll just wait. I'm sure that's in the mail.

Dave Bullis 2:27
It is and if it gets lost? Well, you know what? There's been a lot of cutbacks at the post office, Steve. So

Steve Kaplan 2:33
Oh, boy. Okay, well, I'll continue nevertheless.

Dave Bullis 2:37
By the way, here's a funny story for you, Steve. Really quickly, I used to work at the post office.

Steve Kaplan 2:44
So that explains it there. They

Dave Bullis 2:45
were so desperate, they hired me. Can you believe that?

Steve Kaplan 2:49
So So So did you experience what it meant to go postal?

Dave Bullis 2:53
Well, it was the I have an unfair advantage. And that that part of it because I've always been like, you know, that unhinged guy at work. So I kind of walked in with a chip on my shoulder. So.

Steve Kaplan 3:05
Okay, and what what were you what were your duties at the post office? Were you walking around? Or were you behind the desk or

Dave Bullis 3:11
neither? I actually was the guy who was in like the NL at the warehouse, and we would like sort mail. We'd move like tons of mail from here to there. We would like stock, we would help like the actual postal workers. We'd actually like you know, here's all the mail for your route today. And here's what you got to do. Yeah, it was it was not a very glamorous job. So if you're thinking of telling me

Steve Kaplan 3:33
Tell me one thing that you hoped your supervisors never found out

Dave Bullis 3:42
that I probably took the only thing I could do say is I took longer breaks than I should have. I didn't like steal any mail or hide in woods mail. Nothing like that. I'd never I would never do anything like that. I'm so sorry. I don't have any like crazy stories. Like I didn't I didn't tell the bag a male definitely like a sewer or something. But

Steve Kaplan 4:01
did you ever he did you ever know anybody who did? Oh,

Dave Bullis 4:06
stuff would go like I mean, Steve like they used to, like throw stuff across the the entire floor. So like, you know, they would take a box that says fragile, and they would just boot it all the way across the whole room. Oh, yeah, that happens on the regular.

Steve Kaplan 4:21
Okay, well, this is the basis of a new Sundance comedy. I can I can see it now. Going stone.

Dave Bullis 4:30
I thought you were gonna say like a new lawsuit against the post. I got this guy. Oh, it's

Steve Kaplan 4:35
everything is story. Everything is a is something to generate story.

Dave Bullis 4:40
That's very true. And, you know, I've seen a lot of the interviews you've done, Steve, and not just the ones that you've done here. You know, you've been on twice before. But you know, you've been on film courage. You know, you've done a lot a ton of interviews. And you know, you're you're very good at, you know, sort of putting comedy perspective, which and what I mean by that is putting putting, you know, it has to be a story, there has to be a reason. It's funny, because if it's just a series of events, it really doesn't mean a lot, right?

Steve Kaplan 5:09
Well, it's not that it doesn't mean I've been thinking about that a lot in the new book that I wrote comic hero's journey. I was thinking today that I didn't give enough props to totally silly comedies that that have nothing on their mind other than to be totally silly. And I was thinking about the fact that one of the reasons that I don't have a section on that is because it's so hard to do. Because you're not you have nothing to hang. Hang the narrative on you don't you you you kind of have characters but they're not fully dimensionalized characters. I'm thinking of things like like the jerk that I just recently rescreened. You don't have a story that you really care about, because you know that the characters are just there for laughs. And when it works, it's it's it's amazing. But it's it's very hard to work, I can think of a lot more instances where it doesn't work like scary movie for or or, you know, Naked Gun, this the seven sequel, because while it's possible to do it, it's it's a very hard trick to pull off, because what it means is that you are entertaining the audience in one particular way. For for 95 minutes, or 100 or 105 minutes. And that's extremely difficult to because you don't have a love story to fall back on. You don't have you don't have any real tension to fall back on. There's no suspense. There's no drama, there's no, there's nothing thematic that hooks in. And what I found, what I find is that when I go back and watch these movies, like the jerk, they don't hold up that well. I mean, for me at least, that that, you know, having being familiar with the comedy of it, the jokes of it. I'm not as as I'm not taking for a ride anymore, and I kind of see the shallowness of it. Although at the time I loved it. I was I was a big fan, one movie that's like that, that still works for me, is there a plane? And I think the reason for that is because even though it is as silly as the day is long, you care about that Robert K's character, you care about him. Somehow they make you a, you know, they make you concerned, they they have a knot, it's kind of the reverse of a save the cat in drama, you have to save the cat moment. In comedy, you often have the cat scratches your heroes face, and then the then pees on his leg and then walks away. You you're made to feel sympathetic, you're made to feel bad for the for the character, and that that makes you care. And if you care about the character that no matter how silly the circumstances are, you're you kind of fall into the narrative. You're hooked in the narrative. So that's what I've been thinking about. That's a that's a long answer to a question you didn't even ask.

Dave Bullis 8:27
And those are the best ones, Steve. I trust me. Because because, you know, people tune into you always hear the guests like always say, and it's always good to, you know, with a guest that oh, you know, talks more than I do. And I look good, too, because I didn't have to ask a question. You already gave me an answer. So thank you. Thank you for that, Steve.

Steve Kaplan 8:44
Well, there you go. So,

Dave Bullis 8:45
but you know, I watched the jerk again recently. You know, I still love the movie. I actually think it's hilarious, but I see what you mean. But you know, and when I watched movies, like the jerk, and then you kind of compare it to today. You know, I still think the jerk has more character development, because some movies today maybe, you know, maybe there's not so much character development, or maybe there are too many, you know, there are too many jokes that really don't kind of tie in with it. So you know, and then that kind of ties with one of the questions I want to ask you is, you know, what are some of the recent movies that you've seen where that have that have not only been funny, but you also thought they were good because they actually told a story, you know, that actually focused on a character?

Steve Kaplan 9:28
Oh, well. I would sit you know, I would say Lady Bird. If you're gonna go on the on the spectrum of amusing to hilarious Lady Bird might not be on the hilarious side of that spectrum. But it's moving. It's funny. It's true. It's authentic.

Alex Ferrari 9:50
We'll be right back after a word from our sponsor. And now back to the show.

Steve Kaplan 10:00
I like I like to the Grand Budapest Hotel again, it's just this perfect little fairy tale that has very exaggerated characters. But ultimately it's it's about it's about honor and integrity in a strange way because it's about this maitre d who you know who screws all the while the elder guests the hotel, but in a strange way, it's it's about a holding on to something that's valuable from the past and mourning the things that are lost. In terms of movies that I think I thought were just funny, I thought spy was very successful in terms of parodying that James Bond formula, and yet finding its own comedy in in what Melissa McCarthy does. So. So I think, let me see, what was there something you know, most of the comedy that I see today on our movie, you know, successful comedies on movies as much as as what you see on television, and especially on this on the streaming channels. brockmeyer is, is a binge worthy favorite of mine. It's because I love baseball. And I love Hank Azaria. And he just takes this dissolute character to its ultimate illogical, logical conclusion. And it makes sense. It's the hem hangers area. Amanda Pete, great stuff very funny. And the marvelous, Mrs. Maisel said, Did I pronounce that right? And I can ever figure that out? I'm just starting to watch season two. So that's very good. I, I think it's hard to it's hard to do a feature comedy, because the, because the marketplace kind of demands them to dumb down their material. So you have something like, have you seen tag? Right,

Dave Bullis 12:18
I've seen tag. So

Steve Kaplan 12:19
I don't know what you thought of tag. But I thought that, that it's kind of an odd, quirky story that I couldn't see the reason why they made it into a movie. Because even though there were some funny things that happened, it kind of eluded me. Maybe you had a different experience. But I find that a lot of what gets into the theaters is something that they're condescending to the audience, they think you Well, this is funny, they'll like it, as opposed to what's the best story we can tell? And what's the most common way we can tell it? Yeah,

Dave Bullis 13:03
I sold tag. And I, it's Yeah, I kind of felt that way, too. It's kind of like, you know, how did this, you know, get made into a movie? It's kind of one of those things where like they made you kind of see the poster and you're like, well, maybe it could be good, you know, and then and then it's kind of like, you know, they made this little movie. I'm sure there was a market for it. I don't know how well did I really I don't have the numbers, but I don't know what I don't think there's gonna be a sequel?

Steve Kaplan 13:32
No, I don't think so. I you know, in a way, sometimes the best comedies nowadays are the animated comedies, because they're, they they're creating, especially the Pixar comedies, they're creating material, that has to be four quadrant that has to appeal towards everybody. So it can't just be silly jokes that the kids like, there has to be something for the parents. They want something for the parents, and those Pixar movies are all driven thematic, like as opposed to driven by plot and gag. So Incredibles two, Coco, is that was that? Was that the one with the day? The dead? I think that's I think I'm getting

Dave Bullis 14:18
that right. Yeah, that was Coco. Yeah.

Steve Kaplan 14:21
I mean, those are those are wonderful, inventive, imaginative, and moving, moving pieces of of comic film. And I guess I guess there's the sense because it's not R rated, that they can just tell a story and they're not beholden to do something outrageous or gross every 10 minutes to keep this imaginary audience of 30 year old boys happy.

Dave Bullis 14:52
So you know, you mentioned brockmeyer I've never seen an episode, but I have a friend who swears by it. Because he just loves was high cause area as well. But you know, speaking of baseball shows, have you ever seen Eastbound and Down? I

Steve Kaplan 15:05
do like Eastbound and Down. And the thing is, is that I like Eastbound and Down I like Danny McBride. And if you put the two of them together, the thing that I like more about brockmeyer is that it expands the the the envelope of what's what could be, what could actually have have happened, and it doesn't break the envelope. Whereas with Eastbound and Down, you often have to just leave your your good send off to one side and just to just enjoy Danny McBride is this outrageous, not too bright ex baseball player. So those are actually two similar projects, which I think one is, is done better. But, but both both have both have amusing things. I mean, you know, for me, you you start with the hardest question for me day, which is what have you seen that you like? Which makes me feel obligated to? Well, what's what did I like, that's good. But the taste is subjective. That's one of the things that I, I, I teach strongly in my workshops in my books is that is that funny is subjective. mean? What I find funny, you might not find funny, it doesn't make me right and you wrong or vice versa. So you so if you're not going to try to create funny, what's going to make me laugh as opposed to what's going to make you laugh, then you then you want to try to create comedy, which is telling the truth about people, what's true about people and telling the truth about that, using you know, a variety of methods that that make it that bring it out of the mundane and the ordinary and and elevate it to two common kind of comic art and comic truth. So so if you if you ask me, what what have I seen that I I really like, I'm, I'm really drawn to two movies that I've seen years ago that I stood that still stay with me, like about a boy, or 500 days of summer movies that are funny, but they have something on their mind. And they they move me. They move me in three ways they move me kinetically I laugh, they move me emotionally, I feel and they move me intellectually, I think. And to me, those are the best movies. And to me, I still I still go to my favorite, which is Groundhog Day. And I guess my second favorite might be 40 Year Old Virgin, which I just spent a day screening for a class in Milan, trying to teach them how it works in terms of the comic hero's journey.

Dave Bullis 18:01
So when you screen them, oh, by the way, those are two very good choices, by the way. So because, you know, Groundhog's Day, I you know, you we could we could dissect that right now. But I, I mean, it's it's such a great movie, because, you know, repeating the same day over and over. And eventually you're right. I think he touched upon this in an interview before maybe you and I talked about this, but where he kind of assumes that he's God. And he kind of assumes these things. That's how people would have really, you know, you that's how if that happened to you or me, you would assume that same thing. Right?

Steve Kaplan 18:34
I mean, and that's that's really the brilliance of the Harold Ramis revision of the originally, the original Danny Rubin script is that in at least in the final shooting version, they he kind of holds very closely to, okay, this impossible thing happened, that he's waking up into the same day over and over again. But having having admitted that having just gone along and said okay, this impossible thing happened, what would happen then, if this were true, what would really happen at that and I think one of the things that makes Groundhog Day work so well is that is that even though incredible, weird, funny things happen. It stays within the reality of the impossible situation that they created. He wakes up the same day, he remembers everything, nobody remembers anything. So he can go to a girl and and try to pick her up. And if he makes if he says something wrong and turns her off, he can come back the next day and and make it better. So she'll say what should we toast to? And he'll he's at a bar and you'll say Let's toast to the groundhog. And she kind of gets turned off by that. So he comes back the very next day.

Alex Ferrari 19:58
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Steve Kaplan 20:07
And she says, What should we toast to? And he turns all solemn. And he says, I'd like to say a word for, you know, a prayer for world peace. And, and, of course, because he figures having gone through trial and error, he knows that that will that will endear himself to her. So I, you know, I like the fact that it takes an impossible or improbable situation, which in my book, I call the WTF moment, the WHAT THE FUCK moment. And, and after that, everything that happens after that evolves organically, and I'm honestly out of character guided by theme.

Dave Bullis 20:54
Yeah, it's, it's kind of like every guy's dream, right, you have a limited chances to actually pick up a girl. Right? So, but, but no, it's, it's, it's like those days, you know, that the harder Groundhog's Day was, you know, is basically, you know, he had to find out what was missing in his life and basically, you know, find out all the mistakes that he was making. And, you know, even when he thought he had the perfect day, he would he would never he woke up again. And he goes, what the hell I thought it you know, I got it. I did all this right. And he, he still didn't wake up. And then finally as it progressed, it was he he had to, I forget the the female character's name in there that he ended up with at the end. We have railroad Right, right. And read a play by Andy McDowell. Right? Well, I remember his name was Phil, because I remember that guy was like, Do you feel like the groundhog? See, it's stuck with me. It's like a mnemonic device. But and then you have for your version, which, you know, I think, you know, again, that's brilliant. Especially, you know, I mean, it's probably even more true today than it was when it was made even a few years ago, because you got a lot of millennials still living at it, you know, they you know what, I mean, they still living at home. A

Steve Kaplan 22:02
That's true. That's true. But I think I for me, the thing, the brilliance of the Apatow film, is the brilliant combination. And, and, and, and the balance between gross out humor and real heart? Where, whereas before, you had lots of films, you know, like, there's Rob Schneider films, which were just basically how can we be grosser than the Farrelly brothers and get away with it and get some laughs. But what Judd Apatow did is he he kind of hit the sweet spot between consider a conservative sentimental story, and, you know, balls to the wall, gross out humor. And, and in fact, in talking about the film, he he often talks about the fact that there were things he cut out, because they lost the audience, they might have gotten some laughs from some from some people. But if he, when he showed it to the audience, for instance, there were there was much more pornography, literal pornography, that that they were looking at, on the screens, because they were in this, you know, the true tech or whatever the name of smart tech was the electronic store. And there was a sequencing which they lock Andy, which was played by Steve Carell in the in the booth where you could test out sound systems, and they locked him in there with a pornographic film to get him out of his. I know virgin dumb. And in the, in one of the original cuts, there was a lot more porno film in it. And in fact, I this is a very, this is a very, I think, odd point. But the actress in the porno film, I think is Stormy Daniels. i i You could check me on that. But I think that that stormy Daniels in there and and what they found it at a test screening was that it was funny, it got a laugh, but it lost the audience. Because you know, maybe they were a little uncomfortable. Or maybe they just thought oh, is this the movie we're going to watch now it's it's going to be as you know, more gross than more gross and more gross grosser and grocer as opposed to dumber and dumber. And so he he edited that out and he trimmed it and he took out the part that that pushed the audience away not offended the audience, but push them out of the narrative push them out of the caring about the character. And and, and so to me, one of the one of the one difficult things about the movie. Is that right? When you think, Oh, now they're going to really make fun of this character, and they're going to mock him. You empathize with him. you sympathize with him. You feel bad for him after he after it's revealed that he's a virgin at the poker game. There's not a sequence where he's like doing something dumb. He's, he's riding his bike home in pain in agony. The first thing you see when he gets to his apartment is a shot of him screaming like this primal scream of pain and humiliation. And the result of that is that you're thinking, Oh, my God, this isn't just a joke. That's supposed to last for 90 minutes. This is a human being who's had who's has this improbable. Like go back to impossible or improbable, this improbable thing. He's 40 years old. He's still a virgin. It's not impossible, but it's improbable. And what would happen? What would he do? And and the guys at the at the at Smart Tech, they don't just make they don't make fun of them. Some of them do some minor characters who we see for a second, but the main three buddies, Seth Rogen, Paul Rudd and Romany Malco. They're out to help him. It's actually a very heartwarming and an inclusive movie about about growing up and trance transformation. So to me, those those are movies, when I go to the movies, and I see something that's not not really a transcendent experience, I often have to go and watch something else that I think I think is and it could be something as, as classic as shop around the corner, or you've got mail, which is the same story but updated, or it's a wonderful life or meet me in St. Louis, these stories that combine comedy with heart and a point of view and an idea in their head.

Dave Bullis 27:21
You know, you mentioned the Farrelly brothers. One of my favorite movies of all time, by the way is Dumb and Dumber. And, you know, as you also mentioned, Dumb and Dumber. I don't know if you met that on purpose. But you know what I mean? And so I just wanted to say what do you what do you think of Dumb and Dumber?

Steve Kaplan 27:36
I think it's one of the things that when I talked about movies that are just kind of designed to make you laugh, and not not a lot else, that's one of the movies that succeeds wonderfully, because they they have this silly premise where these two dumb guys are going to go on this road trip. And they just keep on finding inventive ways to keep it fresh. And one of the ways that they do it is by at any 1.1 of them. One of the dumb guys is slightly more aware and smarter than the others. So it's this wonderful Abbott and Costello, Laurel and Hardy routine all the way throughout. But they but they switch it enough so that it doesn't become repetitive or predictable. So I I love I love Dumb and Dumber. And, and I think it's, it's it's one of the it's one of the few movies that I think tries to be funny from beginning to end, and then succeeds, but it's really, really hard. And if and if you want proof of how hard it is. Take a look at the Farrelly brothers, Three Stooges, which is you know, the Listen, these are the same guys. They're talented guys. Bobby read my book and wrote me a nice note about it, which I love, you know, which I liked. But the Three Stooges it only works sporadically because there's not, you know, because there's really no story other than, hey, we're doing the Three Stooges. And, and it's got some silly plot, but you don't really care about them the way you care about the characters in Dumb and Dumber or, or more. Even more the characters in There's Something About Mary.

Dave Bullis 29:31
Yeah, and you know, that's kind of one of the hardest things to do for writers, right, is to create empathy for a character. So the audience, you know, they they not only they don't sympathize, but you know, sympathy is feeling sorry for somebody, but empathy is putting yourself into their shoes. So you can see things from their point of view. And that's kind of one of the hardest things I that I think for writers to do, because it's what Pixar does so well.

Alex Ferrari 30:00
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Dave Bullis 30:09
which is, you know, right off the bat caring about characters getting involved their story. So you actually give a damn if they see if they succeed or not?

Steve Kaplan 30:16
Well, in a way, it's actually the easiest thing to do, because all you have to do is tell your own story. One of the things that Pixar does so well, is they spend so much time on story, and they're willing to throw out years of work, hundreds and 1000s of dollars worth of work in order to get the story right. In inside out, for instance, at first it was going to be joy, the character of joy and fear going on that journey. And, and then they spent a lot of time trying to make that work, and it didn't work. And ultimately they had to go, they had to realize that what joy needs is her opposite, Joy needs sadness. And the way you get there is not by intellectualizing by going, you know, what I think Joy should be what you what you get, how you get there is by sharing your own feelings, sharing your own sense of, of what's happened to you as a person. I, I can't remember exactly who on the creative team. It was, but somebody had the experience of leaving Minnesota, and going to a new city as a kid, and that became the movie. So it's not a matter of how can you make a character empathetic, tell your own story. Be honest, in the fictional in that fictional world, tell your own story. Somebody once said that all fiction is autobiography. Every piece of fiction is that is actually telling you more about the person who's writing it then about the characters who are in it. And I think that's true. So, in, in, There's Something About Mary, there's this wonderful moment. It's not the first moment in the film, but it's one of the flashback moments. When we see Ben Stiller, as a teenager with really terrible braces. Go to pick Mary up for the prom, and the end, he rings the doorbell. And this, the door opens. And I forget the name of the actor, but the actor is African. A Keith David Right, Keith David opens the door. And you know, Mary's not African American, so he's confused for a second. So he kind of picks up at the door number for a second and then the guy says what are you here for? And he says I'm here to pick up Mary for the prom. And Keith David because Keith David's this practical joke. He says all Mary went to the prom 20 minutes ago with her boyfriend Woogie. And there's this moment where you see Ben Stiller, his face, just just, you know, fall apart. You know, he's any he's trying, you know, he's trying to hold it together and just goes kind of, okay. And he's about to walk away. And yes, then the mom comes in and says, Oh, he's kidding. Come on, in. But in that moment, we confronted all our disappointments from adolescence, everybody who's ever stood up, or didn't have a date or, or had a bad date or was or is or was passed over for being picked for volleyball. You know, we, we all empathize with that moment, and it's not saved the cat. It's basically the cat scratched me. And, and, and, and it's a universal feeling. So what happens? What happens in a comedy is you want to make sure that the more the more exaggerated and ridiculous event that's going to happen later on in the movie. That means that you have to be more honest and real earlier in the movie, to make us care make us care, because eventually later on in that scene, Ben Stiller finds himself in a bathroom and he zips up too quickly and he catches a very important appendage in a zipper. Which is ridiculous. I mean, it's it's just flat out silly. But if we don't care about the character, that's all it is just silly, as opposed to ask us kind of putting ourselves in his shoes and going, man, what else? What else wrong could happen today?

Dave Bullis 34:41
And basically, you know, like you always said, Steve, the like an action movie. The hero has all the tools. But in a bun in a comedy The Hero has no tools whatsoever,

Steve Kaplan 34:53
or Well, that was not not no tools, but the hero lacks some if not most of the tools so I mean, Woody Allen's very, very witty and very bright, but he's a physical coward. So you can, you can't be a total. Normally it can't be a total loser but but somebody who lacks some if not, if not all the skills I mean one of the in working on the common hero's journey, which was taking a look at the hero's journey. From a comedy point of view, one of the things that we that we came to in the beginning was the fact that in a, in a, in a drama in an action film, the the hero has all the skills necessary sometimes they are hidden within they have greatness hidden within only they don't know it, perhaps like Luke Skywalker, but in a comedy, your character starts the movie off with with there's no greatness within there. It's far from greatness within us as humanly possible. And basically, the story of a comedy is a story of a character who is comfortable, used to has, has resigned themselves to being this imperfect person. In fact, most of the times they don't even know that they're imperfect. And something some impossible or improbable thing happens to push them out of their comfort zone. And they're forced to transform. And they do transform, because they because like in big worry, he wakes up he's 30 years old and Groundhog Day he's waking up, it's the same day over and over again. There's no choice but to transform, because their circumstances have changed. So that they're our characters in a comedy become somebody who is is a more actualized human being it has more skills, but they start off as big zeros, what we call, you know, take, you know, taking your zero and making him into a hero.

Dave Bullis 36:55
Right And to go along with what you just said, you know, you're right. I misspoke when I said lack of lack of skills rise no or sorry, has zero skills. Because you have to have at least one trait for the audience. We like maybe this guy has a shot at something. Yeah. Yeah. So you see, that's where my head's at. Steve, I'm always like, look, just so let's just give them nothing and go from Let's go. Oh, no, no, something.

Steve Kaplan 37:21
I mean, in bridesmaids, Christian way get it is is totally messed up. But at least she has a good best friend in Maya Rudolph. Even though she doesn't have a job and she doesn't have a boyfriend and Jon Hamm is terrible to her. So so so our our heroes, our comic heroes start off with something. But most of the time that they're there, they're not aware of how of how bad their predicament is, or how, what what their, what their minus is their negative is. And most of the times our comic heroes start off with a short sighted goal you know, Bill Murray in Groundhog Day only wants to get a job at a at a bigger station where he can be a newscaster steam Steve Carell and 40 year old virgin only, he just wants to continue what he thinks is a great life. You know, he makes an omelet every morning by himself and he plays with his dolls, and he has all his his merchandise still in the original packaging, and he watches survivor with the elderly couple upstairs. He He's to him, that's okay. I'm not he's not he doesn't complain. And he's not even totally conscious that he's that he's unhappy. But what happens as our characters transform is they get what what we call the discovered goal, that in comedies, our characters discover a goal halfway through midway through that, that then becomes their ultimate goal, their their outer goal in order to accomplish whatever they're trying to accomplish in the movie.

Dave Bullis 39:10
Because like a four year old virgin, you know, if it were to be like, let's just say you know, real life and and, you know, that main character never ever realized how unhappy he was, you know, he was always 40 He was always just going to do the same old thing. Essentially, you could see that he would never change his routine, and he would just kind of, you know, die, so to speak physically, and we're just surrounded by that stuff and he would never there was an issue. Yeah. So and then again, when when he is going back to for your virgin when he when his whole goal was just to get laid at first and then he realizes he he's found somebody he actually loves by the boat. Yes.

Alex Ferrari 39:51
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Steve Kaplan 40:00
He, so the first thing he says is I respect when I totally respect women, I respect them so much I stay the hell away from them. And and then later on, it's like, no, I don't want to go to bed with the girl from the bookstore, I, I love Trish played by Catherine Keener eye and and he he does something which is way outside his comfort zone he races after her on his bike to you know to get the girl of his dreams so. So there there are a lot of there are some similarities between the hero's journey and the common hero's journey. You often at the end of an action film, you have the race to the finish. In a comedy, you're having you're seeing character transform, go from, you know, a zero to a match, and mentions a Yiddish word that means that like a good man, a complete person. And and so in an action film, Bruce Willis is going to kick ass from the minute he shows up on screen screen to the end. But our heroes and in accommodate, they're not going to kick ass in the beginning, they have to learn they have to gain skills, they have to gather allies, and they have to become better, better human beings in the world, more more comfortable, more integrated into the world that they live in.

Dave Bullis 41:38
Where and you know, we've kind of been, you know, talking sort of, in a roundabout way about the comic hero's journey. So let's talk about your new books.

Steve Kaplan 41:45
My new book. Funny, you should mention that that's my new book, The comic hero's journey, serious story structure for fabulously funny films now published by Michael, we see productions now available in your local Amazon?

Dave Bullis 41:59
Well, you know, it's funny, I looked down by my foot, and there was just sitting there, I was like, Hey, wait a minute here, I had at the end of the school year. But yeah, we were talking, you know, in a roundabout way about, you know, creating characters and, and, you know, finding out their their sort of wants and needs and goals. And, you know, so what was sort of the impetus for you to sort of write this book, you know, for the commentators journey? Well,

Steve Kaplan 42:26
I had been, I'd written my previous book, The Hidden tools of comedy, which was, which were specific tools and principles that you could apply towards film or television. And I would be teaching these workshops and people would say, would say, Well, how would this happen at this part in the movie, and it just made me think, okay, there are all these books and about story structure and, and a lot of my friends have written books about story structure, like Michael Haig and John Truby, and Chris Vogler. And I thought, well, well, is that how are the how is that story structure that the three ad format or the six plot point turning format? How does that work for comedy? So I started to explore that. And I realized some of it is similar, but there are important elements that are completely different. And that that are different in a comedy than than in than in a dramatic or action film. And so I started working on it, I started and I pitched it to my publisher, and I, I mentioned it to Chris Vogler who's written the the writers journey, which is based on the Joseph Campbell work, the monomyth in the hero with 1000 faces. And I said, Chris, do you mind? I'm going to steal your title, and your ID, I'm going to use it for comedy. And after a moment, he said, Okay, only only only mentioned me, as you're doing it. So I did. And so I and so this is a template for a writing a comic feature. It's not it's not the only way to write a comic feature. It's not the the end all and be all of of how to structure a story, but it's one way of taking a look at the hero's journey, and seeing how that that Monomyth works for comedy. And and the the I think one of the big differences is understanding that your hero starts off at loss, you know, that we talked about? An understanding that the funny thing that happens to them that that that what we call the comic premise, the impossible or improbable thing is the only time in in the story that you can make shit up that you can lie that after you impose that impossible or improbable event or happenstance, then you have to play honestly develop the cat develop the narrative, honestly, through character. And through theme. We talked about the fact that the characters are transforming, they have a discovered goal. And then we talk about the fact that, and this is, to me, this is almost it goes without saying, but I found out that, that it was a little bit of a revelation to people that I was working with, or talking to in workshops is that in order for the comic Hero's Journey to work, there has to be real pain, and real loss, there has to be, there has to be honest moments where where you where you drop into dry drop into drama. Otherwise, it doesn't, it doesn't mean anything, it doesn't matter. So So that's, that's a part of the of the common hero's journey that's essential for comedies, and I can't think of a good comedy, in which there isn't some moment where we're all where the healer where all is lost, you know, the, the hero seems that they've given up that they're not going to achieve their goals that that the story is not going to end up and happily, and it doesn't mean you have to have a happy ending. But it does mean that you have to allow your character to experience not funny, loss and pain, but real loss and pain.

Dave Bullis 46:59
Right? So there actually has to be some real stakes, some actual losses, so you don't I mean, so it has to feel like you feel real, and feel that there's actually something at stake here rather than just kind of like, oh, you know, it'll, it'll it'll work out. Or

Steve Kaplan 47:13
it's all silly, so don't worry about it. It can't be, it can't be in Bugs Bunny cartoon, where you shoot bugs in the face with a shotgun and, and hey, there's When the smoke clears, he just has, you know, a bad complexion, but everything else is okay. So, so one of the one of the things that I've noticed in examining a lot of movies to write the book is not only are there moments of loss and pain, near three quarters of the way through, but a lot of movies start off with the characters having, having dealt with loss and pain or, or dealing with loss and pain, starting with, Sleepless in Seattle, where it starts off following the death of Tom Hanks wife, and now he's a widow, or spy with Melissa McCarthy, where, in the first 10 minutes, the hero of the movie Her the person, she idolizes Jude Law who's this very James Bond and kind of spy is is killed, spoiler spoiler alert, seemingly killed, right and right in front of her ears, because she's, she's monitoring everything back to back in Langley, Virginia. That, that a lot of the comedy comes out of real loss and pain, as opposed to well, it's a comedy, so nothing serious can really happen.

Dave Bullis 48:45
You know, and there's a, you know, it was a great example was the hangover. Because, you know, you kind of felt as some actual pressure there, and you know what I mean? Because, because, hey, look, there's a group that we have to find, because, you know, and we're the guys that lost them.

Steve Kaplan 48:59
Right? Actually, I liked parts of the hangover, but it wasn't crazy about the hangover. Precisely. Because those though, you know, especially the Bradley Cooper character was so amoral is like this teacher is drinking and let's just go off and do this thing and let's just party and their relation, none of their relationships. I mean, certainly the Who's the guy who lost the tooth at homes, the right the Ed Helms character, his his relationship is horrible. You don't want him to end up with her. So, so So one of the things that I was not crazy about in the hangover was the lack of, of empathetic characters and and thematic thematic development and resolution.

Alex Ferrari 49:53
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Steve Kaplan 50:02
And but what was brilliant about the hangover was how it melded a frat boy, Las Vegas Movie with a mystery. And to me that was that was what what made it very special is that once you woke up, and there's a baby and a tiger and how the hell did those things get there? Everything else worked, because they had to, they had to go on this, this mystery, you know, had to solve this, this impossible mystery and the way that they did that can't you know lead them into funnier and funnier situations? For me, the funniest moment is when the I think it's Ken Young, the naked Asian guy jumps out of the trunk of the car. That was funny but but the most satisfying moment of the movie was the was the credits where you see the night you know in all those photographs, you see the night that they went through. And because at the heart of the hangover is a dad that's why hangovers two and three while they might have made money, were aesthetically not very satisfying for me at least. Because there's nothing there. I you know, I don't really care about those guys. And the only guy I might want to care about was in hangover was basically on on a roof loss for for most of the movie. So so so I have to be a somebody who is on the don't love hangover side. Well, I still a great guy. Dang, you're still a wonderful guy, nevertheless.

Dave Bullis 51:47
Oh, thank you. Thank you. I'm going to hold you to that. Steve, by the way, okay. It will I agree the the the hangover sequels Ay, ay, ay. And, you know, this too, when whenever there's a hit movie, you know, there's an inclination in Hollywood to say, hey, you know, let's start churning out those sequels. You know, let's hang over 17 Sounds good to me. Right. But then again, you know, if I was in a position where somebody was like, hey, look, Dave, you if you if you make a hit movie, we'll give you a couple million to write the sequel. I'd be like, you know, I'm gonna write to my hand falls off. You know, I

Steve Kaplan 52:18
think I think I'm with you there. But

Dave Bullis 52:21
yeah, I'll be in my grave writing sequels that movie as long as you've written checks. me there's a comedy idea right there, Steve. There's a comedy story somewhere in there. There's

Steve Kaplan 52:33
a comedy story everywhere. That's that's the whole point. Our lives are comedies, and we just have to be brave enough to tell them.

Dave Bullis 52:43
Yeah. And, you know, that's a very good point, Steve. And, you know, you know, and that's why I made sure to pick up your book, your your other book, The Hidden tools of comedy. By the way, just as a quick side note, the other two episodes of the of the podcast where you're on Steve, they do phenomenal numbers still to this day. Wow. Yeah. So so a year and a year and a half respectively, are still doing great numbers like a you know, when I when I pulled like a three month kind of window of the past downloads, you're always in there. Wow,

Steve Kaplan 53:15
that's great. Well, then we should let people know how to get in touch with me. Where can people find us Steve? People can find me at my website, which is www Kaplan with a K Kaplan comedy comedy with the C. Kaplan comedy or one word Kaplan comedy.com. Or they can email me at Steve at Kaplan comedy.com Or they can find me on Facebook at Kaplan comedy, and or or they can follow me on Twitter at SK comedy.

Dave Bullis 53:49
And I'm going to link to all that in the show notes. Everyone, including a link to Amazon to buy Steve's new book, The comic hero's journey. And his other book, by the way, the hidden quote, The Hidden tools of comedy. Did I say the hidden tools of comics,

Steve Kaplan 54:03
the hidden cool of comedy, which I like even better. I was like, Wait, it

Dave Bullis 54:07
didn't sound right. Wait, next printing.

Steve Kaplan 54:10
That's the that's going to be the new title. Wow. I

Dave Bullis 54:13
think I think I just gave you the next your next book, Steve.

Steve Kaplan 54:17
I'm working on that right now.

Dave Bullis 54:20
And I'm gonna link to everything we talked about in the show notes. Everyone at Dave bullas.com. Twitter, it's at dB podcast. Steve Kaplan, as always, man, thank you so much for coming on. Thank you, Dave. And be on the lookout for that Jack in the mail, by the way. Okay.

Steve Kaplan 54:35
Third time jacket. You know, there's there aren't a lot of us here.

Dave Bullis 54:39
There's not it's a rare club, Steve.

Steve Kaplan 54:41
Okay, I feel honored.

Dave Bullis 54:43
I have a good one, buddy. You too. Thanks, Dave!

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