[BOOK REVIEW] The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny by Steve Kaplan - Raindance

The Comic equation:

‘Comedy is about an ordinary guy or gal struggling against insurmountable odds without many of the required skills and tools with which to win yet never giving up hope.’

Without a doubt Steve Kaplan is an extremely accomplished comedy expert; working with countless comedic masterminds and teaching at respected schools and studios. This pioneering book serves as an example as to why he’s so sought after in the industry by offering an entirely different perspective when approaching comedy. Kaplan ingeniously urges the readers to leave behind what they previously assumed comedy to be and instead shift their perspective towards a more scientific or mechanical understanding of the art form. He organises the various techniques of comedy into select chunks, explains them in simple and understandable terms and demonstrates how each contributes to a successful comedic script in their own unique way.

Part 1 offers a theoretical overview by proposing foundational comedy tricks and tools for those starting out. Within this section, Kaplan deconstructs and demystifies the myths surrounding comedy. For example: ‘comedy is all about timing’ or ‘comedy needs to be faster, louder and funnier’. This section is instrumental in shifting your perspective of comedy by challenging what you think you know comedy is and directing you towards what comedy actually is: ‘Comedy tells the truth. And more specifically, comedy tells the truth about people.’

Part 2 takes a practical turn and is directed towards those wanting to understand how to write, direct and perform comedy. Here, Kaplan delves into how comedy works and why it doesn’t work by examining, analysing, constructing and deconstructing comedy. He breaks down each of the set tools that are designed to enhance comedy and offers an array of screenplay inserts that perfectly further his point and showcase when the comedy tool is executed well, or instances when it isn’t. The idea is that once you understand the tools he presents, you have a complete arsenal of screenwriting tools on your fingertips.

Part 3 is a section dedicated to answering those burning questions: how jokes are structured, the secret to sitcom writing, advice to aspiring comedy makers and overall provides more information and references to further your comedy knowledge.

The book is incredibly inviting with its conversational and relaxed writing style with an undeniable humorous tone. It flows nicely from one section to the other by neatly concluding every section and tying it in to the succeeding chapter. Ultimately, this helps create a clear picture of how these tools come together and contributes to his claim that comedy should be perceived as a ‘unified art form’.

Throughout the book Kaplan encourages the reader to realise that comedy is not about being clever or original, but rather it’s about understanding the human condition and human truths. Additionally, he redirects the attention to comedy not being the outcome of one person being funny but because of teamwork. Kaplan stresses this book is not only designed for writers but for all filmmakers, actors and producers alike. To create a successful comedy, all of those involved in production should be aware of the valuable tools, techniques and principles of comedy.

Essentially, from reading this book it has become extremely evident that comedy is not just the outcome of someone being funny. Instead there are set principles and techniques that drive good jokes or anecdotes and Kaplan wonderfully breaks down these tools and techniques in this lighthearted, insightful and thoroughly entertaining book.


Caroline is a recent Business and Film Studies graduate from the University of Liverpool. She is a lover of musical theatre, travel and all things film. Whilst enjoying her time at Raindance, Caroline is also actively seeking producer roles in the film industry and attempting to explore every avenue in London.