THE BIG ASK: SHOULD I GET A WRITING PARTNER OR GO SOLO?
Question: I’m starting out as a comedy writer and was wondering if I should get a writing partner or go solo?
Answer: Having a writing partner who makes you laugh and you’re creatively sympatico with is the quickest, funnest and most efficient way to write a strong script. Particularly when you’re starting out. You’ll inspire each other, there’ll be more joke density, half-arsed ideas will be less likely to make it, big print will be leaner and four eyes on any script are better than two. But when it comes to writing duos, the divorce rate is higher than marriage. In Hollywood, there are shrinks who have businesses devoted to counseling writing partners (Hi Dr Dennis Palumbo).
So how can it work?
A popular way is to adhere to the rule that whoever feels most passionately about a line, joke or idea, wins. Personally, I think this one has a shelf life. Egos get in the way. One of the writers can always pretend to be more passionate than the other. It can get competitive in a nasty way. And once it gets like that, your duo’s on the way out.
Another option is that one of you takes the lead, and the other chips in from the side. I think this option also has a used-by date as human nature dictates that the second banana won’t love being second banana forever. And if you’re the lead, then you’re probably stuck with all the boring stuff like being in charge of spelling, grammar, formatting and sending the scripts out to producers, agents and networks. If you like those duties, great, but you’ll probably grow resentful of having to do them while second banana’s at the pub. Still, some duos make this method work.
My preferred option would be the one where you divvy up duties – ie one of you has the final say over plot and structure, while the other takes charge of jokes and tone. In this scenario, it’s all about playing to your strengths. But then again, you need to be egoless enough to admit that one of you is stronger in certain areas than the other. Maybe one of you is stronger at everything than the other, in which case your duo might be better off reverting to the first and second banana model. Or maybe you shouldn’t be a duo at all.
Ultimately, if you and your writing partner make it work long-term, it probably has more to do with chemistry than method. It’s like any long-term relationship, it’s a mystery how or why it works. And if it does work, congrats, because two heads are better than one. If it’s not working, you’ll recognise the signs – one of you will feel disrespected, unheard, bullied, and sidelined, and one of you will be shitty for having to do all the heavy lifting. Or maybe you’ll both feel all of those things. And if you do decide to go your separate ways, it’s sad. But don’t feel like you’ve failed. Happens all the time. Enjoy your hilariously imperfect moment together while it lasts. You will look back on it fondly.