TV comedy writers are some of the most hard-working professionals in the business. Not only do they have to shape the story (or adhere to it) and keep their characters straight as is the case on most shows, but they have an additional sword hanging over their heads: they can’t run out of jokes (and ones that land, too). Not just that, but each scene must cap off with its funniest moment.

The Button

This moment is called ‘the Button’ (sometimes the ‘blow’), a joke to cap off a scene with its biggest laugh, a punchline often built through the entire scene. Apart from accomplishing a satisfying build and release, for sitcom writers (where the term likely originates) the Button squares a few practical concerns as well: the moment helps to transition to the next set-up smoothly, preferably accompanied by a chorus of laughter from the audience, starting the familiar flow of a comedy scene all over again without becoming stale. Think of the hard cuts and transitions between scenes in ‘90s sitcoms like Friends or Seinfeld, as the audience settles their giggles to the tune of twangy guitar, upbeat drums, or whatever else the music department had on hand. The Button also cushions the blow of a dreaded commercial break by leaving you on a high, and less likely to switch over. “Stay tuned, the jokes might be just as funny as that one when we come back!”

Writers will often bat around alternatives for their jokes (alts), but the button almost never has an alt, since the scene should be building towards its delivery. The Button usually won’t get the reaction you want if it comes out of left field without any context. In sitcoms, building towards the button is basically second only to the PDG (what the producers want from the story). Of course, it’s always nice to end the
episode on the biggest, must uproarious Button yet.

The opposite end of a scene, its beginning, starts on a downbeat, and a scene is typically entered mid-conversation. The dialogue here is called Chuffa, lines that have nothing to do with the story or direction the scene will be heading in, but a good place to stuff unrelated jokes before the meat of the scene begins with a character arriving or a scenario ensuing. Think of Chuffas as the anti-Button.

As you’ve probably surmised, the breadth of a comedy writer’s lingo is vast (and the use of most terms therein is almost certainly overstated in reportage), but the abovementioned are some of the most useful, describing moments you almost certainly will have noticed make a scene’s construction feel ‘right’, but may have never put a name to. Comedies have a more mathematical quality then most screenwriting, so remember to keep the values in mind.

The Button
Tagged on: