My Writing Process

Reader and aspiring comedian Andrew asks:

How do you go about writing new material? Is it just things that seem funny to you in real life, or do you sit down and try to think up funny situations, or what? 

Hey Andrew,

I always have a small moleskin notebook with me (and an iPhone as a backup) so I write down anything I think, see or hear that’s funny. Sometimes this will lead to me writing a joke on the spot, sometimes it’ll just be a few key words that I later try to write into full jokes. I also try to write on trains or subways through free association. I look around until I find something interesting and start to write about it. (There’s plenty of inspiration in NYC just by looking at people or advertisements, not sure if this holds true everywhere.)

Later, I’ll rewrite my notebook jokes into a GoogleDocs file. (Your hard drive can crash, Google Docs is safer and you can access your jokes from anywhere, including an iPhone / Blackberry.) After that, I’ll either try it out on stage or IM it to a few friends and get their feedback. I’ve found that not looking at a joke for a day or two will help you be a better editor when you rewrite it. And all of my jokes need to be said out loud at least 10 times before they become funny-.

Also, after trying a joke on stage, if it gets laughs, I try to think about how to add more punchlines to the same topic. You can go setup -> punchline, set up -> punchline, setup -> punchline, or you can try to go setup -> punchline -> punchline -> punchline.

One goal in stand up is to maximize the laughs per minute. You can do this by talking really fast (which is generally a bad idea) or by having more punchlines and less setup. This is also why you’ll always hear comics say “get to the punchline quicker.” (The other goal in standup is to maximize the intensity of each laugh.)

I read that Jerry Seinfeld had a long sheet of paper with dates and “X”s on it. For every day he wrote, he’d put an X. His whole mantra is to “keep the chain going”. I’ve been trying this but with three columns: sit ups (I don’t wanna be a fat comic), writing material and performing stand up. I try to do all three daily but don’t always succeed. I keep this paper close by though, so I at least remember and have something to strive towards.

I forget who said this, but I read a quote something like “I only write when inspiration strikes. However, inspiration strikes me every day at 7am sharp.” I’m working towards getting this discipline.

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? I teach a Comedy Class in New York City. I also do private one-on-one comedy coaching (in-person or via Zoom).

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What Do You Do When Nobody Laughs?

Reader and aspriing comedian Andrew asks:

How do you react when people don’t laugh? Do you just go straight onto the next bit and pretend that there weren’t supposed to be laughs at that specific point?

Hey Andrew,

My answer to this still evolving.

At first, my natural tendency was to 1) die a little inside if the crowd didn’t laugh at something I thought was funny and then 2) speed up my delivery so people don’t notice that was a failed punch line.

My current method is to stop talking after what I think is a punch line, stare straight into the audience and wait 2 to 3 seconds. If you’re confident enough and the punch line is somewhat funny, you’ll usually get a laugh. If it doesn’t happen, you still die inside, but you need to move on without speeding up.

Keep in mind, not talking for one second when nobody is laughing will feel like ten minutes. During a show I’ll think I paused for 10 seconds, but on tape it’s really only 2 or 3 seconds.

Other times, I’ll also just admit that joke failed, and I get a laugh from that. “Wow, I’m never doing that one again,” “God, I hope the next comic is better than this” or “You’re right, that wasn’t funny.”

If a joke doesn’t work with a few different audiences, it’s time to cut or rework the joke. The larger an audience is, the more useful their response. It’s a lot harder to get 3 people to laugh (especially if they’re comics) than it is to get 30 or 300 people to laugh. Laughter is contagious.

I’ve also been playing a little bit with forcing out the laugh even if they don’t want to laugh by just waiting and waiting, after a 5 or 6 seconds, the tension usually gets awkward and they laugh (watch some of my recent videos for examples –I’ve been working on just staring at them until they laugh).

One last method I’ve been playing with is saving half a joke until people don’t laugh. I have a bit about “When someone doesn’t laugh at a joke, I just assume they’re deaf.” I’m now saving the second part of that, “Turn up your hearing aid” for if/when a joke fails.

Wanna try stand-up comedy yourself? Consider taking my NYC Comedy Class or booking a private one-on-one comedy coaching session (in person or via Zoom)

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