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.

Have additional questions on this or other topics? Click here to learn about my mentoring services.

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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.

Have additional questions on this or other topics? Click here to learn about my mentoring services.

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9 Tips for Your First Stand Up Comedy Performance

You love comedy. You watch all the great (and some not so great) comics and lots of comedy tv shows. You’ve probably written a few jokes and you’ve toyed with the idea of performing. Here are some tips to motivate yourself to get on stage and what to do when you’re there.

  1. Get on stage as soon as humanely possible. You don’t want to over think it, start making excuses and end up never getting on stage.
  2. Don’t get on stage without first running the jokes by your friends and seeing if they laugh. If your friends don’t laugh at any of your material, you either have terrible friends or terrible jokes. You decide.
  3. Keep a note card in your pocket. No matter how much you practice, your mind can go blank the first time. My mind would go blank at least once a set my first ten or twelve times on stage.
  4. Slow down. You’ll almost certainly be nervous and start to rush through your punch lines if there isn’t instantaneous laughter. It takes a long time to get comfortable with silence, but for now, just talk slower. Think you’re talking too slow? Slow down more anyway.
  5. Videotape it. Or if you can’t afford a camera (most still digital cameras have a video mode), get a $20 voice recorder or download VoiceNotes for your iPhone (if you have one).
  6. When you see a light, that means you have one minute to wrap it up. Don’t run your time. Chances are you’re not gonna be that funny your first. You don’t want to piss off the host and club manager as well.
  7. Don’t stop until you finish all your jokes or time runs out, no matter how quiet the crowd is and how much you feel like dying. Embrace the feeling of wanting to kill yourself, if you get hooked on this stuff, you’ll feel it many more times, even when you start getting paid to perform.
  8. Being nervous is normal. You’re stepping outside your comfort zone so you may feel some nerves or adrenaline before hand. That’s fine and natural. Know you’ll be fine once you’re up there and talking. If you’re up there and feel nervous for more than the first minute, you can say it aloud, the truth of the situation will probably get a laugh.
  9. Try to have fun. You’re not gonna get a half hour special or a sitcom deal from your first time ever on stage (this isn’t the 80’s!). So just try to enjoy it as much as you can.

Have additional questions on this or other topics? Click here to learn about my mentoring services.

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