911 For Your Jokes – 5 Killer Strategies to Write Comedy from a Single Subject

five-killer comedy writing strategies

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Where to Start

So you want to write comedy about an idea you have but you don’t know how to get to the funny stuff.

Or you might even be asking where do I even start?
Has this ever happened to you?

Below you’ll find several ways to approach a single word or simple subject and be able to write comedy about it.

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Most people create jokes by coincidence; we all do this, but relying only on coincidence can leave a comedy writer stranded, waiting for the coincidence to occur.

This sometimes leaves us without writing new comedy material for days, sometimes weeks… eeek!

So now for those of us who have a just a thought, a word or a simple subject we can now apply a couple of relatively easy applications and really start to write comedy.

In this article I’m going to show you 5 Ways to Write Comedy from simple words and subjects.

All of these approaches are proven approaches I’ve used to come up with material for my act or shows I’ve written for. These techniques work for dialogue, sketches, jokes or just inspiration which has led to new ideas.

Most really good comedy has a clear association or crisp surprise.  Other comedy contains irony, paradox, coincidence, retaliation, etc.

You can get all 13 comedy structures by grabbing my eBook “Breaking Comedy’s DNA.”

Let’s Write Comedy!

So,  let’s get to it…

In the Comedy Clinic’s private Facebook group (set up for those who attend my 8-week stand-up classes), there was a comment from one of my students who’s brand new to comedy.

She’s a flight attendant and was trying to utilize the listing technique, a method used to flesh out concepts to develop comedy material.

One of the things I love about teaching is learning from students and what they need help with. When that happens, I figure if they are asking these questions, maybe others are too. So I put together some further instruction to share with other students of comedy.

The listing technique is one way to create jokes based on a single subject, (you can see it in action in this video).

The object is to start with that single subject and then find a secondary element by using a variety of methods.

The goal is to find the funny in the subject matter.

These are NOT the ONLY methods, but these are very effective and the most widely used by the most successful comedy writers.

It’s important to remember that this is a FIRST DRAFT exercise and the resulting ideas and or material may or may not be the finished product.

Sometimes the exercises lead to solid jokes, sometimes they are a gateway to inspiration to help the writer create sketches, or even show or movie concepts, but aren’t quite in the shape they need to be in for a stand-up performance… yet.

As most of you already know, when you write comedy the first draft is its infancy. Then you rewrite. When you get it on the stage the material is still in its adolescence.

When you perform it for an audience there are usually some additional adjustments that get made as new inspirations occur while you’re on the stage as the material begins to mature.

The purpose is to create a process for yourself so you can start with a subject and come up with material. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen for you right away. That’s not creative! 🙂

So let’s get to it!

Start with a Subject:

  1. Flight Attendant.

Now let’s look at the 5 different approaches to take the simple subject of ‘Flight Attendant’ and develop the comedy.

NOTE: Steps 1-5 Below are separate strategies. This is not a combined strategy. Although you could use them all to really drill down and flesh out a comedy bit.

  1. Create an Analogy.

Being a flight attendant is like: find something (usually unrelated to being a flight attendant) with which to draw the analogy. Now you have two clearly different ideas converging, (Incongruity).

What if we chose “Waitress” Being a flight attendant is like being a waitress.
You might come up with something like this set up, punchline, act-out combination:

I’m a flight attendant. I hate when passengers treat you like you’re a waitress. The difference is that a flight attendant is flying at 38-thousand feet and if the shit hits the fan, we’ve got to be there to assist the passengers… even at our own peril. First of all, flight attendants are NOT waitresses. I’ve been a waitress at a few different restaurants,  and I’ve never had to explain to a customer where all the exits are located before they start on their meal.

  1. So that’s why I don’t like passengers who treat me like a waitress. “Treat me like a waitress, I’ll act like a waitress… like if the shit hits the fan and this flying germ tube catches on fire, if I was a waitress, I’m not gonna assist your ass at my own peril. I’ll be the first out that door! (ACT-OUT: Yelling back to them) “There are four emergency exits, but I’m not showing them to you, cuz I’m a waitress! Enjoy your peanuts, bitches!”
  2. IDEA: The flight attendant safety briefing is like a waitress telling her table what the specials are that evening. (You could develop a routine here using similar signals a flight attendant uses when giving her safety briefing, as you describe the chef’s specials).

Remember: We started with nothing at the beginning of this exercise. But by simply applying analogy, we have a bit:

  1. Add a Descriptor to the Subject

    of “flight attendant.”
    Ask yourself what kind of flight attendant? What if you added a descriptor that also defines one of your personal weaknesses?

    1. Lazy?
    2. Procrastinator?
    3. Selfish?
    4. Anger management issues?
    5. Passive-Aggressive?
    6. Amorous?
    7. Hormonal? Anytime you ask the flight attendant a question, she responds with (ACT OUT: BIG SIGH) “WHATEVER!”
      1. Once you have that in place you can use the incongruity technique to run a Top 10 List. “Top 10 Reasons You Know Your Flight Attendant is Hormonal.”

(Remember, the Top 10 exercise is used to generate punchlines, not for you to read off a list. That was Letterman’s bag).

  1. Facts about flight attendants.

    You can come up with your own, then look up stuff on the internet. On quick glance, I came up with this:

    1. Flight attendants have strict luggage restrictions imposed on them by some airlines. One carry-on bag and a personal bag. It’s a safety issue. This way it’s impossible for any flight attendants to ever bring ALL their baggage. Think about it! On a typical flight for Southwest, there are 3 flight attendants. That’s a LOT of Daddy issues!
    2. Flight attendants don’t age-out. Pilots are federally mandated to retire at age 65. Flight attendants don’t have to. So at Southwest Airlines, Bags may fly free, but Old Bags fly forever.
  2. Definition of a Flight Attendant.

    Definitions give you a great chance to do a Compare and Contrast riff.

    1. What’s different about being a Southwest Flight attendant than being a flight attendant at one of the other airlines?
  3. Cliché Reformation or Take-off: and Simple Truth.

    1. There are a lot of phrases used on an airline that create an opportunity to be reformed with an unexpected ending for a quick laugh.
      1. “In the case of a darkened or smoke-filled cabin, safety strips on the floor will be illuminated, leading you right to the cockpit door where you can get your hands on the captain who got us into this mess in the first place.”
      2. *Do not unfasten your seatbelt until the plane comes to a full and complete stop. Why do they say full AND complete? Wouldn’t “full” stop or “complete” stop make it clear enough?
      3. And what’s so special about the smoke detector in the lavatory? There’s a special law that protects it; “Federal Regulations prohibit the tampering with or destroying a lavatory smoke detector.” It’s like they’re doing a little ‘wink-wink.’ You can fuck with the flight attendants all you want, but if you even tamper with that smoke detector, the feds will drag you to prison!

Hope this helps! And…

Remember, I am here for YOUR comfort and safety.

Hope this pre-flight instruction was helpful in your endeavor to write comedy. If you need more assistance, you’ll find a Joke Doctor button illuminated on the console above your head. Feel free to press that button and a Joke Doctor will help you as soon as it is safely possible, but if I come to your seat only to find that you’re phone is NOT in airplane mode, I’m gonna tell the feds that you tampered with a smoke detector.

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