Comedy Class | Don’t Use ‘I’ or ‘Me’?

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commercial_4Got an email from someone and I thought it would be best addressed in my comedy-blog. Read on:

"I have a question which has been messing with me when writing my premise or setup. i find myself trying to produce material before wednesday which are the best nights in florida for open mics. my issue is not coming up with an idea its just getting it across so before i saw your blogs i went and got a book on comedy " The Comedy Bible" which states when writing your premise you need to have a topic + attitude which i understand that concept but it also states that when starting out a joke or building the premise you never want to use I or me. i saw your blog for the 1-2-3-joke about your poker app and in your premise you start off with I. i just want to know is that a myth as well? should i throw away that idea of when writing my premise not to include I or me?"

Great question! First of all, let me get this straight: there are rarely definitives in life like "never" and "always."

Maybe some exceptions could be

  • "Never perform fire eating tricks after drinking One-Fifty-One."
  • "Never joke about bombs in the security line at the airport and expect to board your flight," or
  • "Never use the "N-word" as a white comedian while performing at a fund-raising benefit for Malcom X."

Those might be a few things that could fit in the "never" category. But when it comes to comedy theory there are few "nevers."

I’ve never heard the rule "never use ‘I’ or ‘me’," however. And I’m glad I haven’t because I do it all the time. My comedy is about my life and it would be hard to discuss my life without using those pronouns. There are no rules to that effect as far as I’m concerned.

In fact, if you watch Louis C.K., he talks about ‘I’ and ‘me’ quite often. Same with Lewis Black, John Stewart, Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Cosby… the list goes on.

I don’t know what Judy Carter was thinking or maybe she meant something different. But remember she named the book The Comedy Bible. It was named after a book that is so filled with distortions, contradictions and falsehoods, even the churches pick and choose what parts of it to believe!

The two things that I think are valuable in that book is that humor should come from an emotional foundation and it’s nice to have a comedy buddy.

In the end think about this: Tom Dreesen, one of the most successful comedians of his time said that comedy is 90 percent surprise. If your material has surprise, incongruity, recognition or benign retaliation, odds are it has the elements to get a laugh.

Finally, in the end, whether or not the joke contains ‘I’ or ‘me’ if the audience laughs, it’s a keeper.

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Please Share Your Comments! Love to hear from you!

Jerry says:

Hey there, Linda! Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. I try to read every book I can get a hold of with regard to comedy, comedy writing and humor theory.

There’s always another point of view, some are valuable, some are discardable… and some, sadly just don’t get it, don’t have an act or an act worth watching, but try to teach it. Still, there might be a gem in their book or lesson that’s worth it’s weight in gold.

The problem lies with the new comedian who doesn’t know any better who’s trying his best to get all the information and figure it out. This is what led me to post this in the first place. The guy emailed me about not being able to use “I” or “Me,” because a “guru” said that in a book. I thought if it affected him it probably affected others, so I put up a post, because when you’re writing–especially when you’re new to it–the last thing you need is things NOT to write about.

Linda Lou says:

Between cable television, Netflix, YouTube and the entire Internet, common observations are now so widespread and accessible to everyone–it’s hard to come up with material that isn’t already out there in some form. To differentiate themselves, comics have to put their own spin on these observations, and the comic’s individual personality is becoming more important than ever. We love Louis CK not only for the quality of his material, but because we feel like we know him as a person.

Because a comic’s personality essentially becomes his or her brand, I can’t imagine not using personal pronouns (unless you’re writing jokes about politics or current events for someone else). I’ve found Judy Carter’s approach to joke writing way too limiting and got much more out of Jerry’s workshop. Chad’s comment, “Listen to everybody advice but just use the advice that fits you” makes sense not just for comedy, but for all of life!

Jerry says:

All great points Chad. Thanks for the comments. I agree with you. Take in all the information you can. You don’t learn to be a doctor from one professor, that’s for sure. I would disagree with you with regard to the use of the word “cheating.” Nobody’s cheating by learning from others who were there before them. That’s like saying you’re cheating on your medical exams because you went to medical school or cheating as a pilot because you took flying lessons. I would say you’re cheating yourself if you don’t take advice from those who were there before you. I learned from watching and studying the greats. I also took a stand up course from Greg Dean who gave me my start in writing material. So there’s always a lot to learn from different instructors.

Thanks for taking the time to leave a detailed comment! Rock n Roll!

Chad Wallace says:

I also read Judy Carter book and use the ideal of topic + attitude but later in the book, she discuss how to write jokes in any format you want just remember to keep the topic/attitude in your joke. Her book she for beginners in stand up and comedy and I think she uses this rigid structure to keep comics from forming bad habits. Plus she mentioned there are many different ways to do comedy, she was just giving us the formulas that works.

Another reason she gives is “I” leads to stories which in her opinion, don’t anyways work. Stories depends on the person listening to have some knowledge of you or at least the premise of ths story. sometimes crowds are not as patient as you think they are and what end up happening is they start talking during the set.

Listen to everybody advice but just use the advice that fits you. I have judy book and read Jerry blog and will buy other books and look at other blogs, just read, look and listen to as much comedy as you can and dissect for yourself. We are reading their books and blogs basically cheating our way into stand up, they did all the hard work for us, let’s thank them and keep telling jokes with or without “I” or “me”