Writing Jokes 1-2-3

Writing Jokes 1-2-3
by Jerry Corley founder of The Stand Up Comedy Clinic

One of the most common concerns I hear from humor writers and comedians is that they have days and sometimes weeks where they “can’t think of anything funny.” I thought to myself that I’m never without something to write or make jokes about. There’s always something there, it seems. So I thought about how my mind comes up with stuff.

I broke it down into steps and I’m going to give you that process right now. I’m calling it “1-2-3 JOKES.”

Start with stuff that is close to you. Look around you, think about your surroundings, situations, behaviors and ask yourself 3 questions:

1. What is new?
2. What has changed?
3. What have I acquired?

What’s new? Every day is a new day. With all the holidays and special occasion days we celebrate in this country and worldwide, almost everyday of every week gives us something to joke about. Did you know March 1st is National Pancake Day? Of course, it is immediately followed by National Maple Syrup Day.

As you ask yourself these questions, don’t leave anything out! Write it all down! Just looking in the mailbox, I’m sure everyone has acquired a cell phone bill, heating bill, water bill, cable bill, etc. You have a new pair of sneakers, let’s talk about them!

Too many comedians and humor writers stop too soon. They think, “there’s nothing funny there. They don’t take the time to write out everything about their sneakers and use their imagination to develop material. Every comedian and humor writer should be able to take any logical grouping of words and make it funny. But it takes dedication and work.

Okay, let’s get back to 1-2-3 JOKES.

Let’s look at a situation that happened to me recently. I asked “What have I acquired?” I just got a new video poker app for my Smartphone.

So now we have a premise: Video Poker App. How do we even start writing a joke for it?
Most jokes are a convergence of two or more clearly defined ideas. So let’s go to work.

Let’s utilize the oldest tool known to writers and investigators. It’s the Maxim of the 5 W’s. Let’s ask:
Who? What? Why? Where? When? How?

Okay so it’s 5 W’s and an “H.” No investigation is considered complete unless all of those questions have been answered. So if we go back to the Video Poker App premise and ask those questions we might come up with something like:

Who plays the video poker app? Me
What is it? Video Poker or What happens when I play? I can upset my wife sometimes.
Where do I play? I play at the airport, in line at the bank, on a plane, in the bathroom…
Why do I play? To have some mental downtime, to get away from work. To have something to occupy me while I’m in the bathroom.
When? Whenever I have nothing else to do.
How? On my phone, by myself, with my thumbs.

With this information we have all we need to develop material for the premise “video poker app.” If you’ve read my blog or have taken my classes you know the science of why people laugh. Two prime reasons (especially with regard to commercially acceptable humor), are surprise and embarrassment. So let’s ask ourselves how we can utilize a set up line that might present surprise or embarrassment. The first thing that comes to me is “bathroom.”

So, if I look at the entirety of the material I’ve collected I can put together a set up line that might go something like this:

I just got a new video poker app for my Droid. I love playing it in the bathroom.

Now we have two or more clearly defined ideas: Video-poker App and bathroom. If we were to use the listing technique that I teach in my seminars we could easily come up with phrases that we could easily combine to make a joke. The first one I came up with was:

I just got a new video poker app for my Droid. I love playing it in the bathroom.
My wife’s feelings are mixed on that. She says she loves the fact that I found a new way to play with myself, but she gets a little irritated when I’m on the toilet and she hears me yell, “Full House!”

If we really took the time and flushed out all the possible plays we have with those two ideas, we could come up with an easy 10, 20 or 30 jokes on just the video-poker app premise, alone 20-30 jokes!

And just think we started the day thinking, “I can’t think of anything funny…”

Jerry Corley is a professional comedian with over 25 years of experience and a former writer for Jay Leno and The Tonight Show. He teaches a comedy writing and performance at the Stand Up Comedy Clinic. Visit http://www.standupcomedyclinic.com

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