How to Write A Joke – Jerry Seinfeld Style

This is cool!

As you might already know about me, I’m a huge fan of Jerry Seinfeld. I studied him when I was first starting comedy right alongside two of my other heroes, George Carlin and Richard Pryor.

I know, what an interesting juxtaposition! Carlin, Seinfeld, Pryor. Considering that combination you’d think my jokes might start out, “I think bugs were our first friends, you ever notice how bugs walk? Them ‘muthufuckahs’ be like…”

But alas, I my jokes aren’t nearly as clever or interesting sounding… (throat-clearing to indicate sarcasm)…

Anyway, to the point of this blog post; In my previous post I gave you all a link to an awesome New York Times interview with Jerry Seinfeld. In the interview you may have learned how Seinfeld is considered a scientist when it comes to comedy. He dissects a joke and looks for the littlest nuances to make the joke funny.

That was in the meat of the interview but if your own interest in nuance was engaged, you may have seen this little tidbit off to the side…

In the N.Y. Times journey to become more internet savvy they’ve begun to add little morsels in their sidebars to keep the reader interested.

I love this interview with Seinfeld that they posted on how he writes a joke…

He even gets down to the nitty-gritty of what kind of pens he uses and his long-hand style of writing!

It starts out in typical Jerry Seinfeld style: “I know you think people are going to be interested in this… but they’re not…”

How to write comedy - Jerry Seinfeld style

Jerry Seinfeld Intends to Die Standing Up

seinfeld

If success leaves a paper trail, then Jerry Seinfeld could be hit with a littering fine.

Comedians; both aspiring and veteran should take a couple of notes from his interviews, especially this one!

Johah Weiner, (no relation to the former U.S. congressman or the hot dog), had the opportunity to interview arguably the most successful stand-up comedian in the business, in this excellent piece from the New York Times magazine.

This interview really gets Seinfeld to reveal not only his approach to stand-up, but his passion for it.

One thing to take note of in this interview is that Seinfeld looks at jokes as a process. He writes and rewrites, tests and rewrites again to find the right words to make the joke work.

He’s more than just a comedian; he’s a word-smith.

I’ve been a big fan of Jerry Seinfeld since the first time I saw him on a show called the “Celebrity Caberet” in 1977. It is his first appearance on T.V. and the link includes a little clip of him doing a bit on a roller-coaster through the ghetto.

Makes you wonder whether that bit would play today, given our environment of political correctness.

Needless to say, if you’re into comedy, you should NOT miss this article!

Then give me a comment, let me know what you think!

A Comedian Tip From Danny Zuker

If you don’t know who Danny Zuker is, you should.

He’s an Emmy-award winning writer and co-Executive Producer for the hit series ‘Modern Family,” one of the best shows on television, in my humble opinion.

Every time I can get my hands on an interview of someone I respect in this business, I do, and I send out a quiet ‘thank you.’

It’s a chance to get another piece to the puzzle of success.

Each interview holds answers.

In my blog post, “Paralyzed By Analysis,” Princeton neuroscientist Dr. Sam Wang says, “If you want to know the answers to the secrets of how to be successful, look at someone who has been there, done that and do what they have done. It’s a glimpse into the future.”

So when I read this post on about Danny Zuker I don’t just enjoy the read, I get answers that help solve the problem of ‘how to succeed’ by paying close attention to what he says.

It’s a great comedian tip.

In this article I gleaned two important things:

  1. Get involved anyway you can in the business you love.
    • Danny did it by producing videos when he was younger, then working as a Production Assistant which led to a writing job.
  2. Use Twitter to get your message out and develop a following.
    • Mr. Zuker, too, had problems, just like me, understanding Twitter, but once you get it you have fun with it and the whole world has the opportunity to recognize you as funny. You also learn to really get your thoughts down to 140 characters to keep everything concise.

If you’re a comedian and you haven’t been getting out, getting your content online and getting on Twitter to promote and participate you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Each of these things give you goals, allows you express yourself and help you to reach out and connect with others.

It’s the new media and an important additional facet to the fascinating business we’re in.

Read the article, follow the advice.

Oh, and ‘Thank you’ Mr. Zuker!

Follow me on Twitter: @jokedoctor and follow the funny @DannyZuker

The Key To Comedy

Key to comedyOne of the most common questions I get as a stand up comedian, writer and now coach is: What is the key to comedy?

And although there are too many variables for me to even suggest that I have all the answers when it comes to comedy, I can give you the key. That’s right I can give you the key to comedy.

The key is SURPRISE.

If we break comedy down; I mean, really break comedy down into parts, then we can start to design solutions. So let’s do that briefly in this blog post.

I guess we can all agree that for comedy to be comedy, we need to get the audience to laugh, right? So that’s our problem. We need to make people laugh.

So let’s find a solution…

Somebody has to be laughing in order for someone to say that something is comedic or humorous. Now that we know that, we need to know what causes people to laugh.

According to several psychologists, the number one element that triggers human laughter is surprise.

Create surprise and do it well and the audience almost has no choice but to laugh.

Imagine that power as a comedian; to put the audience in the position where they have no choice but to laugh!

Now that we have that psychological element in place we are part of the way through solving our problem. The next question is how to we pull that trigger?

We create surprise in our writing or our dialogue, conversation, speech or script.

There are several ways to create surprise in comedy. I’m going to share with you the simplest and one of the most commonly used strategies to create surprise:

  • Double Entendre
Double Entendre means “two meanings.” Those of us in comedy are blessed that the English language provides us with multiple meanings of words. We can use a word in a sentence to imply one meaning then use the comedic interpretation to create comedy. To look at it in its simplest form: if you have a friend that turns everything into a sexual connotation, then you’ve probably seen the double-entendre formula used in comedy. It could be used in scene writing too.
A basketball coach is at a press conference after his team lost in a blow out;
PRESS: Coach how do you feel about the execution of the offense?
COACH: I’m all for it.
In this example, the coach used the comedic interpretation of the word “execution.” While the journalist meant how do you think the offense played?  The coach went for the surprise meaning of “kill.”
Because the expected of the word execution was so strong in the context in which it was being used, when the coach played the comedic meaning, he created a level of surprise that would lead just about any crowd to a laugh. Couple that with the fact that the losing coach is normally NOT in a good mood. He is not expected to be funny.

Surprise also occurs when something happens that is unexpected, right? So do or say something unexpected and you have an increased possibility of creating a laugh.

Here’s another example of using surprise:

When I was in the grocery store, the check out girl said to me, “Did you find everything you were looking for?” The word “everything” really stood out for me. What did she mean when she said “everything?” Her intended meaning was probably did I find everything I was shopping for.

What is my comedic meaning of everything? The meaning of life, a soul-mate, eternal love, etc.

I went with that interpretation. So, when she asked “Did you find everything you were looking for?” I said, “Well I found the wine and the candles, but I couldn’t find a soul-mate. You had Mahi-Mahi, but I’m not into twins.”

That got big laugh with her.

Word play makes up the majority of all comedy out there. But the comedian has to be careful not to overuse it. It’s easy to get “punny” if you use it incorrectly. And you’ll wind up getting groans.

Then that key to comedy will just wind up breaking off in the lock.

Tom Hanks Drops An “F Bomb” on G.M.A.

tom hanksWell, I’ve been saying it for years… ‘Good Morning America and Elizabeth Vargas could use a good F*ck."

That would definitely help with the ratings! And what better person to deliver it than the always lovable, Tom Hanks. Yep, ‘THE’ Tom Hanks. The one that all of America adores.

He was making an appearance to pimp his new movie ‘Cloud Atlas,’ where he plays like 75 characters, (Awesome trailer, by the way).

Host Elizabeth Vargas asked him to do one of the characters from the movie.

Tom actually warned that it is mostly "swear words," but Tom is a man of action–and evidently fatigue–because he lit into the accent and within seven words BAM! The F-Bomb drops right dead center in the middle of G.M.A.’s morning broadcast!

All I have to say is that the entire Eastern time zone (viewing it live), needed one less cup of coffee to launch their day.

T.M.Z. and all subsequent broadcast points got the feed with the offending word bleeped out. (Watch the UNEDITED VERSION below).

And it even feels weird calling the word ‘offending.’ Tom Hanks can make anything sound charming.

Comedians deal with this dilemma all the time. On radio, on T.V., we’re asked to give the audience a slice of our act and once in a great while, there could be a slip-up.

Normally, I know exactly what I’m going to do when I appear on radio or T.V. I actually outline techniques for radio interviews for comedians. But I remember it happened to me while we were live on the radio. It was actually a comment about President Bush and I was in Arkansas. Who do you think got hecklers at the show that night?! Smile

What do you do when you slip like that? You do exactly what Tom Hanks did. With charm and shock, apologize to the people who were listening and be sincere. Watch and learn because Tom Hanks teaches a valuable lesson.

America will forgive Tom Hanks and if you handle it right, the listeners or viewers will forgive you too.

Watch the video here: