There seems to be a misconception out there when it comes to theories behind developing and writing comedy.
One of the most popularly espoused by many comedy instructors is: your comedy must be true.
I’m not sure how this particular theory got so out of control. I say, “out of control” because I’ve heard from dozens of confused students of comedy on this very matter. So many, in fact, I feel that it’s time to address in on the blog.
So let me be clear: All comedy does not need to be true.
In other words, you can make stuff up!
To be fair, some of the people who have advocated this ‘truth’ misnomer may just be repeating something they’ve heard from other people. Or they are misinterpreting or misunderstanding what “true” is or what it means with regard to developing comedy or developing stories.
Bottom line is that if you only use what’s true, you are seriously limiting yourself and your material. There’s so much available if you use your imagination.
If you allow yourself to get stuck on only what’s true, you’ll deny your creative mind the ability to develop a whole field of new material; sketches, act-outs, and solid ponderable or observational creative material (Jerry Seinfeld-style)
However, truth is a good starting point…
For example, I wrote a bit a long time ago on how people in Texas say “Y’all.”
That is true.
Once I had that tid-bit of information, I wanted to write a funny routine about it, (I’m a comedian so ‘funny’ is usually how I like to write… I try anyway).
One of the most effective ways to write comedy, is to take a character trait of a person and put him or her in a situation that is opposite to their persona and/or character traits. It creates a situation that resolves with an unexpected result. Which creates surprise, thus laughter.
So all I needed to do is come up with a character that the audience would never expect to use the phrase “Y’all.”
I thought British Royalty. That’s a good idea, but the odds of meeting British royalty in Texas are slim and improbable—Brits don’t understand Texan accents—so I thought further. Then I came up with the idea of using an austere French person.
Where would I find an austere French person in Texas?
A French restaurant in Dallas!
You can probably feel the presence of the incongruous relationship between those two elements (French person/Texas), already, and the idea is giving you a bit of a tickle.
So once I had the character and the situation. I had to create the story and the act-out.
So the bit goes like this:
“I was out of the country recently, I was in Texas. You ever notice that everyone says, “Y’all” in Texas. Everyone! You can go to other parts of the country and you’ll have pockets of the population that say “y’all,” but everyone in Texas says, “Y’all.” Like, one time, I was in a very expensive French restaurant in Dallas—which is a joke in itself—I was at the top of this hotel. Very French restaurant; the waiter was also very French. He had the little French mustache, the towel over his arm, the body odor. He comes up to our table and he’s like, “Good afternoon, Mademoiselle, Monsieur… Welcome to Café Lu Bonne… what can I get for Y’all.” I was like, “You just blew the atmosphere there ‘Pierre.’
He turns around, he’s got a faded Copenhagen circle on the back of his Tuxedo pants… That’ll teach me for eating at a restaurant called, “Chateu de Big-Ass Barbecue.”
This bit is intended to be performed and not written, but it’s a bit that works any time, any where I am performing; clubs, corporates, parties, one-niters. It’s a no-fail joke.
Take a quick look at the video of that joke:
Jerry Corley at Wiseguys Comedy Club in Salt Lake City
Here’s the thing: IT NEVER HAPPENED! The entire scenario is a made-up story.
Bottom line is that comedy doesn’t have to be true to be funny and effective.
Here’s the caveat: comedy has to be believable and probable. If this was written outside the realm of believability, then the audience would not ‘buy it’ and the joke would fail.
The thing to remember is that comedy is heightened reality not complete absurdity. As audiences we love to be fooled, but we hate to be made fools of…
One of the other fallible pieces of information that students get subjected to is “don’t tell stories.” NOT TRUE!
Notice the above joke. Is it a story or a joke?
It’s both. It is a story with seven laugh points, (in orange). It’s a bit that lasts about a minute, but includes seven laughs along the way.
Seven laughs in a minute. Considering that most clubs like the Improv, Comedy Store, Laugh Factory, etcetera, look for comedians to have a laugh every 18-20 seconds, seven in a minute doubles that. It’s a solid bit.
What do we gain from this?
Stories are fine, just as long as you have laugh points along the way!
This is fantastic news! Glad to hear that several of you want to participate in the Late Night Writing & Submission Workshop.
The date is Confirmed as Wednesday, July 31st, 2013.
The information is below to sign up for the workshop. I will help you get your material organized so that you can submit to shows and submit to the NBCUniversal contest for the weekend Late Night Workshop in New York!
What is this about?
Get more information below! And get on this. These opportunities don’t come often!
Late Night Joke Writing & Submission Workshop
Want to get prepared to submit to the Late Night Shows as a writer but don’t know what to do, what they’re looking for or how to format it?
Well then you don’t want to miss this!
Late Night Joke Writing & Submission Workshop to prepare you for this opportunity. I will cover:
How to write jokes quickly for Late Night
How to write jokes in the style of Late Night.
What they look for in Late Night Joke Submissions
How to separate yourself from the pack
How to properly format a sketch package
What the earning potential is for a staff writer
How to write volumes of jokes on one topic
3 Easy steps to create compelling sketch concepts
…and much more
This will be a 4-hour workshop WEDNESDAY July 31st, 11am-3pm for ONLY $99.
I will also be recording this workshop and I will make it available for purchase for anyone out of town. You will have access to all the handouts and sample sheets used at the workshop.
If you have questions or need more info reach me via my contact me page.
But he’s no different than any other comedian who gets laughs. Where the laughs are you will find him using a variation of the 12 Comedic Structures and the 8 Major Laughter Triggers, that I teach in my comedy classes and breakdown in my e-Book.
I’m going to approach the first few minutes of this bit of Bill Burr’s, almost line by line, and offer suggestions as to why the bits work so well. This way you can see how the things I teach, work. Even in a rant-style like Burr’s.
Play the video then and follow along the with assessment and PLEASE leave comments. Even if you disagree. We’re here to learn!
Here we go…
First of all pay attention to Bill’s technique. His point of view is clear. He’s a Cynic with a capital ‘C.’ But what makes it work is that he keeps this wicked, mischievous smile all the way through. CLASSIC! It’s his way of saying to his audience, “I don’t take myself too seriously… notice the funny here folks!”
It’s that smile that makes him likeable. Kind of the guy you want to have a beer with.
I’ve spent a lot of time arguing that structure is key to getting laughs. Bill uses structure just like any other comic. He just finesses it and disguises it, as you would disguise exposition in a script.
Below we’ll go line-by-line. Bill Burr’s lines will be in yellow. My running commentary (if you give a shit) will be in white.
“I’m afraid to get married, man… Perfect. Sets up dilemma. Even though I’m up here on stage, I have fears too. Plus it’s very conversational. When it’s a conversation, the punch usually comes with more surprise because we’re not expecting a joke.
What man wouldn’t be afraid to get married at this point? Look at Kobe. Look at the shit he’s going through right now.
Audience laughs. Why? Surprise and Recognition We recognize Kobe and his situation while at the same time we’re surprised that Burr would choose Kobe Bryant as a guy we should empathize with.
Guy’s gettin’ a divorce… his wife is gonna get seventy million bucks… never hit a layup in her life….
Audience laughs. Why? Recognition,incongruity and simple truth. By saying, “never hit a layup in her life,” he puts an instant image of Kobe’s wife in our minds doing a layup! For some of you, your image may have her in a Lakers’ uniform. That’s both recognition and incongruity, because our minds probably see her as the wife of an NBA star and not in a sweaty jersey and Burr puts her there in there on the boards at the base of the paint, doing a layup. He paints this incongruous picture for us and we laugh. Also, it’s simple truth. Burr has taken the complex issue of legally awarding Alimony and narrowed it down to: “she never hit a layup in her life.” True and Simple.
NOTE: You’ll notice that Bill Burr is an avid sports fan. Within his act you’ll find multiple sports analogies, euphemisms and metaphors.
Can anyone explain these divorce settlements? Can anyone make sense of them? Tiger Woods’ wife: Two Hundred and fifty million dollars! She’s a babysitter! Worth a quarter of a billion fucking dollars!”
Two fascinating things going on here. The incongruity that befalls on the fact that a babysitter is getting two hundred and fifty mil is funny because of the huge incongruity, but this audience pulls back a little. But Burr uses this tension build to challenge the audience and further make his point. Notice: He’s still smiling!
Somebody explai—justify it. Justify it! What? He cheated on her? I don’t give a fuck! I don’t give a fuck! He cheated on her. The relationships over right then. Kobe cheated right? Shouldn’t that relationship been over right then? Why did she hang out for three years like some jaded cop trying to get her fuckin’ pension? Right? Get that ten years in?
Audience Laughs. Why? Give you one guess; INCONGRUITY. Here he even uses the “is-like” formula to get the incongruity in place. “Why did she hang out for three years like some jaded cop trying to get her fucking pension?” Once he set up that incongruity play, then audience laughs. Then he tags it with “Get that ten years in…”
NOTE:You should take note that Burr laughs out loud at this point. Keeping the flavor of the entire show in a humorous light. Cynical, but humorous! Brilliant! It’s theater science that the audience is in whatever state the performer is in, so when Burr laughs he keeps the audience in a humorous mood.
I don’t know maybe that’s too harsh, but that shit bothers me man! Dude, there is an epidemic of gold-digging whores in this country…
Audience Laughs and Applauds. Why? The statement is surprising and a bit shocking. It’s simple truth (based on the information he’s given us up to this point). Burr also sets up his dilemma of still trying to figure this shit out with “I don’t know. Maybe that’s too harsh.” So he’s never saying, “This is the only truth and if you don’t like it, get the fuck out.” It’s more like, “I’m still trying to figure this out too!” Whenever I hear this line it reminds me the way George Carlin used shock and exaggeration by opening with the line: “You ever notice that women who are against abortion, are women you wouldn’t want to fuck anyway?”
….and every night I put on the news and I’m waitin’ for someone to address it. Every night. Never see it. Y’know? And every night, I bring up ‘gold-digging whores’ and the whole crowd pulls back like I’m talking about ‘Bigfoot,’ alright? Like I’m saying the moon is made out of cheese or somethin.’
Audience Laughs. Why? Recognition and Release. Release; He spent time talking about gold-digging whores and built up tension. Steve Martin said that comedy is about tension and release. Well he builds up tension and then points out that the audience is pulling back, “like I’m talking about Bigfoot.” Notice he uses “like” again. Doing a comparison to something unrelated and something we recognize. We also recognize the situation when someone starts talking conspiracy that people tend to pull back.
I’m talking about whores people! They’re everywhere!
Shock value (Surprise). And notice he delivers this harsh line while he sporting that wicked smile. It’s brilliant incongruity. You ever see a movie where the villain is spraying the bank with machine gun fire while the soundtrack is playing some playful circus music like “Entry of the Gladiators.” Same cool technique. Like a point-counterpoint in music. He saying a harsh phrase while wearing a smile. Awesome!
How many? How many more great men are gonna get chopped in half before we do somethin’? (Pause) Why is it so quiet in here?!
This is awesome RELEASE! Using the audience’s own political correctness tension and just putting it under a spotlight by acknowledging the tension with the smile! Gets the audience to release that tension. This is how powerful RELEASE can be. There’s a wave of energy from the audience!
One thing you notice with Burr, is that his emotions are always clear. You know exactly how he feels about what he’s talking about. This is very important in stand-up comedy. That’s how a performer connects to his audience; through emotion. Even if an audience doesn’t agree with your ideology, they can still relate to the way you feel about it and recognize that, because they’ve felt that same way about something in their lives too.
I’m not calling any woman in here a whore. So don’t pull back. That’s not fair. If you brought up ‘wife-beaters’ I wouldn’t pull back. I get it. There’s guys hittin’ women and they need to be stopped. But you gotta understand that gold-diggin’ whores are the wife-beaters for men.
Audience Laughs. Why? INCONGRUITY. When Burr says, “you gotta understand that gold-diggin’ whores are the wife-beaters for men,” Isn’t that like saying “are like the wife beaters for men?” So he’s juxtaposed the two elements. They laughed at that incongruity. Now he’ll tag it with something from the wife beater section that we all recognize and give us an act-out…
Yeah! They are! Except, we don’t have that lumped up Rihanna photo in the end. (ACT-OUT: a quick act-out of a mangled face).
But it’s not obvious. It’s in the eyes. It’s in the lines in your face. It’s in Mel Gibson’s high-pitched voice on the answering machine, (ACT OUT: Mel Gibson on the phone): “I had to give up my Laker Tickets!” That is the sound of a man who’s being taken for everything he’s got.
Audience Laughs. Why? RECOGNITION. Men experience abuse too in different ways. This compare and contrast and Recognition drives the point with laughter. AND they recognize the Mel Gibson phone message that got so much play on the news. Then he tags it. By reminding us what it is. Classic act-out structure; tell us what you’re going to tell us, act it out, then tell us what you just told us.
I’ve got to tell you. I’m envious of women. I’m not saying your problems get solved, but at least they’re taken seriously. You know? You got one-eight-hundred numbers, you got ribbons… there’s groups. People give a shit. Anything happens to a guy it’s just considered funny. Some woman cut her husband’s dick off, through it in the garbage disposal and turned it on. People thought it was hilarious. They were like, “Hey Stumpy!” Nobody cares!
Several laughs here. Why? Let’s look at simple truth and recognition; “You got 1-800 numbers, you got ribbons… there’s groups. Both factual (simple truth) and recognizable. But the bigger laugh comes with the compare and contrast “Anything happens to a guy it’s just considered hilarious!” Then Hey Stumpy! INCONGRUITY. What do you call a guy who had his dick cut off? “Stumpy.”
But the big laugh comes in the next few lines where Burr uses a three-way build-up (triple) and recognition combined. Huge laugh! The three-way build-up creates tension and the recognition pulls out the stops and BOOM! Laughter and applause.
You think if a guy removed a woman’s titty and threw it in the drier, anybody would be jokin’ about it the next day? The entire country would grind to a hault, there would be a moment of silence… (here’s the third of the 3-way build) The N.F.L. would have a special-colored headband everybody would have to wear…
When he says that line about the “special-colored headband…,” do you get a clear image of the pink ribbons, etc. that the N.F.L. players wear during ‘Breast Cancer Awareness Month?” That’s definitely recognition at work!
We can go on and on—as I cover this full 11:30 video in my classes—and I’d love to because I love listening to Bill Burr. But this blog post would wind up being prohibitively long. And I think, by now, you get the idea! If you don’t hit me with a comment and I’ll deconstruct the rest of it.
Listen closely to Burr’s use of the phrase “is-like.” He uses it a lot. He often compares one thing to another then puts them both together in what is known as an incongruity/act-out.
Throughout the entire video he uses that powerful comedy structure. My favorite part is when he gets to the end of the act (right about the 11:15 mark) he compares a man’s dick to a third-base coach, waving in runners.
Take a look and see Burr’s brilliant use of this comedy structure and he pays it off and closes his set. Awesome!
Texture and Persona
Also listen to Burr’s use of the language. He spits out metaphor and euphemism keeping the sentences interesting and edgy. Listen when he talks about Schwarzenegger. “Why do you think she hooked up with him? Because of that nineteen eighties flat-top he’s still rockin’?” Burr accomplishes two things in this sentence; He mocks Schwarzenegger and also keeps it interesting with the choice of words.
Burr uses a variation of several comedy structures in his act, combined with his wicked smile and his commitment to his emotional point of view. He also takes on this challenging subject matter with a challenging ideology. This drives anxiety in the audience, creating tension. If you have tension sometimes all you have to do is acknowledge the reality that the tension exists and the audience will release it by laughing.
I still use that technique. When I talk about issues or deal with a crabby heckler and I feel like the audience is tense and quiet. I simply say something like, “Does anyone else feel the tension in this room?” or I laugh through the end of this line: “Is it me or did it just get really hot in here?!”
These are simple comedic devices you can use to release tension that builds up in the audience. Bill Burr uses it masterfully!
If you take anything away from this video, take away Burr’s use of analogy to create humorous opportunities, (the “is-like” or variations thereof).
Burr uses it like his clutch-hitter in the line-up; when he needs the bases cleared and a big laugh to take him to the next segment, he brings in the big bat (incongruity/act-out) and he swings for the fences.
Jerry Corley’s Stand Up Comedy Clinicis a powerful 8-week comedy class focusing on writing and performing comedy, followed by a performance at the world famous Comedy Store.
Can you learn to be funny? Once you learn the structure of comedy and the secrets to what makes people laugh, you can learn to build those into your conversations and write them into your comedy routines. So the answer is a resounding YES! You can learn to be funny! We have student after student who can prove it too!
You know the difference between a chuckle and a triggered laugh. You’ve experienced it either by receiving it from your friends, family or an audience. You’ve had your own laugh reflex push out the laugh when something funny triggered your laughter.
Now, how do you write material that can trigger laughter in others? Are you born with that gift or can it be taught?
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From 4-7:30 PM, each Saturday evening, for 8 weeks. You will learn what triggers human laughter, how to write and deliver jokes that trigger that laughter. You will also learn some of the most powerful comedy skills in the trade, and how to make money in the comedy business.
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One of the goals of a young comedian is to land a gig on Comedy Central, but what happens when you’re far past your twenties?
Do the goals change? In a word, No.
Comedy Clinic student Esther Hersh is a perfect example. When she arrived in comedy class a few weeks ago, instead of running her set, she wanted to rehearse a piece for The Ben Show she was auditioning for the next day on Comedy Central.
She was auditioning for the role of “Gangsta Granny” in a sketch.
We spent about twenty minutes helping her get comfortable with the language of the piece. Even though Esther is referred to as the “Sassy Senior,” it’s no easy task getting a Jewish Senior Citizen from Studio City comfortable with saying “M-F-er!”
And that was her opening line!
We told her that 90-percent of communication in this type of presentation is attitude, emotion and tone of voice and only 10-percent is the words, so she drove the words with a Gangsta attitude.
And just after a couple tries, Esther was pouring out lines that sounded more like a piece from a Richard Pryor routine.
Set that against the fact that she’s all of 5-feet, two inches and holding an AK-47 and you have blaring INCONGRUITY staring you in the face.