Louis C.K. | Simple Comedy Structure

I’m a big fan of Louis C.K. Just wanted to share some of his work.
Louis C.K., a comedian Rolling Stone magazine calls “The funniest comedian alive.”
Watch what he does. Listen how he uses analogy to introduce new incongruous elements, impose the characteristics of one element on another and then, how he acts them out creating the comedy.

It’s all about the structure, baby. It’s all about the structure!

How To Write Funny

heres-johnnySo you sit down to write and nothing happens. Now what? What causes your creative process to shut down?

There’s almost nothing more frustrating than not being able to write… I was going to say there is nothing more frustrating, but off the top of my head I came up with three: two had to do with passive aggressive ex’s, and one had to do with a phone call to Bank of America…who said there’s nothing to write about?!

One of the keys to learning how to be a comedian, is learning how to write solid comedy consistently. But…

One of the biggest dilemmas we have when we write comedy is that we’re always trying to think of “funny” or “weird” things to write about. That’s not necessarily the best approach. In fact, it’s probably the main cause of your block. Your brain goes into overload trying to think of funny things. So what do you do about it?

Write the truth. Comedy derives from truth.  It starts with a simple story about your life.

One of the ways I like to write is by just writing about an event or an idea. Just putting down the facts on paper (or in my case, the computer). My only goal is to tell the story. It’s usually best if the event pissed me off or otherwise triggered an emotion. That emotion is my motivation for writing the story, but it’s not always necessary. I can also write it simply from the point of observation. Ultimately the quirky, odd, weird, stupid things appear, because aren’t they out there in everyday life anyway? The only way to get to them often is to write.

Once I have the idea on the page, I can go back over the material, in a second pass, and start to identify 3 things:

  1. Analogy
  2. Word-play
  3. Reverses

These are only 3 techniques, in the dozen or so available to a comedy writer, but they are extremely effective and can help you take a regular story and turn it into a comedy bit.

Let’s quickly look at each of these:

1. ANALOGY:

Analogy is the process of comparing one thing to another in an imaginary or metaphorical way.  If one definition of a joke is “the convergence of two or more clearly identifiable ideas,” then analogy helps you to impose a secondary idea into your story and introduce comedy. It’s “automatic incongruity” and incongruity creates SURPRISE. Once you become familiar with incongruity you’ll realize that it is one of the best ways to learn how to write comedy

Example:

Having sex with my ex was a lot like working on the bench press at the gym; I always had to wipe it down and three guys were just there before me.

You would normally not think of putting bench pressing and sex with your ex together, but that’s exactly what triggers the humor. They don’t normally fit and therefore they create incongruity and in this particular case, clear, visual imagery.

2. WORD-PLAY

Word play is one of the easiest ways to create “plays” or “turns” in your stories. Almost all words in the English language have multiple meanings. You simply take the implied meaning and turn it into a more exaggerated meaning. Because you shatter the expected meaning, you create surprise and have a laugh point within your story.

Example:

I was checking out at the grocery story and the clerk said, “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.”

The simple play on the word “everything” changes the entire nature of the story. Without spinning the intended meaning of the word “everything,” the story would simply fall flat. Right?

3. REVERSES:

The number one trigger for human laughter is SURPRISE. One of the quickest, most effective ways to get there is using a structure called a “REVERSE.” You simply change the reader’s or listener’s perception of where the story was going, by quickly pulling the rug out from under them.

Example:

I was holding my 9-month old daughter on my lap and she was grabbing at my chest hair. So I wrote down: “My 9-month old daughter loves to grab my chest hair.”

In that sentence we have a very definitive statement. In order to create surprise, we must change the definitive to an assumptive. One of the definitives in the statement is: it’s “my” chest hair. So I ask myself, what can I do to change that to an assumptive?  So the statement becomes:

I have a 9-month old daughter. You know what she loves to play with? Chest hair…

So now it is assumed that it’s my chest hair. So let’s play it like that, then shatter the assumption so we have a joke:

 I have a 9-month old daughter. You know what she loves to play with? Chest hair…she’ll really pull on it too. I finally had to say to my wife, (pointing at her chest) ‘You might want to get that stuff lasered.’ (You can also use “waxed,” but I found that there were better laughs with the word “lasered.”

So now that you have these techniques, you can apply them to turn your stories into comedy. Tomorrow I will show you a story that was submitted to me by a student and I will show you the process of how I turn it into something funny.

***Please feel free to leave comments. I would love to hear from you!!!***

How To Be A Standup Comic | Eddie Brill Comedy Workshop

Most comedians I know are always looking for ways to improve. One of my goals as a comedian for 25 years, writer, comedy school owner and personal comedy coach, is to give my students the best information I can find, regarding comedy, so when I received a call from Eddie Brill that he was coming to L.A. to teach his comedy workshop, I wanted to be sure I put it on my comedy blog so that everyone has access to it.

Regardless of what your life’s study, you don’t reach a level of success by only learning from one teacher. I’ve taken the Eddie Brill workshops and he gives sound advice with regard to comedy. Eddie is a comedian’s comedian. He has a passion about the art of comedy that shared by only a few comics that I know.

Eddie Brill - 1-13-11-jerry

Eddie’s experience as a comedian that spans nearly 30 years, and his inside knowledge as the talent coordinator for Late Night with David Letterman, (he was recently fired according to the Chicago Tribune), gives the comedian or anyone interested in comedy the opportunity to gain some unique knowledge from a person truly in the know.

Despite the recent development at Letterman, I would urge any comedian to attend Eddie’s weekend workshop or his evening seminar, not only for the knowledge Eddie imparts with regard to comedy, but also to add another quality connection to your comedy network, as Eddie continues his work coordinating the Great American Comedy Festival and surely will have his hand in another position in television as a talent coordinator in the near future.

Eddie will be in L.A. teaching his his workshop at the Hollywood Improv on January 26th, 27th and 28th. If you want to add another dimension to your understanding of stand up comedy, take the  Eddie Brill Comedy Workshop. Be sure you use the VIP Code: “Jerry”.

Treating Your Comedy Like a Science

test-tubeYou ever watch other comedians come to the club or the open-mic time and time again with new material? Are you envious? You ever watch other comedians just seemingly come up with material on the spot that makes you say to yourself “Genius! I wish I thought of that!” You ever wonder how they did it? How they seem to be able to do it time and time again?” You ask yourself how do they learn how to write comedy so well?

Well there are reasons that some comedians are good at this and some are not. In one instance you might say that a particular comedian is a “natural,” or he was “born with a gift.” But odds are he or she wasn’t “born with it” at all. Very few babies pop out of their mother’s womb saying stuff like “You call that a birth canal? It’s more like trying to push an egg through a stir stick!” or “Hey, Mom! Shave that! Haven’t you heard of a ‘Brazillian?’”

In most instances people who seem to be “born with it” actually had early exposure to comedy either through video or audio when they were younger. If you, as a child are exposed on a regular basis to the rhythms of comedy you begin to identify with comedy more readily and apply it in your life.

Your personality definitely has something to do with it. But the comedian then takes the next step and makes a conscious decision to actually apply it in their life. A light switch goes off and they say, “Hey, I can get laughs with this!” They then begin to recognize what they are doing that gets them laughter and they begin to replicate it. Whether they know it or not, they are learning how to write comedy.

A really good comedian will also study other comedians then apply some of the nuances to their material, recognizing patterns that seem to be consistently effective and use those in their approach to comedy. They see a comedian make an observational joke, then they observe something with a similar nuance and apply it to their repertoire.  As they get better at this, they may start writing this stuff down and then actually take the leap, build an act and start pursuing comedy. The more they do comedy the more they readily identify with the patterns and apply them more. 

For example, since I was seven years old, I listened to George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, constantly. They all do a lot of observational material. When I was twelve, I went to the Post Office with my father. There was a sign on the door that said, “NO DOGS ALLOWED, EXCEPT ‘SEEING-EYE DOGS’.” I said, “Dad, what’s a ‘seeing-eye’ dog,” (imagining a dog with one really big ‘seeing’ eye…).

He said, “It’s a dog that helps blind people get around…”

I looked at the sign, looked at him and said, “Then who’s this sign for?”

He thought that was really funny. A few years later, I heard comedian Gary Shandling do that same thing as a joke and get really big laughs. I thought to myself, “Wow, if I just collected a whole bunch of those ideas, I could get laughs too!”

It’s almost like a guitar player. You ask any famous guitar player, they’ll tell you how they learned a riff from another guitar player then developed a variation or multiple variations on that riff, until they had their own brand. The more riffs they learn, the more they developed their own version, soon they are the guitar player everyone is emulating.

What’s my point? The point is that a comedian learns to identify with patterns that get laughs. When those “patterns”—whether they are rhythmical patterns or recognition patterns—are part of what some of us in comedy refer to as “comedy structure” or “comedy formula.”

Some comedians, like Dave Chappelle, for example (one of my absolute favorites) develop an understanding of these rhythms by trial and error and experience. Chappelle has been doing stand up comedy since he was thirteen. He has learned what seems to work by developing and tuning his instinct. Jerry Seinfeld (another favorite of mine) also works almost totally on instinct. And when I say instinct, they apply formulas and patterns—not consciously knowing the formula—but because it ‘feels’ right.

In my twenty-five years as a comedian, comedy writer and diligent student of comedy, I have identified 11 major comedy formulas used in comedy today. I’ve learned to memorize them and put them into practice on a regular basis. Now when I write comedy they almost automatically come out and get applied to my stories. They also are a part of my conversation and thought process. Learning these formulas has helped me become a solid comedy writer, being able to write 60-120 jokes a day or more, because studying the formulas helped me really learn how to write comedy. I use these formulas on a daily basis to write comedy and in one of my other blog posts I demonstrate how I do this to write 15 jokes on one topic in thirty minutes.

Once you learn that comedy does have rhythms and patterns (formulas and structure) that do get consistent laughs and in fact are the reason all comedians trigger laughter from an audience, you will be a better comedian and comedy writer yourself. Learning the formulas early helps you to cut through the learning curve and instead of being a comedian that relies purely on their instinct, you can be the comedian who knows why a joke is funny and how to put it into your comedy whenever you want. Then you’ll be the comedian who knows not only how to be funny, but also, how to write comedy.

Comedian Lessons | Jokes About Death

Comedian Lesson: When I tell my students that you can write comedy about anything, I mean that. There are ways–I believe–to talk about anything using humor…
One of my students recently asked if you could write comedy material about family members dying. I said, “Yes!” In fact it’s healing and cathartic and it gives you an opportunity to do more than just jokes. It gives you an chance to be human.

Here’s a 2 minute segment of me doing a bit about my mother dying. Notice how I talk about the incident and talk around it at the same time, using elements that are a part of the story to convey the struggle of being a comedian going through sadness following the death of my mother.

The key is to just starting writing the truth and being honest. Within that you will find the turns, and begin to recognize the places where you can insert double-entendre humor, word, play, incongruity, recognition and surprise. And once you do, you will be able to write comedy, not only about death, but about anything.