So you sit down to write comedy and what happens? Nothing! Now what?
I teach a lot of techniques so that people can learn how to write comedy. Most of what I focus on is writing comedy for a stand up act.
However, the same techniques are used in blog writing, script writing or any other writing, because the fundamentals of comedy and the goals, (getting people to laugh), remain the same.
The difference is the style. Stand up is more conversational. It’s about persona and empathy. In other words, as a stand up comedian, the audience has to like you. They want to root for you, while you share your struggles and life situations and observations. Also, as a stand up we have to connect with you and one of the best ways to do that is to share with your audience, you emotional point of view. If we don’t know how you feel, then it’s harder to connect.
Therefore, one of the best things you can do as a stand up is to focus on stuff you give a damn about. George Carlin once told me, “Take the shit that drives you absolutely crazy and make it funny…” That’s great advice, because if you, as the stand up comedian don’t give a damn about the material, the audience won’t either.
Here’s the key: Start with something you care about, that gets your blood up. Not something that is funny. The funny comes after you’re talking about what you care about–get it? DON’T SIT DOWN TO WRITE SOMETHING FUNNY!
But enough on that, let’s get to how to come up with the jokes. One of the techniques I use I call “1-2-3 Jokes“. It’s based on the most common comedy formula used in comedy today; incongruity. It’s putting a square peg into a round hole.
Whenever I use 1-2-3 Jokes, I can come up with subject matter to start writing about. I was talking today to a friend about relationships and break ups. Whenever I talk about a topic that is primal, (and relationships certainly is), I come up with analogies. My friend Rob Rose, was talking about break-ups that tend to go on forever and I said,
“…breaking up with crazy chicks is a lot like buying a smartphone on credit…you’re still paying for it long after it’s functionality is obsolete. You’re still stuck with 3g technology, but you want to move up to 4g. And why not? It’s faster! It comes with a touch scream.
…and if I sat down and made lists of everything ‘smartphone’ and everything ‘relationships’ or ‘breakups,’ there’s probably another 10-20 jokes sitting there…
Analogies are almost instant jokes. Why? Because, by their nature they are incongruous. Incongruity causes surprise, and surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter, which is our goal when we’re learning how to write comedy, So next time you’re looking for something funny, just use an analogy.
Chris Rubeiz came to The Stand Up Comedy Clinic as a talented actor and a writer who had done some improv and had some acting jobs. He had also written and shot some sketches and shorts. But he had never done stand up and always wanted to.
In the first couple of weeks Chris struggled with material. His act was all about taking a sh*t at work…(not in the office but in the restroom), all while his boss was in the other stall. Could be funny, but I let him know the limitations of having an all ‘scat’ set.
Well Chris did what few people do…he really went to work. In 8 short weeks, Chris wrote and developed a brand new 7-minute comedy set that had teeth and and definite laugh points and best of all structure. I emphasized that it is the structure in your comedy that will set you apart from other comedians and it will give you definite, crisp laugh points.
After he performed his culmination set in The Belly Room at the world famous Comedy Store, he was asked back to perform in the Main Room. Now I’m under no illusions as to why he was asked to return. Despite the fact that his set was solid, he brought a bunch of people to the club that night and the booker wanted him to repeat that feat and bring more to the Mainroom. After all, it is a “bringer” show.
I try not to knock another man’s hustle and I get the game. I didn’t come up through the trenches of comedy participating in bringer shows and I have no qualms sharing my feelings about them.
In my classes I teach at my comedy studio, I try to be as transparent as possible about what a bringer show is and how it works. I want my students to have no illusions about this business—both the positives and negatives. I suggest to my students to use the ‘bringers’ to their advantage and only participate when they can benefit from them. (I.E.: If an agent is coming or a manager or casting director, or if there is a chance to get a great tape).
So Chris called and asked my advice. He said he wanted to try the Mainroom once and the booker had told him that an agent was going to be present. I’m not going to mention his name, but I know the booker and he has a good reputation and is a very talented comedian himself, (that should narrow down the choices, huh?). The gig fit the criteria we discussed so Chris did the Mainroom.
Low and behold, the booker once again exceeded his reputation and the agent was in the room. Chris brought his people, rocked his set and the agent asked him for a meeting. Chris signed with Jamie Ferrar of JFA this week.
Navigating this business requires good instincts and a thoughtful approach. Chris is one of those guys who is not only creative and talented but also a thinker. He approached this with thought and good instincts and it paid off. His talent, work ethic and drive will continue to take him down the road of success and I’m glad to be a part of it! Congratulations Chris! Jamie is getting the better end of the deal.
Before I begin, it’s important to reiterate that “How To Be A Famous Comedian” is a series in my comedy blog dedicated, not to show how to be a famous comedian, but to show the path to getting work, which includes learning the craft of humor writing and comedy performance along with the trials and tribulations of the business that surround this art form. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you’re goal is only to learn how to be a famous comedian, you’ll have much better luck getting press by knocking over a string of 7-11’s, than doing stand up comedy. Comedy requires hard work, persistence and a bit of luck, but with the right combination of having a firm grasp on writing comedy, developing your comedy performance skills, as well as navigating the business, you can make a pretty darn good living pursuing a career in an incredible art form.
Wow! I am always amazed at where I find information that teaches me lessons that I can continue to apply as I move through this amazing business. I was reading an article on the rise and fall of the Dana Carvey Show, a show that was cancelled after like 3 episodes, (It taped 5). You might ask yourself how does this teach anything? It failed! And how does it apply to the theme of “How To Be A Famous Comedian?”
As comedians or we have to remember that show business is two words and we have to emphasize both words. Writing great material and learning to master performance are key skills, but the famous comedian (and Dana Carvey certainly fits that bill), also knows how to navigate the business. Do they make mistakes? Sure! This article helps us all learn from the mistakes that were made in getting The Dana Carvey Show on the air and why a show that could have survived, died a certain death. It also teaches us about the people involved and we get to hear their thoughts. It makes it a more human process and helps to light the fire in all of us.
We spend a good portion of our careers thinking that the executives and the stars are above us. So far that they are out of reach. Reading articles like this one will help to assure you that everyone started somewhere. Did you know that Steven Colbert was Steve Carell’s understudy at Second City? Did you know that Saturday Night Live often holds auditions for their show in the Summer?
This information is important to read. You get to see that some of the famous comedians that did make it also went through periods where they didn’t make it. They got passed on for roles. You get to understand that it happens to everyone. That’s all part of how to be a famous comedian. Try then fail. Back to work. Try then fail again. Back to work. Try, then succeed.
When you read the article, make notes. Learn from the article. Learn the names. These are important people to be familiar with. You should do this with every article you read. It will help in your journey to learn how to be a famous comedian. Or have fun and success trying.
Being able to produce material on a consistent basis is one of the keys to succeeding in comedy. Whether you are a writer, or want to be a standup comic, you must be able to write material that has structure.
I’ve been asked time and time again to give a demo on how to write comedy. Since joke writing is the building block of comedy writing, as a whole, I am going to demonstrate it here.
The key to writing jokes from scratch is NOT to think of something funny, but to think of ANYTHING and make it funny.
This how to write comedy video is around 47 minutes. It shows the recommended prep necessary to take on the task of writing and some background information to get you ready. Also be warned, this is NOT for kids. There is some NC-17 stuff here.
When you are writing comedy you never, and I mean NEVER edit yourself in the first draft. You always save that for the second or third pass on the the material. So if you are sensitive to language (most of it written) and you are limited on time… then DON’T WATCH THE VIDEO!
If you want to REALLY see the joke writing process and learn one of the fundamental steps in learning how to write comedy, then grab your notebook, a cup of coffee and enjoy!
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NOTE: THIS IS ONLY ONE METHOD ON HOW TO WRITE COMEDY…
Before I continue down this path of posting under this heading, here is the disclaimer (it won’t be like the disclaimer you’ve seen on drug commercials, you know, “heart palpitations, irritability, fatigue, chronic dizziness, anal leakage or sudden death…quite frankly if I’m going to suffer from anal leakage, just kill me now!). The disclaimer for this part of How to be a famous comedian, is that there is no guaranteed path to fame and “fame” is defined by what level of fame you need to achieve to attain your own personal success. If your only goal is household-name-fame, then you better think about another line of work, because the odds are incredibly stacked against you in show business.
However, you can achieve a level success in the comedy business, which is why I call this: How To Be A Famous Comedian. It’s all based on hard work, raw honesty and perseverance. It’s a process and it happens in steps. One of those steps just happened to one of my students, Chris Rubiez. He’s a very talented young man who had never done stand up before. He’s an excellent writer and a good actor.
He came to the class, learned the fundamentals of comedy structure…and if you’ve seen my blogs or attended my lectures or my classes, you know comedy structure is CRUCIAL. If you’re reading this for the first time let me quickly say that comedy structure doesn’t detract from the creativity, it enhances it. But without structure, you have no surprise and therefore no laughter.
Chris, came to the class with some material that I was not a big fan of. His whole act was bout him in the bathroom. Now, to be honest, there is nothing wrong with that, but it narrows your audience tremendously and is usually frowned upon by industry. It’s called “scat” (which is short for scatological) and doing it will not help you if you’re reading this to learn how to be a “famous” comedian.
I suggested that he really dig deep and think of other obstacles in his life that he faces. He took the suggestion and kept writing. Through trial and error and hard work (there’s that word again!), Chris developed a funny act that revealed some personal struggles he’d been going through. The key is, he made his story FUNNY using comedy structure and since it was about himself, he stayed absolutely true to himself. His persona and individuality shined through.
Chris recently appeared at the Comedy Store in the Mainroom on a Friday night. Prior to the appearance, he came by my class again to get a ‘brush-up’ and do some final tweaks.
Where am I going with this and what does this have to do with finding out how to be a famous comedian? Well, Chris rocked the Comedy Store and an agent was in the room. The agent was so impressed, he asked Chris for a meeting. It was due to hard work, applying the fundamentals of comedy, doing a killer set on stage that got him noticed, which, by the way, is a key step in the process of how to be a famous comedian.