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 total 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!
Please Leave a Comment in the Comments Section Below
I would love to hear your comments too. Please feel free to leave some and if you like this blog, please “like” or “tweet!” Let’s spread the word!
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.
“Yes, you can teach comedy. It is a skill as much as an art.” When I tell people I teach comedy. The first thing I usually hear is: “there’s such a thing as comedy schools?” “I didn’t know you could teach comedy!
That’s a point of contention with a lot of people; whether or not you can teach comedy. Well, I can sit here and tell you, unequivocally, that YES, you can teach comedy and, yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as comedy schools. Whether most of them are any good or not is an argument for another day.
I’ve been a professional comedian for 25 years. I’ve toured 40 weeks plus during each of those years. I also wrote for “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” for 8 years. About 4 years ago I got the “teaching bug.” I know, sounds like a sickness, right? I opened my own comedy school in Burbank, California. In fact, out of all the comedy schools that are listed here in the Los Angeles area, I think I’m the only comedy teacher in Southern California that has a studio dedicated to comedy 24/7. I have first-hand experience that you CAN teach comedy, because my students go up at the Comedy Store in Hollywood, CA and are told by complete strangers that they are “funny,” and I have comedians who are regulars at the Comedy Store come up to me during their showcases and say, “Those guys are students?” It’s in the stucture.
I don’t know what they do in the other comedy schools, I can only tell you what happens in mine. Time and time again, I get people coming to my comedy school saying they learned more in 1 hour in my classes than they learned from an 8-week course in the other classes. I’m not saying that to blow my own horn—well, partially—I think the reason I’m writing this is to let you know that there is a lot of crap out there. Before you go out and blow four to five-hundred dollars on any of these comedy schools, you need to do your research.
Here’s a quick 3-step process for checking out any of these comedy schools:
Look up the instructor in the internet. Does he have any video of himself performing comedy? Does he have any samples of his work in written form any where? Blogs, joke lists, comedy-writing submission packages for any of the talk shows? If they don’t have any sample work for you to see then throw out their number.
If they have video or samples of their joke-telling or joke-writing ability, ask yourself: “Does it make me laugh?” “Does this guy/girl seem to know how to formulate a joke? Do they have timing? Are they getting laughs?
If they don’t make you laugh, if they don’t seem to know how to formulate a joke and if you don’t think they have timing and can execute, then repeat step 1—throw out there number. Because going to one of those comedy schools where the teacher can’t seem to execute, is like taking flying lessons from someone who’s not a pilot. Eventually, you’re going to crash and burn.
Then ask them if you could sit in and “audit” a class. That’s where you get to see them in action, you get to see how a class is run, whether or not you fit with the “groove” of the comedy teacher and find out who they are.
I’m constantly writing and I still tour. I’m actively doing what I absolutely love and that’s comedy; both writing and performing. As far as video is concerned, you can check out a clip of me below. And it’s not just some random clip of a 2 or 3 minute segment that I pieced together with just the best stuff. It’s an hour set. Take a look! Scan through the bits. Fast forward and go back. When you get to the end, you’ll see a standing ovation. And again, I’m not telling you this to blow my own horn—(really, this time!).
I’m telling you this because I teach what I do and I do what I teach. I teach structure. It’s in the structure where the laughs come from. And I structure my whole set so that at the end there’s a build up and a release that causes the audience to respond with an ovation. It’s all in the structure.
There’s a guy online who’s offering an online comedy course (which I will be launching shortly). I tried to look for video of him online and there is none. He claims it’s because he’s worried that if he makes a come-back to stand up comedy, people will have stolen his material. I’ve got lot’s of video online. The way I figure it, if people steal my material, I’ll just write more…because I can. And so can most of my students, because that’s what I teach them. Comedy schools should teach you COMEDY, don’t you agree; both writing and performing.
So, if you’re looking for comedy schools, I would love for you to check mine out, The Stand Up Comedy Clinic. As you can tell I don’t try to mince words. I tell it like it is. Even if it’s brutal. In the words of Steve Martin, “Comedy is not pretty.”
And if you’re looking for comedy schools that you can take online, please do drop me an email and let me know. I will keep you posted when mine is completed and up on line, (ETA: October 1, 2011). This is my passion, my art, it’s what I live for and I love it. Thanks for taking a second to hear me rant on comedy schools.
Enjoy the video (it’s when I had hair!). And please leave a comment to tell me what you thought. Good or bad. Because we make our greatest strides when we learn from our mistakes. Keep laughing, my bitches! (And I mean that with love and in jest…so shut your pie hole!).
Let’s face it, one of the new realities in the comedy landscape in L.A. (and probably New York and San Francisco), is what is known as the “Bringer Show.” So we’re all on the same page, here’s the idea behind the bringer show: A bringer show ‘producer’ (usually a comedian), develops an arrangement with a local comedy club or bar, to produce comedy shows so that both the producer and venue make money.
Usually all the promotion of the show is up to the producer. On occasion, the venue will post a marquis or sign that bears the name of the show, but other than that all the promotional responsibility is on the producer. The producer, in turn, puts that responsibility on the comedian. How do they do this? By forcing the comedian to bring a minimum amount people (audience members) to the show as a requisite for getting stage time. That’s right. If you bring 10 people minimum, the producer will give you stage time. Of course those audience members have to pay a cover charge and are usually subject to a drink or “item” minimum. This assures that the venue sells product and makes money. The producer usually takes the door or a percentage.
This is not a new concept. Music venues have been doing this with bands for over 30 years. Is this good for the comedy industry?
I am an old-school thinker with regard to shows and show business so initially the bringer concept and I didn’t get along at all. I’m not a big fan of “pay-to-play” schemes for artists—and let’s face it, when the artist is forced to bring the audience and have them pay a cover, plus a drink minimum—it’s “pay-to-play.”
In my opinion, this business model promotes a quantity over quality mentality and that has never worked out successfully in the long term for any business and I can go on about how this diluting mentality is having a long-term negative impact on the public’s perception of comedy, but that’s for another time. I want to focus on how this affects the comedian.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this show-producing mentality and a comedian needs to have a thorough understanding of the advantages and disadvantages of the “bringer show” concept, especially early in his career. If a comedian understands that he/she has been asked to work the venue based solely on the fact that they have brought enough people, then the comedian is one step ahead of the game.
The advantage to this is that the comedian can use the bringer show to get some stage time in a quality venue or invite some industry (casting director, agent, manager, etc.). They get to see you perform while you have a decent sized audience. You, as the performer must make sure you bring enough people, however. If you don’t, you risk getting a lousy slot in the lineup (like last), or you risk not getting on stage at all. If you brought an agent and he/she had to wait and was forced to slog through mediocre talent before they got too see you, then their appetite for coming to see you in the future will be seriously diminished. But if done right, the bringer show can be very useful.
The disadvantage to the bringer show, (if I didn’t already reveal it), is that if the comedian doesn’t understand that most likely, the ONLY reason the producer is having you perform at his/her venue is because you ‘bring’ people, then you may suffer the impact of that harsh reality like the unexpected pass of a basketball to the face. The rejection or even rudeness in some instances from producers can be a major disappointment when the comedian fails to bring people. In addition, the subsequent lack of future bookings in their shows, due to the fact that you are no longer bringing people, may promote a setback in your confidence and in your motivation to write or perform comedy.
In this case, knowledge is power. If you already know that the only thing a bringer show producer wants from you is the money your people bring when they buy tickets and drinks, then you will be better prepared for the inevitable day when none of your friends is accepting the invitations to your shows and the producer stops booking you.
Use the bringer show sparingly and use it to your advantage. Don’t take every bringer show offer. Politely turn down some of the gigs. I usually say, “Love to, but sorry, I’m booked on that date.” That way you don’t wear out the people you have in your life who come to see you and you can save those invitations for really important gigs. Also, don’t get offended when the bringer show producers stop calling you when only two people showed up at your last gig. But most importantly, DO NOT USE the bringer show as your only way to get stage time. Hit the open mics and hit them regularly and often. You’ll eventually find the ones that are worth it and the connections you’ll make can be invaluable.
I just had a session with one of my private students at my studio. After he ran some of his material, I asked him what happened to some of the other bits he was working on last time we met. He said, “I’m getting bored with it.” Does that sound familiar? It does to me!
I remember writing material, working on it then after doing it on stage once or twice, getting bored with it, despite the fact that it was good and getting laughs. Worse, I would get a showcase for a spot in a club or a television show and I would abandon my trusted material because I thought it would be best if I wrote new material for the showcase.
Problem is when you do that, the material might be fresh, but it’s untested and when it’s untested and you’re in a higher tension situation like an audition, the new material sounds like just that, “new.” Therefore, you sound “new.” It doesn’t sound honed. It doesn’t tight, because you’re still working out the kinks and you don’t quite “own” it.
When you showcase, audition or make an important appearance at a club, you want your act to look effortless. You want it to look like it’s just coming out of your mouth for the first time even though it isn’t and that takes rehearsal, practice and stage time.
Anthony Hopkins reads a script two hundred times before he starts to work on it. That way the material is now a part of who he is. Does his work ever look stale? Does he ever look bored?
My father, Pat Corley, a character actor for almost sixty years said that it takes eight hours of rehearsal to “own” five minutes of material. You can memorize that material in far less time, but owning it, is a completely different story. It has to be a part of you.
Jay Leno said, whenever you’re working on new material, do the “tried and true” up front, slip some new material in the middle and close with the “tried and true.”
Rita Rudner adds a new joke or a new routine every week and in a year she has a whole new act.
Part of being a professional is learning to continue to make the material you’ve been doing sound fresh every night. That’s part of your craft.
I saw Kevin James, (star of “King of Queens, ” a hit show on network T.V. for many seasons), when he did his first showcase in L.A. for network executives. He did material I’d seen him do for years. But the networks guys were seeing for the first time. He killed. It resulted in a sitcom that made him a star.
To build an act, you must have material to build on. That material might be stuff you’ve done enough to get bored with, but the guy in the club drinking a beer, has probably heard it for the first time.