How Do You Get Into Late Night TV Comedy Writing?

Late Night TV Comedy is Booming!

There are more stories in the news and the internet about Late Night TV than ever before. There was even a cover on Vanity Fair featuring the ten Late Night Hosts that are now on the air in the most recent programming schedule on cable and network.

Just think about it, late night used to sit in a quiet corner of the T.V. scheduled at 11:30. It was the program that people watched after the nightly news and before they went to bed.

Now it’s almost glamorous! There’s a news story pretty much every day about the genre, segments and sketches go viral (like with this ‘new’ opening for Late Night with Seth Meyers), and the hosts get splashed across the front page of Vanity Fair, arguably the elite of celebrity culture magazines.

As the news about Late Night Comedy proliferates in the media, I’ve been receiving more questions. The most common question is: How do you get into Late Night TV Comedy Writing?

You’re going to have a love-hate feeling about how simple the answer is.

It’s… (sound of drum roll, then Tympani, building with urgency to a climactic… pathetic-sound-effect of a fart )…

“Hard work!”

Ouch. Right? I know there are a ton of people reading this that just checked out. Which explains why there are so few people that actually make it in Late Night TV comedy writing.

As a writer for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno for 8 years, where I wrote 80-120 jokes a day, I kinda know how much work it is.

But it’s not really work.

There’s an old saying. If you love what you do, you never work a day in your life. So if you’re writing jokes, it’s not really work is it?

But I know you’re probably reading this to get better answers and I know most people look for a process or steps to help them succeed so I’m going to do my best to map that out for you based on what I did and saw others do.

Step 1: Treat yourself like a professional NOW.

This is one of the best pieces of advice I ever received–besides “You should trim down there!”

The advice was told to me by my comedy writing coach, Gene Perret, (Emmy-award winning comedy writer).

So what does treating yourself like a professional NOW actually mean? To me that meant that I designed a schedule like I was going to work.

Right now, do you have a day job? Do they give you a schedule so you know what days and times you are working? Do you diligently show up at those designated times? Go to lunch at the designated time and leave at the designated time?

If you answered ‘yes’ to that question, now ask yourself if you do the same for your writing career? Or do you just write by some kind of divine inspiration?

If you leave it to divine inspiration that’s fine, but you can’t depend on that inspiration. That type of inspiration is fleeting.

But if you set up a schedule, just like your work schedule, and you report to work on that schedule where you assign yourself writing tasks and goals, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you develop as a writer. And if you develop a process for writing you will begin to realize that it is much more productive to create inspiration than to wait for inspiration.

When I decided I was going to break into comedy and write for Late Night and do stand up, I set up a schedule. I actually put this in my date book like it was my schedule for work.

late night tv comedy writing

From 7-11am every day I wrote jokes from the newspaper and CNN. My goal was to start with 30-40 jokes a day.

At first, I STRUGGLED to hit that goal. But after a month of consistent writing, I started hitting and surpassing that goal.

Step 2: Give daily assignments to yourself:

There’s nothing worse than sitting in front of your computer or notebook with nothing. I would set goals to write 30-40 late night (current event) monologue jokes, one sketch and one Top 10 List. The next day I might assign myself, 30-40 monologue jokes, one parody, and a desk piece and so on…

If I couldn’t think of anything to write, I would look at my recordings on my VCR (shut up! :-)) and I would write down all the jokes that David Letterman did, then try to make them funnier.

Giving yourself direction and goals is one of the best ways to crush writer’s block. Because, you know your task and you sit down to write it. Often I would assign it the day before and go to sleep at night knowing what I had to do in the morning. It helped me wake up with direction and believe it or not the subconscious gets your mind in gear while you sleep!

Step 3: Target the late night show you want to write for and watch

Believe it or not, this is a step a lot of writer’s miss. They just write jokes, but if you watch your shows and study the hosts, you’ll notice that not all hosts do all types of jokes and that their rhythms are different.

Kimmel will do a different style of joke than Fallon. Colbert will do different jokes than James Corden and if you notice from the above video, Seth Meyers might be scrapping the monologue entirely an opening with a ‘Weekend Update’-style, mock news delivery of jokes which includes more ‘drop-ins.’ (jokes that utilize visual imagery to pop the laugh).

Once you know what host uses what style and rhythm it will also make your writing more efficient.

Check your jokes against the hosts. Write their jokes out. Feel the rhythm of their jokes, study the mechanics and see how it compares to yours. Their jokes will usually start out being more economical and less wordy. This process will help you to really get more efficient.

Test your jokes with your friends or at the clubs and mics.

Step 4: Put together a submission packet

Once you become a proficient joke writer and it shouldn’t take long if you do it consistently, then you can feel like you’ve developed the chops to write for Late Night TV.

Once you feel confident about your work, put together a submission packet.

For the most part a writing packet should contain 2 pages of monologue jokes, a desk piece, and a sketch.

The details are too long and out of the scope of this blog post.

In the end it’s…

It’s All About Luck

In this business they often say, “it’s all about luck.” Some people equate that to ‘chance.’ I prefer to say, ‘Luck’ is opportunity meets preparedness. If you’re prepared and the opportunity arises, you’ll be the one who has the luck.

When You Do the Work…


Just wanted to post a quick shout-out to my boy Joshua Jackson.

Joshua just won the Clairmont Comedy Competition in–of all places–Clairmont, California.

I was humbled that Joshua thanked me in his celebratory post on Facebook.

Josh attended the Stand Up Comedy Clinic for a while and busted his butt developing his act.

Week after week Josh went from a guy who didn’t do a lot of stand-up to really developing into someone who understood the fundamentals.

Every week Josh showed up to class early, asked questions before class, was not afraid to disagree when something wasn’t working, and applied the new lessons he learned to his material.

Then what happened?

Every week he would get better. His act got tighter.

He had a terrific showcase set at the end of the class session.

Then he’s continued to develop by performing and learning and finding his voice, knowing that stand-up comedy is a blend, a craft of comedy structure and genuine persona.

Stand-up is not just getting up there and telling stories. Stand-up is about consistency; being able to get up there night and after night and deliver.

Comedy is about your character trying his best and continuously bumping into obstacles along the way. That is the underlying structure to all comedy.

It’s structure that gets the laughs gets the bookings and wins competitions. If you look at the sets on T.V., they are structured. You look at all the successful comedians, they use structure.

Which is why we teach it at the Comedy Clinic. Structure pays off and it’s what gets you the laughs per minute that are coveted by talent coordinators and bookers.

Laughs. That’s an interesting concept, huh? Trigger the laughs in the audience consistently–every 18-20 seconds, (that’s what they want at the clubs and on T.V.), and you will find yourself winning more competitions, booking more gigs and getting more work.

At the Comedy Clinic, we have broken comedy down into a science. Combining the science of laughter, (the 9 psychological laughter triggers that are hard-wired into our brains), with the 13 proven comedy structures that are used by all the top comedians.

Using the mechanics of comedy combined with your true persona and performance, delivers the best, crisp, laugh-filled comedy.

Our comedians prove it time and time again.

Great work Josh. I appreciate the shout-out, but remember I just gave you tools; YOU did the work!

Rock on!

Checkout our new upcoming classes and see if you’ll be the next winner of the next competition.

And while you’re at it, give a shout-out to Josh over on his page on Facebook.

Conan O’Brien Just Could be a Stand-up’s Best Friend


Doing your stand up on Late Night T.V. can be your big break as a comedian. Well, unless you’re Madonna doing stand-up on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

I won’t get into that face-plant into a steamy pile of dog food by-product. I think that gimmick–at least for me–dropped my opinion of Fallon’s show; certainly with regard to it’s appeal for comedians.

When Johnny Carson was still on the air. The Tonight Show was the pinnacle. If a comedian could get on the Tonight Show and get that nod from Johnny to sit on the couch, then you could almost write your own ticket.

Currently, for comedians and their futures, it seems that Late Night has lost that sizzle…

Or has it?

Here’s a great article over at Paste Magazine that gives you a glimpse, from the inside, of how Conan OBrien’s show has now become a “stand-up’s best friend.”

This little post is not to imply that none of the other shows give a comedian that extra boost on their resume, because they do, but Conan seems to be the only one of the Late Night hosts who has followed Carson in his avid support of stand-ups.

Letterman doesn’t have that many on, Fallon would rather have famous people on the show than give a new comedian a shot, James Cordon hasn’t been on the air enough to gauge his propensity and Kimmel–well, Kimmel does support stand-ups, in my view, and seems to give them the freedom to bring  a little more bite to Late Night, a little more edge than some of the others, but still doesn’t have as many stand-ups on his show as Conan.

But Conan, hands down, takes it win it comes to the real showcasing of new stand-ups. He’s even booked two stand-ups on one episode, more than once. Not as a double-booking, but as part of the production.

Who does that?

I think every comedian should groom their four-and-a-half minutes to get it prepared for Late Night. That should be a target goal.

Getting a set on T.V. is a game-changer.

When you get into the article you’ll discover how many comedians got other breaks in the business once they got their set on Conan.

But before you run over there to Paste to check out the article consider these suggestions:

  1. Make note of the Talent Coordinator at Conan, (Put him into your contact database)
  2. Read attentively and look at the suggestions of what they look for at Conan
  3. Run over to TeamCoco’s page on YouTube and study the comedians and their Late Night sets.
  4. Notice their structure and their pacing. (Late Night pacing is a lot slower than you might imagine; bigger pauses)
  5. Start putting together your own idea of what your 4.5 minutes will look like.
  6. Be sure to keep in mind that on Late Night, that first joke is crucial. Gotta be tight.
  7. Finally, realize that the sets use tight structure.

So set your goals and your target for Conan (or any Late Night show), and get to  work.

In the meantime, give a shout-out to comedian, Grant Pardee, (the article’s author), and follow him on Twitter @grantpardee.

New Comedy Club Opens in Lansing Michigan

trippers comedy club

Hey Road Dogs!

A new comedy club has opened in Lansing Michigan. Woo-Hoo!

According to in Lansing, Trippers Comedy Club has opened it’s doors.

For those of you out there and working the road, it could be a few days that you can fill in a long road schedule.

Manager Jason Burkhart says that the club is going to be having shows on Thursdays at 9pm and Friday and Saturdays at 8pm and 10pm.

Great News for Lansing

That’s great news for that area of the country. As they were lacking in a club since Connxtions closed their doors last year.

Also good news, the club is going to be booked by the folks at the Funny Business Agency. So for those of you who already know John and Eric Yoder and the rest of the family, you already sort of have an “in.”

Those of you who don’t, I suggest getting an intro so you can have another club to add to your Contact Sheet of Clubs and Bookers.

And what I mean by that is this: Drop what you’re doing right now. Click those links and get those guys into your file system of bookers and clubs, then schedule a time to call or find a way to drop into the club, say to say hello.

And if you don’t have a file system for your bookers and club owners, start creating one.

Do you have a method for keeping track of your bookers? If so, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear how you keep your contacts organized!

Go get ’em!

How Robin Williams Saved My Life


The Lessons; In Life and in Comedy

The life and comedy lessons that I learned from the brief encounters I had with Robin Williams came flooding back to me since I got the news of his death.

It was 4:00PM Monday August 11th, and I was sitting at the computer writing jokes; ironically, only nineteen hours after we wrapped an Anti-Suicide Benefit Show at the Hollywood Improv to raise awareness for Depression and Suicide. That’s when I got the call from a friend and fellow comedian.

He simply said: “Robin Williams is Dead.”

There was that long silence that follows that kind of message. Longer than normal. That kind of silence that seems to stretch forever. The kind of silence that would make you really uncomfortable on stage.

I did what I usually do when I hear news that I can’t totally process emotionally; I went to jokes: “Leave it to Robin to do this right after the Anti-Suicide Benefit. Ha! If the benefit didn’t raise awareness, this sure will.”

Then I cried.

I didn’t plan it. I didn’t feel it coming on. It was just one of those things that happened spontaneously, you know?

I didn’t cry when Carlin died. That news seriously bummed me out, but I didn’t cry… and Carlin mentored me.

At first I refused to believe it. Like a lot of comedians, I had worked with Robin several times. I even drove him in a limousine every day for a couple of weeks early in my career, when I was cutting down my road work to try to save my marriage.

I remember Robin said to me, “Save your marriage? F*@k your marriage. Save your life!”

Then in a character voice, almost disgustedly, he said, “You’re a comedian. A chauffeur YOU ARE NOT!”

“You think?”

He said, “Yeah Bitterman, you missed the turn about a half-mile back!” Then he launched into a Dudley Moore laugh from the movie “Arthur.”

It was a good laugh. But, that sunk in deep. And later that week after I dropped him off at his jet, I quit the limo and went right back out on the road for good.

I worked with him a couple of times after that. We weren’t buddies. We didn’t call each other or anything. The time I spent with the man was minuscule in a chronological sense, but his impact is eternal.  And each time I bumped into him or had the honor of working with him, he was always, ALWAYS kind.

That’s one of the things he taught me. That in this business, where sometimes people can be so back-stabbing, angry, resentful and use their success to try to diminish you, he was just Robin, all the time.

He taught me that synergy works better than enemy and that being kind to your fellow comedian, your fellow human doesn’t ever hurt your career. It always helps.

Robin Breathed Life Into Comedy

Robin’s career was, in a word, stellar. From the time he was picked up to do “Mork and Mindy,” he was off and running. He was a comedian, but a comedian who had goals beyond just doing stand-up. He started as a comedian in the Bay Area in the seventies, then went off to “study” at the The Julliard School of Drama in New York.

When he went back to the Bay Area, he was a different comedian. He was doing characters on stage. Characters were not new in comedy, Carlin did characters, but it was the way he was doing the characters; BIG, BOLD COMMITTED. He was blowing the doors off the clubs!

He was a pure entertainer. I know, he had a bit of a reputation for stealing jokes. Hell, he stole a couple of mine. But somehow that was different. He was “Robin.” He breathed life into comedy. I could always write new jokes.

He taught me the power of incongruous act-outs in comedy, (a version of solo-sketch comedy), that if you give the audience a clear premise: Like in this video, where he does his version of American soccer and South American soccer, then segues into American Football referees. The set up is clear cut. He sets up the characters, then just brings them to life.

You watch Robin Williams do comedy and you can’t help but feel a bit manic. Because, from the moment he takes the stage, that’s the way he performed and there’s a theory in theater science that the audience is in whatever state the performer is in. When you saw Robin perform, you had no choice but to leave that experience, charged up.

Depression and Suicide

Early reports coming in from the news is that his death was an apparent suicide. Now I think I understand why I cried when my friend called. The sheer dichotomy. In a weird way, Robin, who struggled with addiction and depression and was open about it, represented a certain hope for many.

I have never experienced addiction or depression. The closest I’ve been to that is drunk and tired.

Then it kind of hit me why Robin’s death made me cry when Carlin’s didn’t. Carlin died of so-called natural causes; a heart-related issue. Robin’s death was mired in a more profound tragedy. He died of something seemingly treatable, but obviously misunderstood.

There are close to 15 million people in the U.S. that suffer from depression. And if a man who had the resources to afford and access all the help he needed to deal with it can’t find a way out, what are the other 14 million nine-hundred and ninety-nine thousand going to do?

We need you back, Robin.

Today I’m going to Amazon to buy every Robin Williams comedy video I can get my hands on. Maybe Robin can still help play away the pain and give others hope.

Robin Williams affected us all in one way or another. For me, he was partly responsible for where I am today. One marriage down but still making a living doing comedy.

Save your life, indeed.

You’ll be missed.