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’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”.
You 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.
There’s an old saying, “It is impossible to dislike someone who makes you laugh.” Whether you are looking to use humor to improve relationships, sales, presentations, script writing or simply your personality, the power of humor is all around us and shouldn’t be underestimated.
Fortunately, learning how to be a funny man is really not difficult at all. You just need to understand what makes people laugh and then learn how to implement that in your daily dialogue. So let’s get started learning how to be a funny man.
1. Learn what Makes People Laugh
So what makes people laugh? The answer is simple: SURPRISE. That’s right. Surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter. Once you understand that concept you are well on your way to learning how to be a funny man!
There are around eleven comedy formulas in used in contemporary comedy today. I am going to teach you two of the most powerful that you can use in everyday situations that will help you to create surprise, thus, create laughter.
2. The Reverse:
The reverse is a formula that sets up an assumption or expectation for the listener as to what you are going to say and then, at the last minute, shatters that assumption. In doing that you create crisp surprise and trigger laughter from your listener.
E.G.: “I was in Reno last week staying at the Atlantis Hotel. One morning, the house keeper started banging on the door, just banging. Finally I had to get up and let her out!”
Most of us have been in a hotel room when a housekeeper woke us up by knocking. When we hear that story we imagine that she is outside knocking on the door, but when you change the point of view, at the last minute, you shatter the assumption of the listener, therefore, creating surprise and the result is laughter on the part of the listener.
I’m trying to teach my 5 year old daughter how to tie her shoes. She’s like, “I can’t Dad, I can’t.” I said, “How many times have I told you not to use that word? I am NOT your Dad.”
Once again the listener assumes you are going to say one thing, but you shatter that assumption, creating surprise and get laughs. Once you learn to command this technique you are well on your way to learning how to be a funny man.
3. The Double Entendre:
The Double Entendre formula is very powerful. In fact word-play is used in the majority of humor today. Words have multiple meanings and if you can keep yourself aware, you can find the alternate meaning of a word and use it to create humor.
Say you’re at the grocery store. We are used to things going a certain way. When we change that familiarity with sudden surprise, we can create laughter. Here’s the key: Listen. I mean really listen to what the people are saying. You will be certain to hear a word that has multiple meanings.
Clerk: “Did you find everything you were looking for?” (What does the clerk mean by “everything?” Groceries, right? What do you think of as “everything?” The meaning of life, a soul mate possibly?) So change the meaning when you answer the question. It might go something like this:
Clerk: Did you find everything you were looking for?
You: I found some wine and candles, but I couldn’t find a soul mate, so instead I got Cheez-Wiz!
The double entendre comedy formula is the most commonly used formula in everyday humor. Do you have a friend that turns everything you say into a sexual connotation? He/She is using double entendre:
A husband and wife are watching American Idol. There’s a terrible singer singing off key…
Wife: Somebody should get her off.
Husband (leering): I’ll get her off.
Wife: I tell you what, you learn to get me off, then you can get her off!
So there you have it. Once you learn that surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter then you learn the reverse and the double entendre formula to help you develop surprise and in 3 steps you are well on your way to learning how to be a funny man!
By Jerry Corley | Founder – The Stand Up Comedy Clinic
Comedy writing is rewarding. There is no better feeling than writing a joke and getting an appreciative laugh. Okay, maybe there is a better feeling but that belongs in a different blog…besides, if I told my wife that the things she does don’t compare to joke writing, she might get offended. But I digress…
The dichotomy between the fun and the reward of getting the laugh versus the sometimes tedious and frustrating process of comedy writing, is often misunderstood. Comedy writing is fun, but it’s also work. Most comedians and comedy writers forget about that. You have to put in the work to get the rewards. The more work you put in the bigger and better the rewards…usually.
It is like guitar playing. I play guitar as a hobby. The more I practice, the better I get. The better I get, the more I want to play. But when I stop practicing and just play the songs I already know, I stop getting better. Got it?
Sometimes the work might not produce material that works. But that’s the process. You have to learn to accept that sometimes the writing session comes up without truly rewarding material. You have to brush it off and return the next day. Everyone goes through that. The better you get, the fewer encounters you have with that kind of failure, but it does happen.
There are two major mistakes comedians and writers make when writing comedy.
- Giving up too soon.
- Trying to find something funny to write about.
Giving up too soon is very common with comedians and comedy writers. Recently I did a comedy writing seminar at the World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas, a week-long comedy conference/competition I recommend to all comedians. While at the seminar I asked the comedians how many of them spent a minimum of 3 hours a day writing material? Five comedians raised their hands—that’s out of eighty in attendance!
If you’re not spending a few hours a day writing, then get the hell out of the business. It’s cut-throat out there and if you’re not putting in the time on your comedy writing, then you’re not going to be able to compete in the stand up comedy business. Besides, if you treat yourself as a professional, the results will begin to start coming back to you in a more professional way. Dig in. Dig deep and get to work.
I learned this many years ago. I was touring with a guy who used to be the head writer on a comedy show. I wrote a joke about Congress that I was pretty proud of. I told it to him. He said, “dig deeper.” I wrote another one, he said, “dig deeper.” He kept repeating that until I had put 3 hours in on the joke. By the time I was done I had 30 lines for that one joke and the more I worked, the funnier they got.
Because of that one event, I started digging deep all the time. It wasn’t long before I got 30 lines in two hours, then an hour.
The Biggest Mistake We Can Make When Writing Comedy
The other big mistake comedians and comedy writers make when writing comedy is they try to find something funny to write about. It’s uncanny. We’ll look at the newspaper and online stories and repeat like a mantra: “that’s not funny…that’s not funny…that’s not funny.” Until we conclude that there’s nothing funny in the news today. And that’s the biggest mistake we can make when writing comedy.
A joke in its simplest form is STRAIGHT LINE – PUNCHLINE. It’s not FUNNY LINE – PUNCHLINE. So the comedy writer must be vigilant in taking the straight line, the fact, the statement and writing it down. Isolate it in its most unfunny state, then, turn it funny by finding the double-entendre play, or doing a reverse, or doing a listing technique or an analogy play or apply 7 other comedy formulas to turn it into something funny. But always start with a straight line first.
Set a goal: When you sit down to write, just tell yourself you’re going to write 25 straight lines. For some of you that could be the most writing you’ve done in a while.
Keep checking back I’ll have more on this later.
Comedian and Stand Up Comedy Clinic student JC Morgan, also winner of the “Funniest Comic in L.A.” contest, was recently asked to appear on Showtime for a special they are shooting on ‘pot’ comedy. JC is a very talented writer and comedian and is a perfect example of a student who works hard and applies the techniques taught in Jerry Corley’s classes. He gets noticed, wins comptetitions and now is doing his first special for T.V.! This is all in less than two years.
So What are you waiting for? Get yourself going in comedy and sign up for a class today!