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Patton Oswalt: “I stole a Joke. Not consciously.”

patton-oswaltIn a recent blog post about joke-thieving, I posted that Howie Mandel allegedly caught a comedian named Greg Wilson “stealing” a joke on America’s Got Talent.

It generated a lot of comments; some agreeing, some disagreeing with my post, some attacked, some complimented. Some people sent private emails to avoid getting into it in the comment thread.

The piece was written in a heightened way to draw attention to a dilemma we always face as writers and comedians; intellectual property theft.

Whether it’s a joke or a movie script or a television pilot idea, I’ve experienced it personally at several levels. And I expect to experience it more.

But the questions remain:

What do you do about it when it happens to you?

How do you keep from doing it yourself?

Who cares if I use someone else’s material?

I think the best advice I got on joke-stealing is from Jay Leno. He said, “Just write faster than everyone else and your reputation will precede you.”

He also says to people that accuse him of stealing a joke, “You keep it. I’ll write more.” Great advice. I highly recommend not only following it, but making it your code.

My Irish temper sometimes impedes my ability to make sound and reasonable decisions in a lot of situations. It can especially get in the way when someone steals a joke.

Temper can manifest itself in many ways. It once manifested in the Comedy Store parking lot with another comedian’s bloody head bouncing off the hood of a Trans Am.

Some of you might be saying, “Oh my God, Jerry! I can’t believe you would do such a thing to a Trans Am!”

Why not? It was the nineties and Trans Ams were so previous decade!

Despite the fact that I’m no longer the guy who reacts like that, I still like to defer to people who are smarter when it comes to trying to sort out an answer to a popular problem…

Patton Oswalt is smart, funny involved and completely dedicated to the business of comedy. I follow his tweets (when I can) and read his “Spew.

I think it’s always a good idea to follow people who are smarter than you, funnier than you and ultimately more successful than you so that you can continue your journey to be the best you can be.

One of the suggestions he gives in his “Closed Letter To Myself about Thievery, Heckling and Rape Jokes,” is to let the joke thief steal. Eventually he’ll reach that point of no return, where the thief will—with the help of other comedians’ material—reach the level of network T.V. as a performer or a writer, then crash and burn because they didn’t get to that level by developing their own creativity.

Because at that level when it’s all on them to ‘create,’ their creative well is a dust bowl. They become the reason for their own demise.

So take some time (it’s a long piece so grab some coffee), and give Patton’s article a read. I think he’s got a better solution to understanding the thievery dilemma than I.

I mean, unless you really hate Trans Ams.

Writing Funny about Proposition 8

gay-marriage-still2So you wake up early today. Maybe you go for a run, maybe you walk the dog, maybe, like me, you’re up early because you have a toddler in the house who wakes you up, because they don’t know that you’ve been up the night before trying to write.

But you feel like today is a good day.

It’s so good in fact, that today you’re going to get some good comedy writing done. You’re going to spend today writing some funny!

So you grab your coffee and you sit at your computer and you…

Look at CNN.

Look at E.S.P.N.

Check the Huff Post.

You look in the Top Stories, The sports section, the entertainment section for something that pops out at you that is funny weird, whacky or quirky.

You spend so much time trying to find inspiration to write some thing that could be funny that you don’t wind up being able to write funny at all.

In fact, you write nothing.

Hovering over you is this big amorphous goo labeled “funny” and you can’t seem to make heads or tails of it. (Does goo even have a head or tail?).

What happened?

Mistake #1: You sat down to write something funny.

Mistake #2: You looked for things that are already funny, quirky or weird in stories, news or events.

Mistake #3: You forgot to start with anything that affects you inspires you or pisses you off.

One of the best lessons I ever learned in comedy, I learned from George Carlin. He changed the way I looked at comedy. He said, “Take the stuff that drives you crazy… the stuff that makes you mad… the stuff that makes you want to call ‘bullshit,’ put it all down on paper… then MAKE IT FUNNY!

Take events, situations—whether they be political, sociological or interpersonal—and if they trigger you to call bullshit, get pissed off, angry, upset, confused and write them down; facts and all.

Don’t think about being funny, think about telling the audience what you think is wrong with the idea. How you would fix it. What dumb things have been said about it by dumb people.

Remember the Maxim of the five W’s: Who, What, Where, Why and How. (and Who cares, if you want to take your audience into consideration).

Just write down the facts like a rant.

Then you can go back and plug in the funny using the 12 Major comedy structures and 8 Major psychological elements that trigger human laughter.

I looked at the news, saw that Proposition 8 is trending and read a story on it.

Some parts of the story bothered me so I looked into it and wrote down the facts, wrote down how it affected me. Then I talked it out loud, revisited it and plugged some more funny into it.

Wash, rinse repeat.

Rarely is anything ever ready after the first draft. Most comedy—certainly most stand up—takes rewrites, tests before an audience, then another couple of rewrites.

But if you get the ideas down on the page first, you’re already half-way there. Now you just need to plug in funny.

After a few drafts and some testing this is four minutes or so, of an hour that I did at a fund raiser in front of a predominantly conservative crowd… remember the bit started out with something that pissed me off.

George Carlin May Be Dead; But Wordplay is Alive!

George Carlin - Modern Man

Wordplay in comedy is ‘hack!"

If you believed some comedians in this industry, you might think that statement is true.

If someone said that to me today, I would tell them that one of the most memorable comedy bits in all of comedy is George Carlin’s "Seven Words You Can’t Say On T.V."

It’s pure wordplay.

They might counter that with, "Well that was a long time ago."

And I might let them believe that they’re right and let them begin that fall into the abyss of ignorance and arrogance that usually accompanies a comedian who’s been doing comedy for all of four or five years.

But not you. I would never let you fall into that abyss.

The readers of my blog–all three of you–I’ll try to not only guide you but give you supporting evidence from one the the masters…

George Carlin; a master wordsmith in comedy.

Ironic, considering that he left school in 9th grade.

And although the argument that "Seven Words" is from a different era and that it wouldn’t play today might hold some relevance; though I doubt it, I give you "Modern Man," a bit of pure wordplay comedy that Carlin did in his later years.

And I dare you tell me it’s ‘hack.’

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How to Write A Joke – Jerry Seinfeld Style

This is cool!

As you might already know about me, I’m a huge fan of Jerry Seinfeld. I studied him when I was first starting comedy right alongside two of my other heroes, George Carlin and Richard Pryor.

I know, what an interesting juxtaposition! Carlin, Seinfeld, Pryor. Considering that combination you’d think my jokes might start out, “I think bugs were our first friends, you ever notice how bugs walk? Them ‘muthufuckahs’ be like…”

But alas, I my jokes aren’t nearly as clever or interesting sounding… (throat-clearing to indicate sarcasm)…

Anyway, to the point of this blog post; In my previous post I gave you all a link to an awesome New York Times interview with Jerry Seinfeld. In the interview you may have learned how Seinfeld is considered a scientist when it comes to comedy. He dissects a joke and looks for the littlest nuances to make the joke funny.

That was in the meat of the interview but if your own interest in nuance was engaged, you may have seen this little tidbit off to the side…

In the N.Y. Times journey to become more internet savvy they’ve begun to add little morsels in their sidebars to keep the reader interested.

I love this interview with Seinfeld that they posted on how he writes a joke…

He even gets down to the nitty-gritty of what kind of pens he uses and his long-hand style of writing!

It starts out in typical Jerry Seinfeld style: “I know you think people are going to be interested in this… but they’re not…”

How to write comedy - Jerry Seinfeld style