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with crazy chicks is a lot like buying a smartphone on credit…you’re still paying for it long after it’s functionality is obsolete.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.
Here’s another in my series on How To Be A Famous Comedian. (Disclaimer: if you’re in it to be famous, you’re in it for all the wrong reasons…you need to be in it because it’s in YOU–wait is that a Gatorade commercial? However, one of the ways to learn how to be a famous comedian is to learn from the comedians who are already famous so here’s an interesting clip from Ricky Gervais, one of my favorites)
In my classes I teach that the comedian has to be liked. You never put yourself above the audience. As the audience, we want to root for you. When you stand up there and you think you’re “all that,” you’re not going to get any respect from the audience and you’re certainly not going to get any respect from Ricky Gervais.
Take this approach into consideration when you’re writing your comedy material. When you pump yourself up for any reason, knock yourself down a peg. When I talk about my time playing soccer I say this: “When I was 20 I played professional soccer–for a short period of time, as it was a game of skill–“ Then I go on to tell this story of how I played on an all Latino team and was the only white guy. But boosting myself up by saying I played professional soccer, may sound like bragging to the audience, so I follow it immediately by “for a short period of time, as it was a game of skill.” It knocks me back down a peg.
Stand up comedy is not about being prettier, sexier or smarter than the audience, it’s about stumbling…and getting back up. It’s one of the oldest formulas in comedy…I’m just trying to get from point A to point B and I keep running into obstacles. Here’s the irony: the more you stumble and get back up, the more the audience roots for you to win. I hope you enjoy the clip from Ricky Gervais. Take a look at my other blog posts, there’s a lot of information about comedy and if you liked this video, please leave a comment below. Stay funny!
Just for kicks I wanted to write some quick jokes about a random story that showed up in the news. This is what I came up with. Please feel free to share your own jokes on this premise. I use a technique called the listing technique and it usually helps me to write about 15-20 jokes in a short period of time. Want to learn this technique visit my blog on how to write comedy.
Former Playboy Bunny Holly Madison has taken out a 1 million dollar insurance policy on her breasts. (INSERT PHOTO) — for a million dollars you’d think she could’ve at least gotten full coverage.
or… I’m not saying I speak for all men, but thankfully her insurance company only offers partial coverage.
By the way those things defy gravity you’d think those implants were made of helium.
…an insurance policy is a lot like magic, with one wave of a premium her breasts became an ass–set.
I don’t know what insurer underwrote that policy, but it looks like a perfect job for the “Good Hands Company.”
…and…actually I think Lloyd’s of London was the underwire…I mean, underwriter. See, if she came to me I could’ve just given her a piece of the Rock.
The rep from Lloyd’s of London called her boobs a work of art. Really? I thought Lloyd’s only insured original pieces?
She should also get auto insurance considering that you could probably drive a Prius through that cleavage.
The only thing stretched tighter than the skin on her chest is the budget for the United Postal Service.
That’s not even a scoop top. It’s more like a convertible!
Look what my boyfriend got me for my birthday–Twins!
When I told people I subscribed to Playboy for the articles. Those are the two articles I was talking about.
You know the competition is fierce to be a pretty lady, when the only thing natural about you is your ear wax.
When she got her boob job–surprise!–yes, it’s a boob job, she went from A’s to a D’s. Ironically that’s the same reason she dropped out of Portland University.
She’s not secretive about the work she’s had done. She’s got fake boobs, fake hair, a fake nose. I mean I wouldn’t kick her out of bed…yeah, she might shatter.
With the money she costs to maintain, she should’ve changed her name to Porsche.
It’s reported that she’s had at least nine plastic surgeries. I mean, she’s hot, but at what point are you better off just fucking the cosmetic surgeon?
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!
I was just writing something about a video I came across on YouTube. It was Louis C.K. paying tribute to the great George Carlin. Then I received an email from a student of mine referring me to HuffPost Comedy which is a segment of the Huffington post. They had beat me to it and written their own piece on Louis’s tribute.
Louis says so many of the things that I have said about George Carlin, so I am going to share those thoughts on it. I am no HuffPost writer so if you want to ready their article you can find it here.
In the video, Louis talks about how George Carlin inspired him to dig deeper and find more material. Like a lot of comedians I know, Louis had the same act for 15 years. Think about it! Fifteen years of the same material! George Carlin would do an HBO special, then chuck out all the material he did in that special and write a brand new act for the next special. How’s that for inspiration?
I had an opportunity to meet George about 20 years ago and the advice he gave me was gold. He said, “Take the stuff that drives you absolutely f**king crazy and make it funny…” That was when my entire approach to comedy changed.
In the video below you’ll get to see Louis C.K. talk about a similar experience he had in his career as a result of George Carlin. I think George has inspired many of us. He certainly inspired me and still does. So many things he said still resonate in my mind and I still apply them in my writing and teaching.
I am always writing and I encourage my students to write constantly, dig deeper, really go for it to find the jokes and say something that’s important to you, something that actually means something. George said there’s three levels of comedy:
Funny with good ideas.
Funny with good ideas and compelling language.
It’s great advice.
People are blown away that George Carlin actually threw away an act and wrote an entirely new act each and every year. One of the reasons is we are often taught that it’s really hard to come up with material. And it is sometimes, but so what? Who said it was going to be easy, right?
There are other reasons we fight that urge to write. In some comedy classes, teachers actually say to their students, “if you write one new joke every week, at the end of the year you’ll have fifty-two new jokes and I think, What?! Hey, if you’re a television writer and you write one new joke every day, you’re fired!
Bottom line is this: George Carlin taught us that ideas are a dime a dozen. As comedians, we are an endless fountain of material, we just have to dig deep to find it.
Enjoy the video! Louis has earned the right to pay this tribute. He is probably the next George Carlin.