3 Key Mistakes in Writing Jokes

I got an email from a person interested in doing stand up comedy and he saw my How To Write Comedy video online. In the video I take a headline right from Yahoo News and I write 15 jokes in about 30 minutes using what I call the listing technique.

The gentleman understood the concept but was having a hard time when it came time to write the material on his own from scratch. Sound familiar? So he emailed me a few questions including the line he was working with. The line was:

“Hand Sanitizer: The new vodka for teens”

Now that’s a headline!

One definition of a joke is “The convergence of two or more clearly identifiable ideas coming together.” It’s incongruity; comedy 101. You may already know this, but the incongruity comedy structure is probably the most common structure used in commercially accepted comedy today. It basically means you are imposing the characteristics of one thing onto another thing which normally does not possess those characteristics.

That headline does present us with two clearly identifiable ideas that are converging: Hand Sanitizer and drinking teenagers. But the problem with that headline is that it is a headline. It may work as a written piece of material but it doesn’t work for stand up because there is no conversation happening. In other words you would never talk this way so how would you present this to an audience?

Mistake #1:

When working with headlines. You must go beyond the headline to find the statement of fact that clearly defines to the reader or audience what we are talking about. The line must contain all the information we need to convey what is going on to the reader or listener. These are the facts. That’s why it’s called the straight line.

Mistake #2:

The line must be conversational. Many times people are trying to write jokes from the news or the headlines we forget to be conversational. The key to making someone laugh is surprise. If you sound like you are just telling someone a story and they are not expecting a twist that turns into a joke, then the joke is more effective.

Johnny Carson stood on that star on the Tonight Show for 30 years and we knew he was there to do his monologue. But he would start each joke in a conversational tone which made it sound like he was just sharing something he read or heard today. “Oh! I heard this today…” So if we used that concept for this joke premise it might sound like: “Oh I heard this today…apparently, in an effort to get drunk, some teens are now drinking hand sanitizer.”

Do you see how that changed the tone of the headline and made it a bit more conversational? Remember it’s still stand up comedy so the structure of having the important word as close to the end of the sentence is still crucial.

So now you have a clear set up with all the information necessary to converge the ideas and get to the comedy and one way to get to the comedy here is to list all the ideas we can think about regarding hand sanitizer, alcohol and teens. This leads me to…

Mistake #3:

Most comedians do not take the time to do the lists so that they can find the jokes.

Because I’ve been doing this so long, I do a lot of the lists in my head, but when I get stuck I will make a thorough list to find the incongruities of the contrasting elements: hand sanitizer and drinking. These jokes came out of the top of my head… Please keep in mind that these are all first draft jokes. They still could use some refining:

“Oh I heard this today…apparently, in an effort to get drunk, some teens are now drinking hand sanitizer.”

1. The good news is it has spurned new high school party games like “spin the Purell…” Sure you might still have to kiss the ugly chick, but you can be assured that she’ll be germ-free…

2. Kids are no longer doing shots they’re doing squirts. (or pumps)

3. Experts knew they were on to something when store shelves were stocked with hand sanitizers with names like Absolut, Grey Goose and Smirnoff.

or a version of the ‘spin the Purell joke:

4. Now kids are able to get filthy drunk, yet be completely germ free.

These 3 or 4 jokes rolled out of my head in seconds, just listing in my head. If I actually sat down and listed, I could probably turn out another 10-20 jokes or more.

Using the listing technique take that headline and let me know if you come up with any! Leave a comment below!

Comedian Lessons | Record Every Set

audio recorderHere’s the thing: Comedy is a live endeavor. You get up in front of a different audience each and every night you perform. Even if you’re doing the same material, the audience is different, the club may be different and the night is different so the dynamics change. Therefore, it is essential that you capture each and every performance by recording it either with the use of audio (digital recorder) or video.

With the availability of Flip cams and video recorders on iPhones, Droids and other smartphones, there’s almost no reason not to be able to video record each set that you do. Sometimes there are restrictions at certain clubs and if that’s the case there should be no reason not to audio record every set.

Each set we do as comedians on stage gives us an opportunity to learn something new. We can try a new joke, make a discovery on stage involving a new inspiration we got while telling a joke, or respond to a heckler or other live moment in the audience. The recorder is also essential if you have a bad set. That’s right! You want to review those bad sets too!

We learn most from our mistakes and when we record a bad set, that recorder is like a black box on an airplane that goes down. The recorder has everything that led up to the crash and you can learn a lot from it. Sure it hurts to watch or listen to a bad set, but if you’re listening to the bad set you’ll discover new things. I used to hate to listen to a bad set.

But you know what? Now I rarely if ever have a bad set. How did that happen? By constantly working on my sets by listening to them constantly and eliminating mistakes.

We all hate to listen to ourselves at first, because our voices sound so “weird” on a recorder.

They do, don’t they?

But that’s how our voice sounds to other people. We hear our voices differently because we hear our voices through our Eustachian tubes and it filters our vocal nuances. If you keep listening to your voice on a recorder you’ll actually start to hear it the way other people hear it whenever you speak. So get used to it an record yourself!

When you do a set, take the audio recorder with you on the stage, take it out of your pocket and set it right on the stool on the stage. Doesn’t matter if they audience sees it. I remember when I used to watch Jerry Seinfeld workout at the clubs. He would bring his recorder up onstage with him and set it on the stool. I would think to myself, “Wow, he’s constantly working on it, isn’t he?”

Jerry Seinfeld is financially the most successful comedian of all time.

Comedian Lesson:

Learn from the best and bring your recorder on stage. Always!


Best Audio Recorders:

Here are some recorders that I recommend. Personally I use the Sony, but I’ve also owned Olympus. Both solid products. I like to stay in a medium to higher end product, because if I’m recording a set and it goes really well, the recording could actually be used to create a CD that I can use as a demo or sell at a show… If you have other recommendations, please share them in the comments section. If you want to do the same, splurge a little and go for the Sony.

Busting The Top 3 Comedy Myths

mythbusters2In the 25 years that I’ve been a professional comedian, I’ve faced a lot of so-called myths that have spread around the comedy circles. It’s amazing that no matter how much you work to diffuse those myths or prove those myths wrong, new comedians seem to continue to nurture and spread tired, hugely over-told and wildly understood myths. I’m using this particular post to point them out and bust them. So that they don’t continue to stifle up-and-comers. Here they are:

1. Don’t laugh at your own jokes.

One of my students was performing her act on stage and despite the fact that she’s an attractive girl, she wore this “scowl” throughout her act. It’s wasn’t a result of her point of view or her emotional approach to the joke, it was just a scowl. At the end of her set I said, “You should smile more. It opens up your face and shows you’re having a good time.”

She said, “ I don’t want to because a comic friend of mine said I shouldn’t laugh at my own jokes.”

That particular rule of thumb is so misunderstood. There’s a difference between enjoying the material and “laughing at your own jokes.” I think that rule is better applied to those comedians who laugh because the joke doesn’t get laughs. The comedian who laughs to say “hey look at me I’m funny…” is what that rule of thumb is better suited for. But you can laugh and enjoy and giggle and play all you want.

If you want to see someone who blasts that rule to smithereens, watch Craig Ferguson work. He has a great time is always laughing at himself.

Here’s a bit of theater science: “The audience is in whatever state the performer is in.” So if you’re having a good time, the audience has no choice but to have a good time.

2. Prop Comics & Guitar Comics are all hacks.

Gotta put this bitch to bed once an for all. There are a lot of comedians that think that just because they prefer to be monologists, that anyone who uses an instrument or a prop is a hack. That’s NOT necessarily true. Guitar and prop comics are simply adding an additional dynamic to the overall show. Those who waste time calling them “hacks” are either naïve or jealous.

A good guitar comic is probably booking more festivals and New Years’ shows at a substantially higher dollar rate than a monologist, because the music can take the audience to another level of participation.

If you are using props, impressions or a guitar, you better be good and the jokes better be solid and interesting, original and funny. There is a tendency for a prop comic, an impressionist or a guitar comic to use their props or instruments to get easy laughs. If you do this, you’re going to wind up being classified as a “hacky” comic. But then again if you were a strict monologist and your material wasn’t interesting intelligent, original or funny, wouldn’t you be considered “hacky” anyway?

carrot top

People make fun of Carrot Top because he’s a prop comic. Why would any comedian waste time and energy bashing someone who’s doing what he loves and making a living. Bash all you want. Carrot Top has his own theater in Vegas and is one of the highest earning comedians alive today. Instead of bashing Carrot Top, comedians should ask themselves, “What can I learn from his success?”

I might not be a big fan of prop comedy, but I’m a fan of Scott Thompson, (Carrot Top).

3. “I Gotta Follow That?”

I hear a lot of comedians wait to go on stage and someone really good just finishes and they say something like, “You mean, I gotta follow that?!”

Here’s what I learned over the years in this business. The audience wants to enjoy every comedian. They really want to hear a unique and different point of view. I learned a long time ago that you’re not “following” any body. You’re just “next.”

This lesson was taught to me in a very unique way. I was a fiery and fast feature comedian back in the day, hungry to step up to the headliner position. I was writing my ass off and rehearsing and touring 35 weeks a year. I wanted to headline. So when I took the stage I poured it on. I would always give the best shows I could.

I was in Sacramento working at a club called Laughs Unlimited and it was the first night of the week and I was working with the lovely Diane Nichols. Diane had been on The Tonight Show with Johnny and Jay. I wanted to blow the doors off the place to prove that even though she was on network T.V., she couldn’t follow this gun slinger.

I went on stage and right out of the gate I was hitting all my jokes. Everything worked. I was on fire. I wrapped up and she came on stage. In an exhausted forty-something voice she said, “Wow, ladies and gentleman how ‘bout a hand for Jerry Corley…what a ball of energy huh? (Big pause)… I wish I had that kind of energy…”

The audience laughed hard. She didn’t miss a beat. She wasn’t worried about following me… she wasn’t even thinking about me. She was doing her thing and since the audience is in whatever state the performer is in, they were right there with her too.

I learned a BIG LESSON that night.

That came back to me later in my career too. I was headlining at a resort in Nevada and this guitar comic I admire, Huck Flynn, was booked as a feature. I thought the booker must have screwed up because he was rocking rooms as a headliner before I even started in comedy. But here I was having to follow him… did he take it easy on me? No way! He got on stage and blew the doors off the place. The audience loved him.

Now it was my turn. I remembered that lesson I learned from Diane Nichols… I got on stage nice and easy and I said, “Wow, ladies and gentleman, how ‘bout a hand for Huck Flynn…he can really play with that guitar, huh? (Big pause)… I’m not even that good playing with myself…”

They forgot about Huck and they were now with me, because I stayed true to me and my groove… because I wasn’t following anybody, I was just next.

How To Write Funny

heres-johnnySo you sit down to write and nothing happens. Now what? What causes your creative process to shut down?

There’s almost nothing more frustrating than not being able to write… I was going to say there is nothing more frustrating, but off the top of my head I came up with three: two had to do with passive aggressive ex’s, and one had to do with a phone call to Bank of America…who said there’s nothing to write about?!

One of the keys to learning how to be a comedian, is learning how to write solid comedy consistently. But…

One of the biggest dilemmas we have when we write comedy is that we’re always trying to think of “funny” or “weird” things to write about. That’s not necessarily the best approach. In fact, it’s probably the main cause of your block. Your brain goes into overload trying to think of funny things. So what do you do about it?

Write the truth. Comedy derives from truth.  It starts with a simple story about your life.

One of the ways I like to write is by just writing about an event or an idea. Just putting down the facts on paper (or in my case, the computer). My only goal is to tell the story. It’s usually best if the event pissed me off or otherwise triggered an emotion. That emotion is my motivation for writing the story, but it’s not always necessary. I can also write it simply from the point of observation. Ultimately the quirky, odd, weird, stupid things appear, because aren’t they out there in everyday life anyway? The only way to get to them often is to write.

Once I have the idea on the page, I can go back over the material, in a second pass, and start to identify 3 things:

  1. Analogy
  2. Word-play
  3. Reverses

These are only 3 techniques, in the dozen or so available to a comedy writer, but they are extremely effective and can help you take a regular story and turn it into a comedy bit.

Let’s quickly look at each of these:


Analogy is the process of comparing one thing to another in an imaginary or metaphorical way.  If one definition of a joke is “the convergence of two or more clearly identifiable ideas,” then analogy helps you to impose a secondary idea into your story and introduce comedy. It’s “automatic incongruity” and incongruity creates SURPRISE. Once you become familiar with incongruity you’ll realize that it is one of the best ways to learn how to write comedy


Having sex with my ex was a lot like working on the bench press at the gym; I always had to wipe it down and three guys were just there before me.

You would normally not think of putting bench pressing and sex with your ex together, but that’s exactly what triggers the humor. They don’t normally fit and therefore they create incongruity and in this particular case, clear, visual imagery.


Word play is one of the easiest ways to create “plays” or “turns” in your stories. Almost all words in the English language have multiple meanings. You simply take the implied meaning and turn it into a more exaggerated meaning. Because you shatter the expected meaning, you create surprise and have a laugh point within your story.


I was checking out at the grocery story and the clerk said, “Did you find everything you were looking for?”
I said, “Well, I found the wine and the candles, but I couldn’t find a soul mate. You had Mahi-Mahi, but I’m not into twins.”

The simple play on the word “everything” changes the entire nature of the story. Without spinning the intended meaning of the word “everything,” the story would simply fall flat. Right?


The number one trigger for human laughter is SURPRISE. One of the quickest, most effective ways to get there is using a structure called a “REVERSE.” You simply change the reader’s or listener’s perception of where the story was going, by quickly pulling the rug out from under them.


I was holding my 9-month old daughter on my lap and she was grabbing at my chest hair. So I wrote down: “My 9-month old daughter loves to grab my chest hair.”

In that sentence we have a very definitive statement. In order to create surprise, we must change the definitive to an assumptive. One of the definitives in the statement is: it’s “my” chest hair. So I ask myself, what can I do to change that to an assumptive?  So the statement becomes:

I have a 9-month old daughter. You know what she loves to play with? Chest hair…

So now it is assumed that it’s my chest hair. So let’s play it like that, then shatter the assumption so we have a joke:

 I have a 9-month old daughter. You know what she loves to play with? Chest hair…she’ll really pull on it too. I finally had to say to my wife, (pointing at her chest) ‘You might want to get that stuff lasered.’ (You can also use “waxed,” but I found that there were better laughs with the word “lasered.”

So now that you have these techniques, you can apply them to turn your stories into comedy. Tomorrow I will show you a story that was submitted to me by a student and I will show you the process of how I turn it into something funny.

***Please feel free to leave comments. I would love to hear from you!!!***

Comedy Videos | Free Video Conversion Software

video cameraVideo is your calling card! As a comedian I like to post my videos online. I also post teaching videos, joke-writing videos, and other comedy video presentations. One of the problems I run into is that I need my video to be a specific format and it always seems like it’s not the right format for the hosting web page I’m trying to post it on.

More recently, the iPad and iPhone revealed that they don’t play flash video! So, if you want iPad and iPod users to be able to watch your videos, then you’re going to have to convert the video to mp4 format. I would recommend it since, in a recent report up to 20 percent of video watchers out there are watching videos on their iPads or iPhones. Considering that 9.1 million people Google the word “comedian” on a monthly basis, that’s just short of 2 million people that can’t see your video! That’s a lot of viewers! Don’t miss out on this demographic. Get your videos seen!

I’ve done some research when it comes to this and I have for you on my blog two video conversion programs that you can download and use for FREE! That’s right bitches, FREE! All you need to do is download it to your computer and start using it to convert your videos to the mp4 format so it’s viewable on Quicktime (Apple’s video format). Why would I take the time and write a blog about FREE video conversion software? Because (Big, hairy, creepy voice) “I love you!”  Here they are:



Also, here’s something really cool “Any Video Converter” the screenshot you see below, also has a built-in YouTube video download application! That means you can download YouTube videos to your computer! Cool shit, huh? All you have to do is go to this page and download the the sofware by clicking the orange box that says “Download Free Video Converter.”





Handbrake is an excellent video conversion software too! It’s fast. It’s easy. And it gets it right when it comes to the right conversion that will work with Apple video. The only shortcoming with Handbrake is that it does not seem to support Windows Media Video files, meaning that if you have a .WMV file, it does not recognize it and therefore won’t convert it. So grab handbrake for FREE and give it a test run. See how easy you can convert your favorite videos. And remember, it’s FREE!


I hope this helps you to get your video up online. Keep your eyes open for more information when it comes to video and how to shoot it, get it online and get it recognized so that people will find it.