How is Writing Comedy the Fastest Way to Complete and Utter Failure?

right way wrong way to do comedyI was listening to some comedy the other day and I came across this video (podcast interview on YouTube). There was a guy in the interview who was talking about comedy.

This guy was from Kentucky and he had a bit of that Southern accent that made me think, “Damn! I didn’t know they had the internet in the hollar“.

He said, “Writing comedy is the fastest way to complete failure.” As you might imagine, that got my attention!

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I was like, "What?! Okay, let's hear what this idiot has to say..."

Then I asked myself, "Why did you call this guy an idiot, Jerry? You don't even know him. That's not cool!" Then I quickly realized that I'm originally from New York. It's in my blood. I'll pretty much call a squirrel an idiot for being out in the snow without a coat.

Then I listened to more of this idiot, and it wasn't long before it was obvious...

This guy has no idea what he's talking about! He went on to say that the reason why "writing your comedy leads to complete and utter failure is because"--are you ready for this?--"it's one-dimensional... it's written on a page."

Genius!

If you sensed a gush of deep, guttural sarcasm, you weren't far off. I mean, "What!?" It's one-dimensional? It's written on a page? So that means it leads to complete and utter failure?

You know what else is written on a page? Pretty much every script for a sitcom or a movie!

And whether it's a drama or comedy, those words from the page have to be brought to life through performance.

Would you say that "Star Wars," or "Trainwreck" were one-dimensional? I don't think so. And we know they haven't led to complete and utter failure. Trainwreck did over $139 million Worldwide and Star Wars shattered box office records its first weekend. ($248 million, first weekend, for those who are curious).

So if this guy isn't a complete idiot then that sucking sound I've been hearing is him mouth-siphoning too much of that good Kentucky Moonshine.

By saying that writing your comedy is the quickest way to utter failure, you're totally discounting the role of the comedian. The comedian's role is to be able to "perform" their material.

I'm a good joke writer. I know that. I've made my living from that. But I don't take that material on stage and "read" jokes...

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received in comedy was from an acting teacher. She had me do a five minute set in front of my acting class. The jokes were good. They got laughs. But when I was done the teacher folded her arms and said, "Oh, look! Jerry thinks his jokes are so clever, he doesn't need to perform them."

Then she said, "I don't know how you feel about any of that stuff... so I don't care."

The Role of the Comedian is to Perform

It is the role of the comedian to learn how to perform their material, to have an understanding of the emotion of the joke, what it means and what's being said with that joke. Then deliver it like it's a conversation and it's right off the top of your head.

David Letterman called it, "rehearsed spontaneity."

It is also the role of the comedian or comedy writer to understand that laughter is NOT random. It's derived from certain stimuli. That stimuli is present in any line or story that gets a laugh. When a comedian or writer knows this, they can be sure to write it in.

Even when you're riffing and it sounds funny in your head. It's sounds funny because that stimuli is embedded somewhere in the words, the concept or the situation.

(To understand this further, checkout What Makes People Laugh).

So why would anyone allow something as ridiculous as that to come out of his conch? Especially when a huge body of evidence to the contrary is right in front of him?

Successful Comedians Write

Jerry Seinfeld is one of my all-time favorite comedians. He's smart. He's insightful. He's financially the most successful comedian of all time. According to Forbes, he's worth $750 million...

Also, between the June 2014 and June 2015, Seinfeld pulled in another $36 million. A large part of that from that little show about nothing.

That show "Seinfeld" was written by Jerry, (and Larry David for the first 5 seasons) with ball point pens and legal pads.

My point is Seinfeld writes down everything he says in his act. He's been called a "word surgeon;" removing every word that doesn't contribute to the joke. He works that material on the page before he takes the stage.

George Carlin wrote everything down. Jim Gaffigan too...

What? They're old? Okay how about Russell Peters, $19 million, Gabriel Iglesias $8 million, Aziz Ansari $9.5 million.

All of these guys write their material, first.

To be fair, Kevin Hart and Louis C.K. are also top earners in comedy. Both of them are a blend of both their writing and their riffing on stage.

The overwhelming majority of successful comedians write their material. Even Bill Burr who's known for his emotion-driven, (supposedly 'unscripted') stinging brand of comedy, started his first 5-7 years writing his stuff, because--self-admittedly--he "needed to know how to write a joke."

The reason why I say 'supposedly unscripted,' is because I recently saw him on stage at the Largo in L.A. working out his unscripted material... as he read from his notebook.

As you've probably heard me say before, there are 3 types of comics:

    1. The Coincidental Comedian

    - We're all coincidental comedians. That's when something funny happens in conversation or on a phone call or a drive to the airport or holiday dinner at the in-laws. When that moment occurs, we make a record of it, (Most people write it down). Then we repeat it to an audience and hope it's funny. Nothing wrong with being a Coincidental comedian. But we have to wait for that coincidence to occur to build an act.

    2. The Architect

    - The Architect is the comedian or writer who can sit down at will and write jokes, humorous stories, sketches or scripts at will, because he understands the structure of comedy and the science behind what makes people laugh. He doesn't have to wait for inspiration. He creates inspiration.

    3. The humorist

    - The Humorist is the best of both worlds. He can write his material and get up on stage and riff that material. His improv skills help him to expand on the material in the moment often coming up with tags and toppers.

We should all strive to be the humorist; a blend of both writing skill and spontaneity. Not just one or the other.

The Advantages of Learning to Write Comedy

In fact there are so many advantages to knowing how to write a joke including learning to sell scripts, write for late night, speech punch-up, staff writer, etc.

See, I think what some people don't get--including the guy from the hollar--is that your one and two-liner jokes are the fundamental core of, not only comedy, but storytelling.

Think about it, the one and two-liner is masterful. It has a beginning middle and end. It is a mini-story. Learning to command the one and two-liner enabled me to write better bits, better sketches, better scenes and better screenplays.

And the thing is when you learn what comedy is and what makes it work and then you learn to write it AND perform it, you can make a real living, because you've created the potential for multiple revenue streams.

With all these reasons, I don't know why this guy from the Hollar would say such nonsense. Then I realized that he also sells a product online on how to do stand-up. I guess selling people on the easy way is his angle. The path of least resistance sort of thing, you know?

I don't begrudge anyone who's trying to make a living. And I'm one of those people who buy all the books and programs so I can learn from everyone.

My concern is for the young comedian just getting into comedy. He's told he doesn't need to learn how to write it, then ten years down the line he's bitching about why he's not making any real money in this business.

There's no "Right Way" or "Wrong Way"

Bottom line is there's no right way or wrong way of coming up with your comedy for stand-up, but if you want to also learn to really master your comedy, know how to fix a joke or be in a writer's room, sell scripts, jokes, sketches or screenplays and diversify your talent to create multiple revenue streams, then you'll be so much better off learning to write your comedy as well.

There's an old saying in Hollywood, "You could be the funniest guy in the world, but if you can't put it on the page, it means nothing."
Just ask Jerry Seinfeld.

So writing your comedy doesn't lead to complete & utter failure. It leads to the opposite of it.

Develop a Strategy to Avoid Killing the Momentum in Your Career


bridge-new-yorkEver go on a road trip with friends or family. You leave at a certain time and you expect to arrive at a certain time. So in your head you plan what happens when you get there.

If you’re going skiing, you know you’ll have time to stop at your favorite restaurant before you head up to the slopes.

If you’re camping you know you’ll have time to pitch the tent, get the fire going, cook some grub and crack a beer. But then…

Traffic stops. It doesn’t even move. There’s no off ramp. Other people are shutting off their cars. Truckers are getting out of their cabs. That’s never a good sign.

It’s a momentum killer.

That’s what happens when you stop taking action in your career.

When I started in show business, I was an actor. I had the fortunate experience of watching my Dad go through his career as an actor. There were ups and downs. Sometimes the downs were really down.pat-corley-murphy-brown

There were slow periods followed by an actor’s strike then a writer’s strike. My parents had to sell their house during that one.

Eventually my Dad hit the big job. A series regular on a show called “Murphy Brown.” Which was a top 10 show for many years. He was on that show for 10 years. The struggle paid off and he and my mom were set for life.

But the downs were brutal.

I said, “That’s not gonna happen to me.” Now it’s one thing to say that in a matter of wishful thinking and it’s another to take action. So right after I said, “That’s not gonna happen to me,” I said, “How can I make sure that doesn’t happen to me?”

In my 20’s I had flaming red hair. I was booking commercials like crazy. Then at some point, my hair started to recede. I wasn’t booking as many as before.

One of my casting directors, Sheila Manning, said, “We love you Jerry, but with that baby face and receding hairline, we just don’t know where to cast you.”

I was suffering the Ron Howard effect.

Some if you will be too young to understand this, but Ron Howard was an actor before he was a director and producer. He had–and still has–a baby face and is completely bald on top. It was hard to cast him with that look. He knew it, so he did a lateral move into directing.

I thank my lucky stars for Sheila Manning, her support and her honesty made me understand that it wasn’t my acting and that I had to figure out a solution to be able to make money without giving up on my creativity.

I thought was else can I do and still be in show business?

I saw an ad for a comedy class and I enrolled. I learned some joke writing concepts.

I eventually left the class because the teacher yelled at me for helping a fellow student.

I know, weird right?

Immediately I started to go to open mics, then I studied all the comedians who made me laugh. I mean really broke it down. I applied 4-8 hours per day to writing jokes and studying comedians.

Then went to 7-10 open mics a week. I noticed that all the comedians I liked had a definite structure to their material. I counted the amount of laughs they got per minute and what triggered the laugh.

I noticed that out of the 20 comedians I was studying, there were definite patterns.

I studied The Tonight Show and the monologue. Recorded the shows. I wrote down the monologue jokes word for word and studied them.

I again noticed repeating patterns in the writing.
I started to write the first parts of the jokes and write my own punchlines. (I never used them, but it was great practice).

Soon I was writing jokes right from the news. At first I struggled with them.

Then I figured the structure and subsequently a process to writing everyday.

The process was paramount!

The process became a system of steps that I applied each day to writing current event jokes. I got this idea when I was learning more about computers.

I figured since I was going to be working a lot with computers, I should know something about how they work. One of the earliest explanations I read was that a computer executes a series of steps automatically to power up and that those steps occur each and every time.

And the computer did this no matter who turned it on or what mood that person was in.
So I realized that if I could apply this process to my joke writing.

Sort of a step1-step 2-step 3=Joke.

Eventually, I started to write jokes on automatic and I was writing a lot of them. Sometimes I’d get really edgy with the jokes and I knew they weren’t right for The Tonight Show, but I went to the Comedy Store and I gave it to a comedian, l (can’t mention his name contractually), whose voice I thought it fit. He did the joke, it got a laugh; a really big laugh!

He said he would buy the joke from me.
I learned I could write more jokes and sell them to other comedians and other places that bought jokes.

Sometimes I would just give jokes away to other comedians I knew couldn’t afford to buy them. That only helped to enhance and spread my reputation as a good joke writer.

Greeting card companies, radio syndicates, other comedians. The more I wrote, the more I sold. Then through reputation people started calling me to write material for them.

I was still performing in the clubs at night. One day I got a call from Jay Leno. He had just started doing The Tonight Show.

He tested me right on the phone! Told me a headline from the news that morning and asked me what I would do on that?

Little did he know, I was up that morning writing my jokes and I just happened to write a joke on that exact headline he gave me!

I told him the joke. He laughed. Then hired me on the spot as a contributing writer to The Tonight Show.

Some people say it was “luck.” But really? What is luck? Luck is opportunity meets preparedness!

And that comes from getting busy and staying busy. Setting goals and going for them. Creating a process and a routine so you don’t have to wait for inspiration, instead you can create inspiration. Then taking action so you can avoid killing the momentum in your career.

If you’re good you will work, but you gotta get to work. You’ve got to take action.

How to Write Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction

Wanna learn what makes Daniel Tosh tick? Some people just think he’s an arrogant A-hole. But there’s more to Tosh than meets the eye.

Take a look at this deconstruction of an 8-minute segment of Tosh’s special “Happy Thoughts” and learn exactly the tools Tosh uses to get laughs.

Some Background on Tosh

Happy Thoughts was released in 2011 and was Daniel Tosh’s second big comedy special after his acclaimed debut stand-up special, ‘Completely Serious.’

Prior to this, Tosh was already hosting and executive producing Tosh 2.0 for Comedy Central. He already had a huge fan base that knows his character and what he does as a comedian; he presents you with a slice of life from a cynic’s double-edged switch blade.

Tosh was born in Germany and raised in Florida as the son of a preacher, which may explain his notorious cynicism toward life. I know if I was raised as a preacher’s kid, I would think the world was full of crap too.

So as we deconstruct a little Tosh here, (about 8 minutes), understand that most of the audience already ‘gets’ him and his point of view and if you don’t, it’s basically through the eyes of a bit of a clever, nerdy, skeptic.

I say, nerdy because the Tosh went to Astronaut High School… and yes, he did graduate.

He could’ve been named “Most likely to have a countdown,” because on his website, he actually had a clock counting down to his thirty-eighth birthday. It was then where he said that if he wasn’t a success, he would retire from comedy and kill himself… or move to the beach.

When the clock finally counted down his fans sent emails telling him he was a success.

He now lives at the beach.

How Tosh Gets Laughs

Watch how Tosh uses all the comedy structures and taps into all the laughter triggers we discuss and have made our mantra at the Comedy Clinic.

So watch the video then come back and see line-by-line, how Tosh triggers the laugh each and every time. There’s almost no mystery to how or why he gets laughs.

One absolute take-away I got from this video is that Tosh is NOT just an “attack” comedian. Tosh continuously uses self-deprecation to remind the audience that he doesn’t take himself that seriously. Count how many ways he uses it.

You’ll learn a lot about diversifying your own self-deprecation and how many different ways you can write it.

It’s all in the structure. Here we go…

(AUDIENCE CHEERING)

TOSH: San Francisco..

TOSH: Alright you’re ruining the show.
(Cheers subside).

TOSH: Thank you for clapping for what my parents are ashamed of.
(LAUGHS). Self-deprecation.

TOSH: San Francisco. Yes.
(CHEERS).

TOSH: My third favorite city to do comedy in.
(LAUGHS). Surprise. Unexpected. Ambivalence. Most comedians give praise. He tells them pretty much that they weren’t good enough for first. Think about it this way:

When someone gives praise, we’re so used to hearing them say something like, “you’re the best.” Instead he gives them a solid and specific ranking of ‘third.’ (Unexpected). And because of the tension of the live audience, it heightens the moment.

It’s almost like if a guy and girl are in bed and he he says, “If we were in school what kind of grade would you give my dick?” Girl’s like, “C-minus.” That would be a funny situation.

You would expect in a heightened moment like that the girl would absolutely give her lover an A but she not only surprises us with less than that, she actually gets really specific with the ‘minus.’

TOSH: That’s not bad right? Top ten. Congratulations.

Tags to the previous line. The audience is laughing at the quirky incongruity that he’s congratulating them on placing third.

TOSH: More butt-fucking per square foot… (LAUGHS) than anywhere else in the world.

There are many times when you hear a skilled comedian say something that elicits a groan, or makes the audience pull back, but instead of dropping it, the comedian will repeat it and repeat it again. What he is using is the the ambivalence laughter trigger at its essence.

It’s like he’s saying, I will say it over and over letting you know that I know it’s inappropriate, but I’m saying it anyway… that totally pulls the ambivalence trigger and that also creates surprise. It’s also part of Tosh’s rules-don’t-apply-to-me character.

TOSH: That’s you guys, that’s you.
Talking right at them, creates tension and release and also embarrassment, again, because of the outlandish accusation.

That takes balls people.

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction2

But he’s not done yet. He carries it further when he then uses incongruity and association in his next joke…

TOSH: Put that on your post cards. (LAUGHS) “San Francisco… more butt-fucking per square foot… miss you.” Tosh adds the “miss you” line as part of the the recognizable piece of the post card tag.

Recognition is powerful. How many of you saw the image of the postcard; especially when Tosh said “Miss You?”

Tosh now transitions, by using some self-deprecation…

TOSH: Now, if you’ve not seen me perform before, I am NOT good live… heads up.
Perfect time to knock himself down a peg after picking on San Francisco. And notice the tag ‘heads up…’ It might seem innocuous, but it’s well-planted to get another tickle from the audience to keep them rolling.

Everyone should consider reviewing their core act and really studying where one might put some extra tags and toppers that ‘color’ their jokes. Not only do tags and toppers add more laugh points, but they serve the purpose of making the jokes sound more conversational.

This is one of the key reasons people don’t think Tosh does ‘jokes.’  Reading this break-down you can clearly see that he does. He’s just terrific at finessing the material!

Quick side note: the San Francisco-Butt-Fucking premise is nothing original. But he does approach it in an interesting way.

TOSH: If I offend anybody tonight, I apologize. That’s not my intention. I’m not going to guess what your personal line of decency is, I cross my own from time to time… it’s how I know I still have one. (LAUGHS)

It’s simple truth and also a little bit of self-deprecation, in that he implies that he has to check to see if he has a line of decency. (and that’s funny!) And it’s a terrific way to ease into his next joke which is an attack joke. But not directly, as he finesses into it by saying…

TOSH: I have no problem with illegal immigration in this country… except for the fact that they don’t serve on jury duty.

I love this line because it is so unexpected, right? Who would’ve thought to use illegal immigrants on jury duty? Brilliant! But that just warms up the audience for his next line…

TOSH: That’s horse shit! It should be the other way around, they should serve exclusively on jury duty… yeah!

This elicits laughter and a solid applause break, first because the incongruity (we don’t usually think of illegal immigrants on jury duty and secondly the audience applauds because it’s a social situation that creates a lot of tension and he found a way to utilize illegal immigrants to solve what is considered a hassle for most people (jury duty), imposed on us by the ‘Man.’

So there’s benign retaliation and paradox present because we utilize what’s considered a social problem to take care of another social problem. Benign retaliation is like the perfect joke structure because it has an antagonist and a protagonist.

Tosh finds a way to have the antagonist (illegal immigrants) used to go after the other antagonist (government mandated jury duty). Clever & Paradoxical.

Paradox is one of those structures that doesn’t always reach the level of comedic irony. But it is an impressive tool that can take your writing to the next level.

But that only sets the audience up for the double edge of the joke…

TOSH: Then it finally would be a jury of one’s own peers… (ouch)

Laughter, applause, groans… (And notice how he let’s them have their moment), because he stepped over the “line.” But being Tosh, he doesn’t pull back he presses the subject further…

TOSH: It’s not a stereotype if it’s always true. (Simple Truth. His simple truth, but we get it).
This goads the audience in typical Tosh fashion; not apologizing for the overreaching statement, which through his character, is what makes it funny.

On top of that, notice he said, “always true.” That surreptitiously takes this joke to a level of absurdity, so that if you’re listening closely, you can tell he’s clowning and not serious. You can get away with this level of absurdity when you’re using the ambivalence laughter trigger as well as benign retaliation.

It gets the audience laughing at the fact that they shouldn’t be laughing… then he pushes again.
TOSH: Yeah, then it becomes law.

Then he pushes yet again, but then teases the audience.

TOSH: That joke is called, “Latinos are Criminals.” (They laugh-groan), That’s just the title, it doesn’t mean anything. (Using simple truth to call them out on their judgement of the material).

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction3

This one of my favorite things Tosh does. He says “Latinos are Criminals” with his tongue planted deeply in his cheek and when the audience still groans, he remains playful and calls them out by saying, “That’s just the title…” It’s his way of continuously reminding the audience that they just might be overreacting.

After another hard-hitting bit of material, Tosh then does some more self-deprecation; this time by using his girlfriend. The girlfriend in this case is sort of used in a quasi benign-retaliation scenario. He also uses compare and contrast to build it more into a joke format…

TOSH: Sometimes before I walk on stage my girlfriend might say, “Have a great show. Break a leg.” This is what she said to me a few weeks ago, right before I walked on stage, she said, “Hey, you ever worry about gettin’ shot when you’re out there?”
I’m like, ‘what the hell is wrong with you?’
She followed it with, “You should move around more.”
This is a perfect setup for benign retaliation, with which Tosh responds…
‘Uh, You should go back to reading your vampire books.’

I should move around more? As if a sniper would get frustrated; ‘I can’t keep up. He lives.’
(Notice how Tosh doesn’t bail on the act-out, he continues to play it through even as the audience is laughing. He gives the “thumbs-up” as though he was the sniper).

TOSH: You ever scratch your girlfriend with a hangnail and pretend you’re Wolverine?

This is an interesting joke choice. It’s almost a non-sequitur. It seems to come completely out of left field. It’s so surprising and disconnected that the audience laughs. There’s also recognition present. I’ve scratched my girlfriend with a hangnail, but never pretended I was Wolverine–since comedy is heightened-reality the pretending is plausible.

Here’s what’s super interesting to me. Since Tosh added the Wolverine element, he continues with the story simply by imposing the values of the plot points of Wolverine on himself:

TOSH: She’s like, “Knock it off.” I’m like (character voice): ‘You made me like this…’ Then you run into the woods, you’re naked. You’ve gotta figure things out; ‘where’d I come from?’ ‘why am I wearing dog tags?’ ‘DID I SERVE?!’

This is awesome example of pure structure getting the laugh. The idea barely makes any sense but since Tosh uses the Wolverine element to drive an act-out scenario and includes recognizable story points from the movie “Wolverine,” the audience laughs.

TOSH: A lot of times people complain that their significant other takes too long to get ready to go out at night. I’ve never had that complaint. And I think it’s because I never want to go anywhere. (LAUGH). Strange huh? Why did the audience laugh at that?

It’s not that funny on the page. But if you listen rhythm of the joke it’s a paired phrase (‘never had that complaint’ / ‘never want to go anywhere’). Another example of the structure getting triggering the audience’s laughter mechanism.

TOSH: So I could care less how long it takes her to get ready. That’s just less time I have to spend with her horrible friends pretending I don’t want to kill myself. (LAUGH) Here’s another example of heightened reality. The laughter trigger at play here is ambivalence. Heightened and exaggerated.

There is surprise that also results from the seemingly cold-hearted ambivalence. But with Tosh, we’ve already established that when he goes this deep he’s all tongue-in-cheek. Plus EVERYONE has been in a relationship where they have to endure their significant other’s friends. So recognition is also very present. This is what stimulates that applause.

TOSH: She’ll take an hour and a half to get ready, she’ll come down and be like, “Oh my God, you were so patient.” I’ll be like, “For what? You look disgusting! Right? Yeah! Now she’s crying… whatever! I just bought myself another two hours to watch the game!

Again outrageous. Almost not believable.

But it’s Tosh, so we go with it. Ambivalence and recognition, pure and simple, is what is stimulating the laughs. But who else besides Tosh could get away with that? But in Tosh style, he know it crosses the line, but this time instead of self-deprecating, he pushes more…

TOSH: Yeah, it’s not like she’s gonna break up with me… she’s ten years younger. She’s one opinion away from being replaced. (This elicits groans and applause; evil and good fighting it out in the audience). Then Tosh uses more ambivalence…

TOSH: I can say that. I have a television show. (LAUGHS) Yeah, the power at our household has shifted dramatically. (LAUGHS) Pure ambivalence again. Tosh even sort of turns away from the audience in an sort-of “I-don’t-even-care-what-you-think” pose. Ambivalence creates surprise, because, really?

Who says that sort of stuff in public? (Except comedians). Also keep in mind he’s sort of giggling throughout. That’s important when doing run-on ambivalence. If the audience knows you’re joking then they want to joke with you. Also remember that people love to be given permission to misbehave.

This taps into the release laughter trigger as well, leaving the audience with sort of the feeling of: I’ve always wanted to vent like that…

When Tosh says, “The power at our house has shifted dramatically.” He taps into the structure of associative humor (he just tagged the joke using a phrase that related to the original subject matter).

Since the audience is already rolling with the laughs, comments (or tags and toppers) that associate to what you just said will carry the laughs further. Plus it has the added benefit of keeping it conversational.

Then, once again, Tosh comes back with self-deprecation, but with an interesting twist:

TOSH: Now, if you’re following me on Twitter, you know that I had diarrhea today. (LAUGHS) Non-sequitur surprise, self deprecation. (Remember: anytime Tosh self-deprecates, he’s using the superiority laughter trigger; making the audience feel superior, while reminding them that he has flaws and doesn’t really take himself too seriously).

TOSH: Am I using that website properly? (LAUGH). Mischievous, playful, incongruity and recognition.

TOSH: Sometimes I like to sit on the toilet in reverse. (LAUGH; you could even say “cheap” laugh), but nonetheless, this non-sequitur performs well giving us a silly transition to a silly visual. (Really? Who didn’t get a visual of a guy straddling the toilet backwards in that scenario?!).

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh4
Then Tosh pauses giving the audience a real chance to contemplate what he just said. He then uses an act-out of the audience macro conscience…

TOSH: We’re listening. (LAUGHS)… I’ll give you one guess as to why they laughed here; If recognition triggers the audience’s collective conscience to say I’ve seen that, I’ve heard that, I’ve done that. Isn’t it just as powerful–if not more so–for the audience to say, I’m doing that?!

That also taps into coincidence, doesn’t it? And after all, when something is coincidental isn’t it also surprising?

Then to heighten the play, Tosh, does an act out of sitting on the toilet backwards and the possible conversation one might have with oneself. This conjures another solid laugh with applause. Often the act-out tag does this because it taps into the listener recognizing the situation that the comedian just set up.

Study that structure; it’s awesome. Some comedians utilize that one structure for nearly their entire acts. It’s powerful.

TOSH: Yeah, the people that are clapping right now are the ones who are saying, “Okay all kidding aside, that guy is a genius.” Again he uses the tactic of assuming what the audience is saying… He’s tapping into recognition and coincidence.

The audience recognizes that even though they’re probably not thinking that exactly, they may be thinking, hmmm, never thought about that… or something similar.

Even if they’re not thinking that, what Tosh did was plant that visual of him sitting on the toilet backwards, (in effect saying ‘anyone can do this’), in their collective minds, so that when he refers to it (even with the tactic of assuming what the audience is saying) it’s still an associative tag to the original setup of “sitting on the toilet backwards.”

Great technique.

TOSH: No, no, no, no… it’s the simplicity. I’ve been sitting on that thing my whole life. You’re telling me that I can turn around, have a bowl of cereal, (LAUGH)… yeah… set the alarm ten minutes later, (LAUGH)… multi-task, (LAUGH)… alright, nobody should eat while on the toilet… (ACT-OUT: Dumb Guy): “But I’m lactose intolerant and I’ve always wanted to enjoy a bowl of Puffins with whole milk…”

Keep in mind this whole joke is a shit joke. I mostly veer away from shit jokes, but you have to admit, it’s a pretty clever approach to doing shit joke. Also if you study the run Tosh does with this… that last bit continues with short–sometimes, one word–tags; each getting a solid laugh.

This is why Tosh is looked at as one of the top comics today. His ability to keep the audience rolling in laughter.

Immediately following this, once again Tosh goes into self-deprecation; this time it’s someone calling him out via email he received about this joke. Those who think Tosh is just an attack comic are missing out on the finer techniques he’s using as a comedic artist, painting in a stumble everywhere it’s needed to remind the audience that he has flaws too.

TOSH: Somebody emailed me and they’re like, “Hey Dipshit…” Which for the record is a wonderful subject line if you ever want me to read your email… Oh, let’s see what this nice fan has to say…! You had me at hello… (LAUGHS).

Tosh is wonderful at both blending quick act-outs and the milking the act-out tags. Realize that everytime he speaks either as another person or character, or his own consciousness, he’s doing a bit of an act-out.

Then he not only says the line “Oh, let’s see what this nice fan has to say…” He pushes it again with a frivolous “You-had-me-at-hello” comment that is also recognizable. And gets a strong laugh. (Recognition is such a powerful laughter trigger!) Cleverly crafted for increased laugh points.

Then he gets back to the act-out of the fan who emailed…

TOSH: (ACT-OUT): “You know you have to take your pants completely off to sit on the toilet backwards. (PAUSES, REFLECTS ACKNOWLEDGES HE’S BUSTED). Touche. Alright. So I don’t research. It’s a pre-shower shit agreed? Can we move on? Sticklers to every joke detail! (PAUSE) You ever have a post-shower shit? Oh! Might as well go back to bed and start your whole day over. (LAUGHS).

There’s a bit of very clever self-deprecation. Tosh is allowing some non-existent fan to put him in his place. This is a great way to use Candor. Candor is nearly a never-miss tactic to use with any audience. It’s admitting to the audience that you are flawed.

Who won’t accept you when you admit to being flawed. Candor taps into the superiority laughter trigger (making the audience feel superior) while also buying yourself some more comedic credibility.

Notice Tosh is using the same sparring technique he used with the tete a tete he had with his girlfriend. She wins, then he wins, then she wins, then he ultimately wins. Using this tactic taps into the benign retaliation strategy.

This strategy usually always works at some level because the audience is not included. It’s a similar tactic to having a back and forth with someone in the audience only there’s less tension. The key is that the entire time, the audience feels superior either to Tosh (when he loses) or to the third party (when they lose).

There’s genius working here on many levels. First, Tosh uses an email, that criticizes his joke, as material for his own act! This is why I don’t mind hecklers, they always provide me with fodder for another show. In a way they’re writing for me and they don’t know it.

Second, when Tosh ‘reads’ the email, and says, “Hey dipshit…” at that very moment, don’t you crave for Tosh to get back at this emailing critic? If your emotions, even a small degree, were urging Tosh to have a comeback for this emailing critic, then Tosh did his job at getting you, the listener, actively involved in his story. Awesome!

Tosh then continues to tag (he uses act-out tags brilliantly) to create a run similar to the Wolverine run he did earlier.

TOSH: Things are wrong! That’s not the order of events. There’s a glitch in the matrix. This world’s not real. Mom! (LAUGHS) Wipe me! (APPLAUSE BREAK).

This run builds tension and when it finally releases the audience is tapped on laughter so they acknowledge the cleverness of the run with applause.

TOSH: Am I the only person that hopes David Beckham has sex with Brad Pitt? (SMALL CHUCKLE) I don’t know who’s in charge of casting in Hollywood, but make it happen before one of them is out of their prime. (SMALL LAUGH) Could you imagine those two men together making love? (BIGGER LAUGH).

Here we have massive incongruity, surprise and recognition laughter triggers at play.

TOSH: If there’s a man in here who’s junk doesn’t wiggle just a little bit at the thought of those two men together… (LAUGH) Embarrassment, surprise and recognition are at play here.

TOSH: This has nothing to do with your homophobic sexual preference. At that level it’s art you monkey! Okay? (Wry grin) (LAUGHS) Ambivalence, recognition and incongruity. Plus the added surprise that he would call someone “monkey.” (Interesting and surprising choice of words).

You should be honored that you share the same restroom with those Greek Gods. (SMALL LAUGH) A topper to continue the roll of the joke.

TOSH: Can you imagine if they had a child (TOSH uses classic comedy structure of “what if?” Instead uses “can you imagine?” This allows the listener to participate in something that can’t really happen). But we still get a vague image of an imaginary good-looking baby.

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh5

 

TOSH:(ACT-OUT: Celestial sound effect): Was that Simba? What the f**k? Was that Simba? (Small laughs). Was that the Beckham-Pitt kid? Was that “Pitt-Kham?” (BIG LAUGH) If you guessed recognition with this one, you’re catching on.

This was recorded during the time when the media was joint branding couples and babies, (IE: “Brad-Jolie”).

TOSH: The most beautiful child the world has ever seen… picture baby-Jesus with better abs. (LAUGHS). That’s a good-looking baby.

Simple incongruity and recognition here; apply the values of a baby on to Jesus and vice-versa. Did you get clear and real imagery in your mind’s eye? Then Tosh did his job.

The more clear the recognizable imagery, the more an opportunity for a solid laugh. But he pushes further and farther than anyone expects…

TOSH: If they had a baby Abercrombie store? They’d hire him to work the front door… (LAUGHS)

Interesting right? There’s not even a punch line here or anything. But that’s the power of tags and toppers along with real recognition.

When he says Abercrombie, do you see the store? Specificity is important when you’re performing because you want the audience to see the images you are creating.

The more specific you get, the more it increases the possibility for a laugh and using recognizable brands is a great and simple way of doing this.

Now Tosh does classic Tosh; he starts to do an act out. Posing like the baby.

TOSH: Right. Just standing there, shirtless… propped up. He can’t stand yet… just leaning against the wall… (Laugh)

Again the imagery is funny. Creating visual imagery. And when Tosh does this there is massive incongruity because we’ve seen the carved manikins and models they use at Abercrombie with their six-packs. Tosh is putting a baby in this scenario and the incongruity and recognition is what is triggering the laughs.

Now he does something really interesting. In the middle of his special, he shifts gears and changes the story from a real baby to a “poster” of a baby, (we’ll get into the reasons he may have made this choice later).

TOSH: Big poster… Big poster of himself… just standin’– little tight Pampers… and you’d walk in and you’d be like, (ACT-OUT): I don’t want to say this… but I want to fuck that baby. (BIG LAUGH with BIG GROANS) The audience laughs due to the big surprise and the incongruity and ambivalence of actually imposing a baby into a sexual situation.

But this is where TOSH does this thing; instead of backing off when the audience begins to release their groan, he pushes harder…

TOSH: Oh man do I want to fuck that baby!

Then he adds and act-out within an act-out…

TOSH: If I had three wishes, two of them would be to fuck that baby and one would be for more wishes. (LAUGHS). (ACT-OUT: as the Genie or person who grants wishes) “Well you can’t do that…” Well then I wanna fuck the baby a third time… (More LAUGHS with some possible GROANS) Tosh continues to plow through…

TOSH: I want to use all three wishes bangin’ that baby! (LAUGHS with some applause)… Tosh again heads them off at the pass…

TOSH: Go ahead dumb people… be offended by a joke that doesn’t have a plausible premise. (LAUGHS). Oh, I’d love to read your email… (ACT-OUT: Reading an email as the person who sent it): “I felt you went over the line a bit… when you theoretically wanted to fornicate with a mythical child… (LAUGHS & APPLAUSE)… END OF SEGMENT.

Summarizing Tosh’s Act

The baby part is one of my favorite parts of this segment of Tosh’s act (which in its entirety is over an hour), because he pushes the audiences groan button by intentionally stepping over the line, but in a non existent scenario. Then he continuously pushes harder.

The magic of what he did here is that the scenario is so over the top (but in imagination; remember he said, “Imagine if those two had a child…) When something is put into imagination we’ll imagine the plausibility because it’s like a dream. But even though they started with groans, Tosh got them to a place of nervous, self-conscious laughter.

I call this ‘funeral’ or ‘church’ laughter. It’s that nervous laughter that happens when you know you shouldn’t be laughing at the material, but it is funny so you laugh both at the material and at the fact that you shouldn’t be laughing.

This kind of laughter is contagious.

Then at the very end he calls out the “dumb people.” This is a great technique to utilize embarrassment, superiority, recognition and simple truth.

By calling out the dumb people the vast majority of the audience knows he’s not talking about them, so they feel both superiority and embarrassment for the “dumb people” and then when he talks about someone’s possible email, we get the to the simple truth of what actually just transpired. A non-existent story about something that never happened and never would happen.

By doing this, in a roundabout way, Tosh calls the audience out on their own over sensitivity toward what is just a comedy routine. This releases the audience from their tension and it resolves in a nice applause break, which very effectively, concludes the bit.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Before I wrap what has to be my longest blog post, remember when Tosh shifted gears and said it was a ‘poster’ of a baby? Let’s briefly examine why Tosh shifted gears. I believe it’s because he finally did realize that he might be crossing his own line of decency, (that or the show’s producer).

Think about it, he went from what seemed like the polished version of his joke to suddenly calling it a ‘poster’ of a baby… because even though it’s in our imaginations, fornicating with a poster of a mythical baby is easier to digest than imagining it being a real, living baby.

This totally validates Tosh as not just some frivolous attack comedian, but as a mischievous, wickedly sardonic craftsman of comedy.

Laughs Per Minute

In this short 8-minute segment, Tosh got a ton of laughter and applause; in fact in this video, 72 laugh points in 8 minutes. That averages 9 laugh points per minute throughout this entire 8-minute segment that we’ve examined.

That’s pretty awesome, considering that the average is 4 per minute.

Once you examine this deconstruction of Tosh, who I now have a renewed respect for as a comedic craftsman, I think you will find that his use of the laughter triggers and comedy structures is exactly how he created the stimuli for the audience to release their laughter.

After all, you who are reading this (all three of you) already know that it’s not magic and it’s not a guessing game, it’s a well-crafted understanding and implementation of the art and science known as comedy.

Don’t Watch Comedy Passively

When you study comedians live or on video, you shouldn’t just watch passively, but with the intention of learning. Ask yourself, what’s the take-away? With Tosh these are my take-aways:

Play through my act-outs. Don’t bail too soon.
When I hit something that the audience takes as too edgy, I will commit to saying it over and over a few times until they laugh at the fact that they shouldn’t be laughing at what I’m saying. Turn their groans into funeral or “church” laughter.

Remember to use self-deprecation to remind the audience (and myself) not to take myself too seriously, (Remember comedy is about obstacles).

I hope you enjoyed this. Please share the love and leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this evaluation.

Want to learn about all the laughter triggers and comedy structure the top comedian use? Jump into one of my Weekend Comedy Writing Intensives  or join 5,000 other subscribers and get regular comedy writing tips and updates.

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“You Changed My Life!” Can You Turn a Supermodel into a Comedian?

Can you turn a supermodel into a comedian?

Eugenia Kuzmina Comedian

I’ve been comedian for nearly thirty years. I have been coaching comedians, (formally), for about six years. During that time I’ve had a lot of thrills, but nothing can replace the feeling you get when you receive a text like this:

eugenia kuzmina text screenshot

“You changed my life.”

Woah. Humbling.

About two years ago, I was sitting at home writing and the phone rang. The voice on the other end of the line was a woman’s. There was an accent. I couldn’t figure it out where it was from.

You know when you can’t quite figure out the accent right away?

The woman’s voice said, “Hello. I’m so glad you answered. My name is Eugenia Kuzmina. I am a model and I want to be a stand-up comedian.”

“Tell me about yourself,” I said. She said she was Russian and that she had always been interested by stand-up comedy and that I came highly recommended. (I’ll take flattery anywhere I can get it so, listened further).

I was on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to take her on as a student. I believe you can teach anyone the craft of comedy. I’ve taught people who I was told were the “most unfunny person I’ve ever met,” and I’ve taught people with brain damage and I’ve learned long ago not to prejudge anyone’s ability.

I got beyond that a long time ago. There have been too many young comedians, athletes and musicians have proved me wrong.

But I was busy and I didn’t want someone who was going to be a headache. So I said to this model: “I’m going to send you an email with an introduction. Let’s pretend that I am an emcee introducing you on the stage. I want you to answer the email and come up with a response that you think is funny.”

In the email said: “Ladies and Gentlemen, our next performer comes to us from the world of high fashion. In fact she must be really hungry because I just saw her in the green room devouring an entire Tic-Tac. Please help me welcome, Eugenia Kuzmina!”

About twenty minutes later, I received an email from Eugenia. Her response was: “Devouring an entire Tic-Tac. That is funny, but not true. I am a model, I would never eat an entire meal at one sitting…”

We booked our first meeting.

Since then, Eugenia has appeared the World Famous Comedy Store a number of times, she has signed with several new agents (because of stand-up), and recently booked her first appearance as a comedian in Las Vegas in the Paul Scally Show at the Grand Hotel.

Now Eugenia has been doing some impromptu sketch comedy, pulling pranks with the public, including a prank she pulled in France at the Cannes Film Festival that has studios requesting meetings… to do comedy.

So can you turn a supermodel into a comedian? Time will tell, but I think the answer is leaning toward a resounding “YES.”

Now, I know some people are going to get upset about this post. Some might suggest that I’m focusing on what society might consider as “pretty.”

The point of this post is not to create an argument about who or what is ‘pretty’ in this business. The point of the post is to direct attention to the fact that the face of comedy is changing.

Traditionally, women who were considered “pretty” weren’t looked at as serious comedians. But as a comedian, part of what I do is to shatter the status quo.

I’m a firm believer in the fact that females can be funny. I believe that the precedent that was set by Johnny Carson set nearly thirty years ago when he said that pretty women don’t belong in comedy was flawed.

Not only that, I believe that they don’t have to play down their femininity to get a laugh. Amy Schumer has been proving that and I’ve had several female comedians in my classes who are beautiful AND funny who’ve gone on to have success.

I’ve coached the lovely actress Sascha Knopf, to help her reach the finals of California’s Funniest Female,

Sascha Knopf Comedian

I worked with Andi Wagner-Barton (bottom-left) who went on to get an agent, book several commercials and her first role in a film.

Laura Lee Botsacos300x300 andi-wagner

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And I’m fortunate enough to work with the lovely and feisty Laura Lee Botsacos. Who just booked her first paid gig at Aces Comedy Club in Murrieta, CA.

It’s fun and heart-warming to be a part of a movement that has (pardon the pun) dug its heels into the comedy scene around the globe and is changing the perception of what has been traditionally recognized as funny.

So ladies, whether you’re a supermodel or an athlete; a mom or a nerd, if you’ve thought about doing stand-up, (or taking a class)–just like these ladies–success on the comedy stage could be just around the corner.

Drop by the Comedy Clinic to say “hi,” or sit in a class. Our comedy community is amazing and supportive. And in our green room, we even have Tic-Tacs.

How to Avoid The Creative Paralysis of Being Original

confused-man

Should I Stop Doing My Joke?

A comedian walks into a bar and sees a poster with a saying that is similar to a joke he’s been doing. It’s not the same joke, but it almost has the exact set up line.

He panics. A thousand questions run through his mind: “What do I do?”
“Did the guy who did that poster see my act and use a version the joke?”
“Did I see that poster some time in the past and it stuck in my head?”
“Should I stop doing my joke?”

Okay, that wasn’t a thousand questions, but you get the gist.

This complication… that’s what I’ll call it, a “complication,” because that’s all it is. It’s parallel thought, it’s… whatever.

The point is there’s a poster out there and it has your joke–or a version of it–printed right on it. So you know that there are probably more posters out there

And at this point, it doesn’t matter whether or not it was your joke or not, someone else has used it at a commercial level and that might have negative impact on you.

So what do you do?

An old friend of mine, who had a lot of success as a comedy writer in show business once said to me, “if it’s inherently yours, keep it.” I like that; If it’s inherently yours…

That means if you really came up with that idea from scratch, keep it. Okay, let’s go with that for now.

But what if someone comes up to you later and says, “You know that one joke you do? I saw it on a poster.” Or worse, “You know that joke about Pop Tarts? I just saw Paula Poundstone do that joke on an old “Tonight Show.”

Then I would–and this should be imperative–do the research and find out how similar the poster or the Paula joke is, to my joke.

What “the same” means:

There is a difference between similar and the same.

Different people have different ideas about what the definition of “same joke” is. I have seen this a million times. I remember doing some material about getting pulled over by a cop.

In my act-out, the cop says, “Do you know how fast you were going?”

My character responds in  a surfer-like voice, “You think at that speed I’d risk taking my eyes off the road to check the speedometer?”

This was such a favorite joke of mine that I had a cartoon drawn and I had it printed on a T-shirt and sold hundreds of them at shows around the country.

A few years later, a  version of that joke showed up in the movie “Liar, Liar” with Jim Carrey.

I received a ton of phone calls saying that “they stole” my joke.

I did my research, which consisted of watching the movie–and since Jim Carrey can be entertaining, the research wasn’t brutal and decided that I would continue to do the joke.

The joke was similar, but not the same.

When To Drop The Joke

There does come a time, however that you can decide to drop a joke from your act.

One night while I was on the road in   right in the middle of my show, this guy in the audience–who, tragically, bore a similar appearance to Homer Simpson–shouted, “You stole that joke from “Liar, Liar!”

Doh! What do you do with that?

First of all, don’t panic. There’s no reason to if you know you were at the helm during the incunabula of the joke.

I knew inherently that I had written that joke way before that movie was ever written, but I had to respond to the heckler, then decide what I was going to eventually do about the joke.

So I said to the guy, “Doh! You know, Homer, (which got an immediate laugh, thankfully, because I needed one at this point), things like this happen a lot in comedy, but before you accuse someone of stealing a joke, you really have to look at two things: One, the similarity of the two jokes and two, the chronology…

“First of all, it’s not the same joke, so it’s not a ‘stolen’ joke. Second of all, if there is going to be an accusation of stealing, let’s just say that I did that joke on television in 1992. ‘Liar, Liar’ came out in 1997.

So to accuse me of stealing that joke is like me accusing you of stealing your look from Homer Simpson.”

Now, because I was already getting laughs from that audience and they were on my side, that statement elicited an applause break from that audience and quieted down the heckler, (if I wasn’t getting laughs, the audience might have looked at me like the pompous ass that I can sometimes be!).

Deciding To Drop The Joke

But even though I knew that the joke was inherently mine, since that movie caused that person in the audience to question my integrity, I decided to drop the joke, if simply to avoid that  kind of interruption in the future.

But mostly I keep doing my material. I learned this lesson by watching other professional comedians–especially those who are vastly more successful than I.

Learning From Top Comedians

Jim Gaffigan does a joke that is exactly like mine. I’m not going to quote the exact joke, but the set up is identical and punch is really close. Let’s just say that my joke ends with “four Moms, five Dads,” and his joke ends with “Nine parents…”

My joke about that is “Wow, Gaffigan is so genius, he even does the math in my joke!”

But would I ever accuse Jim Gaffigan of stealing my joke? No way! I just chalk it up to parallel thinking and let it go. Gaffigan works his ass off and is a top notch comedian and joke writer. That stuff just happens.

Or take Jerry Seinfeld. He was doing a joke about Pop Tarts lately that struck me as being similar to Paula Poundstone’s Pop Tart routine she did in the eighties.

It’s not the same routine, but it does address Pop Tarts from a similar angle.

Or the amazing Louis C.K. If you really listen to him, is the subject matter of his routines original? Kids, Family, Money, Growing up, Relationships, etc.

Are any of those ideas original? No! But his point of view, insightfulness and honesty are genius.

Where would he be if, before he wrote anything, he said to himself, “I can’t talk about kids… other comedians already do that.”?

So stop worrying about originality for originality’s sake.

Doing that can cause a comedian or a writer to do go into paralysis.

The only thing I can say about that is, don’t let it stop you from writing the joke in the first place.

Just write!

There are several reasons that a joke shows up in a similar form somewhere. Parallel thinking, common subject matter, writing about the same current events, are some of the more benign reasons.

Laziness and blatant plagiarism are a couple of others.

Don’t Worry. Be Funny.

But worrying about that shouldn’t even enter your mind during the creative process. Just as editing the material is never step one, (it’s step two, three or four), figuring out whether your joke is original should also never be step one.

Just write the damn material and worry about that later.

Instead of sitting there at your notebook or your computer and worrying about whether or not something is original, just write about stuff you are passionate about.

Write the stuff you really want to talk about, then turn it funny by finding the surprise, the paradox, the incongruity or several of the other proven comedy structures available to you to trigger laughs.

As long as you are staying true to your integrity as a writer and trying your damnedest to come up with ideas that come from your own experience or your unique point of view (embellished, sometimes of course for the laughs), then you don’t have to obsess about whether or not it’s original.

“As long as it’s inherently yours…”