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:

1. ANALOGY:

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

Example:

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.

2. WORD-PLAY

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.

Example:

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?

3. REVERSES:

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.

Example:

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!!!***

How To Be A Funny Woman | Comedian Plays The Kazoo With Her ‘Who’s-ee-whatzit!’

 

amy_gordon_stillAmy Gordon literally does her "no holes barred" approach to comedy. She’s a perfect example of how to be a funny woman. What makes this specific to a woman being funny? Well, the approach is all woman! If comedy is about surprise and shattering expectations, take a gander at how she approaches the mic with such a demure attitude, nicely dressed, carrying a purse, for crying out loud! But then… And if comedy is also about encountering obstacles as we try to accomplish something (Charlie Chaplin), she nails this in the most unexpected way. The reason she pulls this off is because there’s not a single time where she’s over-the-top. Everything is played as ‘real,’ from all of her expressions in the beginning to her trying (more obstacles) to hit the ‘high notes’ with the Kazoo. There are a few of reasons I posted this:

  1. To point out that when a comedian does an act-out like this the reactions have to be real. Comedy is about heighten REALITY, but it has to be real. If she went over-the-top with ‘mugging’ or was overtly sexy with the Kazoo ‘insertion’ (that just sounds weird doesn’t it?), then the piece would not play and the audience would be turned off. But she plays it just right, hitting all the beats on the way.
  2. The second reason I posted this is to show to those skeptical people out there that women CAN BE FUNNY, and this is a perfect example of how to be a funny woman.
  3. The third reason I’m posting this (and my original motivation for it), is to point out to the naysayers that just because she uses a prop doesn’t make it unfunny. One of my students was told by a "comedy teacher" not to do prop comedy. Let me put that bullshit to rest, there is nothing wrong with using a prop. But it’s like profanity; use it wisely. If you use a prop because you have no material, it will be viewed as just a distraction away from the fact that you don’t have any funny. Amy Gordon clearly has the audience "in love" with her and she’s using not one prop, but three, (four, if you include the purse).

You do have to be careful when you do prop comedy. Make sure the joke isn’t "punny," but solid. So take a look at this video. It’s 3:14 of solid laughs, right from the start and watch the way Amy uses every opportunity to trigger another laugh, while still keeping it real. This chick knows how to be a funny woman!

If you enjoy this video, please leave a comment. LET ME KNOW YOU’RE ALIVE!

 

How To Be A Funny Girl

Here’s another entry into my blog on How to be a funny girl. Why would I bother writing about something like this? Because this business is hungry for funny women! In my opinion there are not enough funny women in comedy. I’ve seen a trend toward an increasing amount recently, but overall there are still not enough funny girls.

In my workshops, I’ve had more women attending lately. I think it’s awesome for a funny girl to hit the stage and make us all laugh. Why? Because ,you begin to learn that women have a different perspective on life and you get to hear them pour out their souls on stage and make it funny.

One of my favorite funny women is Paula Poundstone. She knows how to be a funny girl. She shared her struggles (joking about her suicide attempt), and she shared her quirky observations, (why you have to eat Pop Tarts in two’s).

Most funny girls are either funny and clean or they are edgy and blue. It’s fun when you can get a funny girl that can combine both. 

On this blog I’m going to share one of my new favorite funny girls, this funny girl does just that. This girl knows how to be funny. She’s one of my students at The Stand Up Comedy Clinic. Her name is Pauline Yasuda and she’s one funny girl. During my 8 week course she would bring in a new 5-7 minute act almost every week. We would tweak them with suggestions and heighten the laugh points by clarifying the imagery. But other than a couple of word suggestions and enhancing certain associations in the material, the humor was already present.

But don’t take my word for it. Watch the video for yourself and leave a comment if you think Pauline knows how to be a funny girl.

What’s So Funny?

Years ago, when I was first starting in comedy, I worked with a headliner comedian who said he hadn’t written a new joke in 11 years. Why do so many comedians and comedy writers have such a difficult time writing material? Are you one of those comedians? Do you write everyday? Do you have a difficult time coming up with stuff that’s funny? That might be your dilemma.

What?!

Yeah, that right there! That might be your dilemma; you are trying to come up with something “Funny.”

A comedian or comedy writer doesn’t just come up with something funny, he’s able to take just about anything and turn it into something funny. See the difference? When you sit down to write; you look at the news, read the N.Y. Times, look at the headlines on the internet. Do you ask yourself, “What’s so funny?” What’s funny? Nothing is funny, because most news reports the facts. (I said most because, well, there’s FOX). But what do you do with something that’s not supposed to be funny? The answer is: you do your job. It’s your job to turn it into something that is funny and you do that in comedy by applying comedic formulas.

Two guys walk into a bar…

I come from a large family…

My father was a bastard…

I’m Irish and American Indian…

I have five kids…

Millions of fish washed up in the harbor around Redondo Beach…

On the face of it are any of these lines funny? If you said yes, you’re either really damn funny or your need your head examined! Either way, both are great qualities for being a comedian…

At first glance, those lines are not funny. They don’t read funny. So, what’s so funny?

What’s funny is that you can take these lines and easily turn them into something that is funny. First, you have to understand the basics of what makes people laugh [link]. Once you understand that, you can start to apply the basic comedy formulas. They are basic, but they are so powerful that, when used correctly, they can trigger the laughter from an audience and that’s what you’re looking for as a comic.

I’ll take these lines and use two comedic formulas (Incongruity or The Reverse) to make the lines funny by doing a take-off (commenting on the sentence).

First, if we know that surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter, then we know we have to try to get into the head of the listener. Let’s look at the first line:

Two guys walk into a bar. In the listener’s head, what are they thinking? What kind of bar? A bar that serves liquor would probably be the best assumption right? So let’s change the meaning of the word “bar.” What if we changed the meaning of the word bar to like a post or a steel bar that’s hanging so low that we would bump our heads on it if we didn’t duck. Now how does the line read?

Two guys walk into a bar…which is kind of stupid, cuz’ if the first one hits it, the next one’s gonna see it, right?

See what we did there? We shattered the audience’s assumption of the meaning of the word ‘bar.’ And came up with something funny. So if we look at the other lines we might have:

I come from a large family…four moms, five dads.

My father was a bastard…he wasn’t a bad guy, he just didn’t know his father.

I’m Irish and American Indian… you know what that means; I pretty much have V.I.P. seats waiting for me at any A.A. meeting.

I have five kids… so I’m half-Mormon…

Millions of fish washed up in the Harbor around Redondo Beach… There’s good news and bad news; The bad news is it’s going to take weeks to clean that up that mess. The good news is: Now the common man knows what it smells like when Kirsti Alley sunbathes nude.

So instead of looking for something funny to write, just find something and turn it into something funny.

Then when someone asks, “What’s so funny?” You’ll be able to say, “Me!”

How To Be A Famous Comedian | Letterman Jabs Leno…

People often ask me how Jay Leno is viewed in the public eye. I don’t like to talk unfavorably about anyone (that’s a lie), but here’s Letterman taking a jab. Notice how much he enjoyed the poke…

It’s fun to watch Letterman have some fun with this!