You ever watch other comedians come to the club or the open-mic time and time again with new material? Are you envious? You ever watch other comedians just seemingly come up with material on the spot that makes you say to yourself “Genius! I wish I thought of that!” You ever wonder how they did it? How they seem to be able to do it time and time again?” You ask yourself how do they learn how to write comedy so well?
Well there are reasons that some comedians are good at this and some are not. In one instance you might say that a particular comedian is a “natural,” or he was “born with a gift.” But odds are he or she wasn’t “born with it” at all. Very few babies pop out of their mother’s womb saying stuff like “You call that a birth canal? It’s more like trying to push an egg through a stir stick!” or “Hey, Mom! Shave that! Haven’t you heard of a ‘Brazillian?’”
In most instances people who seem to be “born with it” actually had early exposure to comedy either through video or audio when they were younger. If you, as a child are exposed on a regular basis to the rhythms of comedy you begin to identify with comedy more readily and apply it in your life.
Your personality definitely has something to do with it. But the comedian then takes the next step and makes a conscious decision to actually apply it in their life. A light switch goes off and they say, “Hey, I can get laughs with this!” They then begin to recognize what they are doing that gets them laughter and they begin to replicate it. Whether they know it or not, they are learning how to write comedy.
A really good comedian will also study other comedians then apply some of the nuances to their material, recognizing patterns that seem to be consistently effective and use those in their approach to comedy. They see a comedian make an observational joke, then they observe something with a similar nuance and apply it to their repertoire. As they get better at this, they may start writing this stuff down and then actually take the leap, build an act and start pursuing comedy. The more they do comedy the more they readily identify with the patterns and apply them more.
For example, since I was seven years old, I listened to George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, constantly. They all do a lot of observational material. When I was twelve, I went to the Post Office with my father. There was a sign on the door that said, “NO DOGS ALLOWED, EXCEPT ‘SEEING-EYE DOGS’.” I said, “Dad, what’s a ‘seeing-eye’ dog,” (imagining a dog with one really big ‘seeing’ eye…).
He said, “It’s a dog that helps blind people get around…”
I looked at the sign, looked at him and said, “Then who’s this sign for?”
He thought that was really funny. A few years later, I heard comedian Gary Shandling do that same thing as a joke and get really big laughs. I thought to myself, “Wow, if I just collected a whole bunch of those ideas, I could get laughs too!”
It’s almost like a guitar player. You ask any famous guitar player, they’ll tell you how they learned a riff from another guitar player then developed a variation or multiple variations on that riff, until they had their own brand. The more riffs they learn, the more they developed their own version, soon they are the guitar player everyone is emulating.
What’s my point? The point is that a comedian learns to identify with patterns that get laughs. When those “patterns”—whether they are rhythmical patterns or recognition patterns—are part of what some of us in comedy refer to as “comedy structure” or “comedy formula.”
Some comedians, like Dave Chappelle, for example (one of my absolute favorites) develop an understanding of these rhythms by trial and error and experience. Chappelle has been doing stand up comedy since he was thirteen. He has learned what seems to work by developing and tuning his instinct. Jerry Seinfeld (another favorite of mine) also works almost totally on instinct. And when I say instinct, they apply formulas and patterns—not consciously knowing the formula—but because it ‘feels’ right.
In my twenty-five years as a comedian, comedy writer and diligent student of comedy, I have identified 11 major comedy formulas used in comedy today. I’ve learned to memorize them and put them into practice on a regular basis. Now when I write comedy they almost automatically come out and get applied to my stories. They also are a part of my conversation and thought process. Learning these formulas has helped me become a solid comedy writer, being able to write 60-120 jokes a day or more, because studying the formulas helped me really learn how to write comedy. I use these formulas on a daily basis to write comedy and in one of my other blog posts I demonstrate how I do this to write 15 jokes on one topic in thirty minutes.
Once you learn that comedy does have rhythms and patterns (formulas and structure) that do get consistent laughs and in fact are the reason all comedians trigger laughter from an audience, you will be a better comedian and comedy writer yourself. Learning the formulas early helps you to cut through the learning curve and instead of being a comedian that relies purely on their instinct, you can be the comedian who knows why a joke is funny and how to put it into your comedy whenever you want. Then you’ll be the comedian who knows not only how to be funny, but also, how to write comedy.
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.
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!”
Conan Writer Deon Cole talks about Conan’s tattoos…or the lack thereof, and how he wrote a joke that didn’t make the cut…
Deon talks about how he became a writer on "The Conan O’Brien Show." It’s an interesting story and revealed a side of Deon that I’ve seen before, liked and I’m glad to see he still embodies it. I have enormous respect for Deon. He can get on CNN and talk about a joke that didn’t make the cut. Talk about keepin’ it real, huh? We spend so much time trying to show how good we are, because we have fragile egos and Deon just lays it out for all of us. What does that teach me as a writer and comedian? It teaches me that candor is cool.
When you’re honest with the audience they love you for it. Relate it back to the Ricky Gervais video in my previous post: Rick said that "comedy is about empathy…I want to see someone who stumbles and falls and brushes himself off…" Important lessons. How do you apply this lesson? Time and time again I am asked what if I bomb? What if the audience doesn’t like you. If you’re just trying to get from point A to point B and encountering obstacles along the way, we will like you. We will root for you. In other words, let us see you stumble. Let us see you get back up, because we will root for you the whole way!
Just for kicks I wanted to write some quick jokes about a random story that showed up in the news. This is what I came up with. Please feel free to share your own jokes on this premise. I use a technique called the listing technique and it usually helps me to write about 15-20 jokes in a short period of time. Want to learn this technique visit my blog on how to write comedy.
Former Playboy Bunny Holly Madison has taken out a 1 million dollar insurance policy on her breasts. (INSERT PHOTO) — for a million dollars you’d think she could’ve at least gotten full coverage.
or… I’m not saying I speak for all men, but thankfully her insurance company only offers partial coverage.
By the way those things defy gravity you’d think those implants were made of helium.
…an insurance policy is a lot like magic, with one wave of a premium her breasts became an ass–set.
I don’t know what insurer underwrote that policy, but it looks like a perfect job for the “Good Hands Company.”
…and…actually I think Lloyd’s of London was the underwire…I mean, underwriter. See, if she came to me I could’ve just given her a piece of the Rock.
The rep from Lloyd’s of London called her boobs a work of art. Really? I thought Lloyd’s only insured original pieces?
She should also get auto insurance considering that you could probably drive a Prius through that cleavage.
The only thing stretched tighter than the skin on her chest is the budget for the United Postal Service.
That’s not even a scoop top. It’s more like a convertible!
Look what my boyfriend got me for my birthday–Twins!
When I told people I subscribed to Playboy for the articles. Those are the two articles I was talking about.
You know the competition is fierce to be a pretty lady, when the only thing natural about you is your ear wax.
When she got her boob job–surprise!–yes, it’s a boob job, she went from A’s to a D’s. Ironically that’s the same reason she dropped out of Portland University.
She’s not secretive about the work she’s had done. She’s got fake boobs, fake hair, a fake nose. I mean I wouldn’t kick her out of bed…yeah, she might shatter.
With the money she costs to maintain, she should’ve changed her name to Porsche.
It’s reported that she’s had at least nine plastic surgeries. I mean, she’s hot, but at what point are you better off just fucking the cosmetic surgeon?
As we stated in the earlier versions, the path on how to be a famous comedian can be tricky and evasive. Even if there were clear, concise, sure-fire steps one could take in learning how to be a famous comedian and even if you followed those steps to the letter, there is no guarantee that you would become a famous comedian. Believe it or not, even if the steps were known by everyone, only two percent of the readers of the steps would follow them and even less than that would achieve a level of fame that would fit our perceived definition of “famous.”
That being said, there are steps you can take to reach a level of success in comedy. In my view, when you reach a level of success in which you are supporting yourself in a comfortable manner by telling jokes for a living, you have become successful, or certainly reached a milestone of sorts, in your journey on how to become a famous comedian.
“Famous,” in this regard becomes relative to one’s definition.
You should be careful in setting your own definition of “famous.” Your desire for wanting to learn how to be a famous comedian should also be in place for the right reasons. Fame for the pure sake of fame is hollow. You wind up in the same category as “Balloon Boy’s” father, Tarek and Michaele Salahi, the White House party crashers or some wiry, crack addict who gets on a segment of Jerry Springer called, “Pimp My Bride!”
Becoming a comedian is a lot of work. It’s not easy. But it is thrilling! I’ve been a comedian for 25 years. I’ve reached a level of success where I am making decent living doing comedy. I haven’t worked a full-time day job in a very, very long time. I’ve almost forgotten what that’s like. I love what I do and everyday I get to wake up and say, “today I get to write jokes.” I love the challenge of finding something to write about everyday, soliciting work, selling jokes and getting up on stage and performing. I absolutely thrive in the work and the challenge.
If there were steps in learning how to be a famous comedian, they would go something like this:
Master the the techniques in crafting comedy material (CLICK HERE and watch in real-time as I write 15 jokes in 30 minutes!)
Write strong material, from a unique original perspective. Must have structure and regular solid laugh points (every 18-20 secs.).
Perform as much as possible. Get smooth. Get solid.
Get on television. (You do this by getting good and getting seen, either in clubs, festivals or submitting yourself to the shows and following up). and if that fails…
Set yourself on fire at the Oscars or throw a pie in the face of Rupert Murdoch!
In other words, if you are getting into comedy just to be a famous comedian, don’t! It’s a long journey and has to be done for the right reasons. You’ve got to absolutely love it and you’ve got to be willing to do the work for the sake of doing the best work possible. If you’re doing it for the fame and to get on T.V., it would be easier to build your T.V. appearances by impregnating your sister and getting a slot on Jerry Springer.