I recently posted an ad on Facebook promoting my comedy writing workshops. If you haven’t attended, these workshops are intense. You get powerful tools to write comedy on just about anything. But that’s not the point of this post.
When those ads run there’s a place you can leave comments, click “like” or “share.” When people click the ad they are taken to a page and invited to watch four writing tutorial videos.
The first video is on how to write 15-20 jokes on a single headline during breakfast.
What fascinated me was how quickly this ad was shared and liked. It received some really heart-warming comments like, “Amazing work, man!” and “Wow! Loved this video! When can I see the next one?” But again, that’s not exactly what this post is about.
The real fascination came from the skeptics. I try to avoid using the word “haters,” (it seems overused and a bit cliche), but the vitriol coming from the skeptics really urges you to lean toward the word “haters.”
The stuff that spilled into the comment box! People calling me a “hack” and “idiot,” or my favorite “aging comic.” Lol! Like you would take comedy advice from someone who hasn’t put in the time?
My mentor was George Carlin and when he mentored me 25 years ago, he was 8 years older than I am right now!
Imagine if I would’ve said, “Like I’m gonna take this advice from some aging comic!”
But instead of just discarding the ridiculous and under-examined claims from these skeptics, I decided to use them to address some misconceptions about writing your comedy.
One guy wrote, “This guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about, comedy comes from the depths of your soul.” Like that’s it. My first thought was ‘really?’
Comedy comes from the depths of your soul? That’s it? I just gotta get up on stage and talk about the depth of my soul and people are gonna laugh with me? Problem solved? Comedy gold, right?
Who needs any experience? Let’s just get up on stage and talk from the depths of our souls!
In the vast horizon of possibilities of where comedy can come from, why would anyone who’s taken any time to study this art make such a definitive and limiting statement?
Not only that, just look around! Jerry Seinfeld, “What is it with bugs?!” or “I don’t know if horses really know they’re racing. I think horses are sitting at the starting gate going, ‘I know there’s a bag of oats at the end of this and I wanna get there first.'”
Does that sound like it comes from the depths of Seinfeld’s soul?
Or take Anthony Jeselnik: “The best way to break up with a girl is like I take off a band-aid, slowly and in the shower.”
Depths of his soul? Or just a incongruous association joke about breaking up with a girl?
When you buy into the misconception that comedy only comes from the depths of our souls, you discount the silly, the ridiculous and the wildly insane.
Of course there are pieces the “depths of the soul” comment that make sense. It’s cathartic to talk about things that are deep and you have an emotional connection to. But how limiting is that statement?
It’s missing something, like, where the laugh comes from! So basically sometimes the idea can come from the depths of your soul but the comedy comes from the multiple stimuli that create laughter.
Maybe the initial idea comes from some place deep in your soul, but somewhere in the depth of your soul, some kind of laugh should occur, or guess what? It’s not comedy, it’s just sad or scary, or worse, creepy.
The relationship with my Ex is an example. It was a dark time. So the initial thoughts that inspired the material may have come from the depths of my soul, but the laughs have to be achieved through structure. In this case I use analogy and incongruous associations.
“My Ex was like a funny car; alcohol-fueled. She had the worst mood swings.
I called her the ‘Ice Princess.’ When I used to come home from a gig–before I went in the house– I would put my tongue on the front door. If it stuck, I stayed at the neighbor’s.”
One of the worst things that ever happened in my life was when my Mom was dying. The topic comes from the depths of my soul, but the laughs come from wildly exaggerating.
“Before my Mom died she had bouts of dementia. Which was a boon for me on my birthdays. She would always get me a birthday card with a hundred-dollar-bill in it. She’d be like, ‘Jerry, did I give you your birthday card?’ I be like, ‘No…’ I swear, if she was having a really bad day, I could net about a grand.”
The jokes are good. They get consistent laughs with audiences. The subject matter starts with something that may have come from the depths of my soul, but they have to engage the stimuli that triggers laughter, otherwise it’s just drivel.
In other words, the claim that comedy comes from the depths of your soul, can help us understand ONE of the possible places from which our comedy can be inspired. But stating that it’s the only place, misses the main point and it hides a vast horizon of other opportunities from our view.
Ever since the beginnings of the first attempts at comedy and comedy writing, there hasn’t been a single way to write or present comedy. There are only choices among an infinite palette of possibilities.