What These Two Weiners Can Teach Us About Comedy

What these two wieners can teach us about comedy

What in the world of funny?!

I can’t believe this hack just did a joke on the name Weiner being so much like the hot dog wiener. Oh my God what a hack!

I can just hear it now all the super clever comedians out there skewering me for having the nerve to post such a ridiculously sophomoric statement.

But I have a point to this whole thing… I think.

There’s a trend out there in stand-up comedy land, kids. And the trend is for comics to be Bill Burr or Louis C.K.

The trend is to be clever just like them. You know, tell stories, make a profound statement. After all, wasn’t it George Carlin who said, “Don’t just make them laugh, make them think!”

I get it and I’m with you. I love to do think humor. I love to speak out with profundity and make a daring, yet good socio-political statement. I love to have the balls to “walk” a room.

T.V. Comedy is About Simplicity

But this post is about simplicity and its place in comedy; especially in television.

That’s right Simplicity. There’s a place for it and there’s big money in it.

What? Money you say?

We all want to be the clever Bill Burr or Louis C.K. but realize they started a long time ago and they didn’t start doing the stories you hear them do when they step on stage now .

They started with jokes. Writing jokes and telling jokes. (At least Burr did).

But you’re missing an element in your total game if you just stick to the clever story-teller comedy. There’s an angle you all should be working and that’s the angle of being able to write your one and two liner jokes.

Every comedian out there should be spending some time each day cranking out some solid one and two-liners. Honing that craft and getting good at it. Because one of the ways to be sure that you can survive in this business is to build multiple revenue streams.

One of those revenue streams could be writing for Late Night T.V.

The key to writing for Late Night T.V. is not the deep-meaning, clever, iconoclastic comedy. It is the simple association, simple surprise, short-form comedy concept that can play not only in New York and L.A. but in Middle America too.

One of those simple comedy structures is Double Entendre or wordplay comedy.

I took the pulse of my readers recently (all three of you) regarding wordplay humor and I got back some interesting feedback regarding the state of wordplay in comedy.

Most of it was like, “Dude Wordplay ain’t dead but it’s certainly on life support.”

I respect people’s opinions, even when the opinions are retarded. (See I can say “retarded” because I’m referring to an opinion–a thing, not a person… besides I know a lot of retarded things).

I jest, of course and I wouldn’t blame you for unsubscribing for that “retarded” comment, (but if you did you’d be retarded), because I’m about to show you why wordplay is alive and well–even a crucial skill you should refine, if not as a comedian, then as a writer.

Wordplay is Alive in the T.V. Comedy Writing Scene

Wordplay and double entendre is used in comedy writing on television like it’s nobody’s business. Late Night is chewing it up. It’s in commercials. It’s in Sitcoms.

Most of the successful shows on T.V. are using the Double-Entendre or wordplay comedy technique to get audiences to laugh and with great success.

You might not think that it works, but there’s an old saying in comedy and it’s “know your audience,” and I hate to be the bearer of bad news but Late Night isn’t playing to you.

If you’re reading this blog then you probably have at least a passing interesting in stand-up comedy or comedy writing and YOU are Late Night’s last target audience.

The audience that Late Night T.V. targets is the middle America audience. Mostly the male demo between eighteen and thirty-four.

They are targeting people who are tired after a long day of work and feeding the kids and dealing with the day’s errands, tasks and chores.

Late Night, for the most part is about simple humor. Don’t believe me? Check out this little bit from “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon”

Steve Higgins and Jimmy do Scat. (As in scatological humor).

In the middle of the Pros and Cons desk piece, they go on a “fart and shart” riff that lasts an entire two minutes. Now two minutes is nothing in real time but in T.V. time is a good chunk.

Listen to the wordplay and tell me that it’s not funny. But remember. It’s not up to you and me. It’s up to the audience. And the audience is loving this stuff!

You’ll also find a ton of wordplay in “Arrested Development” and “How I Met Your Mother” two rather successful television shows.

And not only that, also in commercials. If you look at some of the funny commercials you’ll find that wordplay is used and used often.

Like in this ad for Discover Card.

Frog Protection – Discover Card

Consider the silliness of both. Consider how “hacky” either could appear if you did an amalgamation of either on stage in your stand-up at the Comedy Store.

But remember television writing is not necessarily about being clever, it is about being silly and getting the laugh.

Also consider that a Late Night Writer makes a minimum of $4000 per week and a copywriter for a huge marketing firm could be making upwards of $700k per year.

So while I dig doing clever, solid story-telling, stand-up, it might be wise for me financially to also hone my simple comedy skills like Double-Entendre and Wordplay. Because that kind of money doesn’t sound like it’s on life support.

Jon Stewart to Step Down From The Daily Show


Oh Snap!

If things weren’t explosive already when it comes to Late Night T.V. and variety T.V.

If you remember, the middle of last year I wrote about the changes in the Late Night T.V. scene are unprecedented in T.V. history with changes in The Tonight Show and Late Night on N.B.C.

Now things are heating up even more with the news of Jon Stewart announcing that he is stepping down from The Daily Show!

What? Say it ain’t so!

Jon Stewart has been the most trusted name in news and comedy for the last twenty years, while also developing and introducing some of the most talented people in comedy, like Stephen Colbert, who’s now replacing David Letterman and of course John Oliver, who now has a show on HBO.

And now the landscape in Late Night is changing drastically. This spells opportunity.

What This Means For You

This is epic news because when hosts change, writing staffs change and movement means more opportunity for comedy writers like you.

On top of that, how many new shows are going to attempt to pop up to replace Stewart and Colbert?

Other networks competing with Comedy Central may decide to try their hand to be the top hosted comedy/interview shows on cable.

With that in mind, how many of you have been continuously working on your Late Night Comedy Writing packet?

How many of you just wait for one opportunity and how many are writing every day with a goal of putting together two to three fresh packets a year or more?

How many of you know how to put together your sample packet?

How many of you look at it a such an overwhelming task that’s too big to tackle?

Anyone interested in this field of comedy, and those of you who have been to my seminars know that Late Night Writing should be a part of your arsenal to create your multiple-revenue-stream approach to the comedy business.

Here’s a couple of things you should be doing right now:

  • Watching and Recording the Late Night Show line up, including
    • Ellen
    • David Letterman
    • Jimmy Fallon
    • Jimmy Kimmel
    • Late Late Show
    • Seth Meyers
    • Carson Daly
    • Tavis Smiley
    • The Talk
    • Kelly & Michael
    • Ellen DeGeneres
    • Wendy Williams
    • Meredith Vieira
    • Queen Latifah
    • The Real
  • Study the hosts and learn their rhythms, persona and style.
  • Pick a few hosts to “write for”
  • Write down their jokes exactly as they say them
  • Write at least 10-25 jokes a day on headline news, celebrity culture, and trending news. If you can’t do 10-25, start with three jokes, then set goals each week to increase your production by one. In a couple of months, you’ll be up to 10 jokes a day, then 25. Trust me. This works. This is exactly how I did it, until I was writing up to 120 jokes per day. Boom!

Remember, this should be a process, not a one-time shot sort of thing. You just keep moving, keep writing and keep submitting. If you’re applying yourself and constantly testing your material against those already on T.V., soon the doors will open and you might actually find yourself on staff on one of these shows.

Get to work!

NBC Needs More Women Comedy Writers

Late Night Writing Needs More Women

late night comedy writers in writers room

And an NBC exec says it in the video below.

This is exciting! From the mouth of the source!

You’ve heard me say countless times that network is looking for diversity and looking for more female writers.

I also know when you hear me say for the hundredth time, you probably start rolling your eyes. Whatever, dude! Blah, blah… who’s saying it, etc. 

Not that you all say “whatever” or “blah, blah,” but my point is this. Here’s some proof. Here’s an exec from NBC stating that.

… and we got her on video, so there’s not turning back!

So, ladies… let’s start setting goals to put together your writing samples and late night packets.

It might be too late for this month’s submission, but this is an ongoing process.

If writing on staff for Late Night TV is part of your overall plan, then you need to be writing jokes everyday and planning to write one or two packets a year.

I’ll be teaching another Late Night Course this year and I will be re-releasing the updated ONLINE video Late Night Course with additional modules and updated tricks & techniques.

In the meantime, take a look at the quick video below just to light a fire on your super creative butts!

And of course, do me a favor and leave me a comment. Let’s up the conversation a notch!

NBC Needs Women In Late Night TV Writers Rooms

How to Avoid The Creative Paralysis of Being Original


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…”

Master Word-Play Like George Carlin

George Carlin

It’s been over six years since George Carlin died of heart failure at 71 in Santa Monica, CA.

George was widely regarded as one of the most important and influential stand-up comedians of all time. He’s listed in Comedy Central’s list of Top 100 Comics at number 2, just behind the great Richard Pryor, but just ahead of the trailblazing Lenny Bruce who paved the road for comedians all over the country to be able to speak freely and test the boundaries of obscenity.

But George Carlin’s fame is nearly unmatched as a comedian. Arguably, his bit “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” is one of his most memorable. It was funny on several levels. It challenged the status quo and pushed the boundaries of decency laws in the U.S. in 1972.

In comedy terms that bit would be described as “word-play,” “the witty exploitation of the meanings and ambiguities of words.”  

But at the Summerfest in Milwaukee in 1972 that bit would be described as obscenity and would get Carlin thrown in jail. That bit not only got Carlin arrested but also got WBAI, an FM radio station in New York City, cited by the FCC for broadcasting “obscene” material.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld that decision. Evidently, the nursery rhyme “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” doesn’t hold true in a court so powerful that calls itself “Supreme.”

So what are those words? “Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine and keep the country from winning the war.”

Those are the words that are so disgusting that a man got thrown in jail, radio station fined and the Supreme Court to issue a ruling that gave the FCC the broader right to decide what was “indecent,” and what can and can’t be broadcast on the public airwaves, words that are so profoundly offensive that those very same words are printed on the transcript of the court ruling and stored where? The Supreme Court.

Here’s Carlin with the Seven:


This piece is a classic and every student of comedy should know about it. But my point in this post isn’t just about “The Seven Words,” it about word-play and the power that word-play still has in comedy.

Some of the younger comedians, don’t believe in word-play they will give you some sciolistic nonsense about word-play being “hack.” 

That couldn’t be farther from the truth! Word-play can result in puns, but not always. If you approach word-play the way George Carlin did, you can find the paradox in certain words: “You can prick your finger, but you can’t finger your prick,” is one of Carlin’s old standards.

Hack? Well I guess it depends on the listener’s point of view. But that joke has been around for more than 40 years. It’s memorable and it has a shelf-life.

It it used a lot in script writing too. Arrested Development was a super popular show for many years and the writers employed word-play as one of their primary tools for getting a laugh. 

Let’s look at one of Carlin’s last HBO specials. He opens using a word-play bit and gets a rousing ovation. What a way to open!

Modern Man

Here’s a transcript from that performance:

George Carlin’s Modern Man

I’m a modern man, a man for the millennium. Digital and smoke free. A diversified multi-cultural, post-modern deconstruction that is anatomically and ecologically incorrect.

I’ve been up linked and downloaded, I’ve been inputted and outsourced, I know the upside of downsizing, I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a high-tech low-life. A cutting edge, state-of-the-art bi-coastal multi-tasker and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond! 
I’m new wave, but I’m old school and my inner child is outward bound.

I’m a hot-wired, heat seeking, warm-hearted cool customer, voice activated and bio-degradable. I interface with my database, my database is in cyberspace, so I’m interactive, I’m hyperactive and from time to time I’m radioactive. 

Behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve, ridin the wave, dodgin the bullet and pushin the envelope. I’m on-point, on-task, on-message and off drugs.

I’ve got no need for coke and speed. I’ve got no urge to binge and purge. I’m in-the-moment, on-the-edge, over-the-top and under-the-radar. A high-concept, low-profile, medium-range ballistic missionary. A street-wise smart bomb. A top-gun bottom feeder. I wear power ties, I tell power lies, I take power naps and run victory laps. I’m a totally ongoing big-foot, slam-dunk, rainmaker with a pro-active outreach. A raging workaholic. A working rageaholic. Out of rehab and in denial!

I’ve got a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a personal assistant and a personal agenda. You can’t shut me up. You can’t dumb me down because I’m tireless and I’m wireless, I’m an alpha male on beta-blockers. 

I’m a non-believer and an over-achiever, laid-back but fashion-forward. Up-front, down-home, low-rent, high-maintenance. Super-sized, long-lasting, high-definition, fast-acting, oven-ready and built-to-last! I’m a hands-on, foot-loose, knee-jerk head case pretty maturely post-traumatic and I’ve got a love-child that sends me hate mail. 

But, I’m feeling, I’m caring, I’m healing, I’m sharing– a supportive, bonding, nurturing primary care-giver. My output is down, but my income is up. I took a short position on the long bond and my revenue stream has its own cash-flow. I read junk mail, I eat junk food, I buy junk bonds and I watch trash sports! I’m gender specific, capital intensive, user-friendly and lactose intolerant. 

I like rough sex.

I like tough love. I use the “F” word in my emails and the software on my hard-drive is hardcore–no soft porn. 

I bought a microwave at a mini-mall; I bought a mini-van at a mega-store. I eat fast-food in the slow lane. I’m toll-free, bite-sized, ready-to-wear and I come in all sizes. A fully-equipped, factory-authorized, hospital-tested, clinically-proven, scientifically- formulated medical miracle.

I’ve been pre-wash, pre-cooked, pre-heated, pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze-dried, double-wrapped, vacuum-packed and, I have an unlimited broadband capacity. 

I’m a rude dude, but I’m the real deal. Lean and mean! Cocked, locked and ready-to-rock. Rough, tough and hard to bluff. I take it slow, I go with the flow, I ride with the tide. I’ve got glide in my stride. Drivin and movin, sailin and spinin, jiving and groovin, wailin and winnin. I don’t snooze, so I don’t lose. I keep the pedal to the metal and the rubber on the road. I party hearty and lunch time is crunch time. I’m hangin in, there ain’t no doubt and I’m hangin tough, over and out!”

― George Carlin

Now tell me… is word-play dead?