Biggest Mistakes Comedians Make When Writing Comedy

By Jerry Corley | Founder – The Stand Up Comedy Clinic

man-scratching-head-300x200Comedy writing is rewarding. There is no better feeling than writing a joke and getting an appreciative laugh. Okay, maybe there is a better feeling but that belongs in a different blog…besides, if I told my wife that the things she does don’t compare to joke writing, she might get offended. Winking smileBut I digress…

The dichotomy between the fun and the reward of getting the laugh versus the sometimes tedious and frustrating process of comedy writing,   is often misunderstood. Comedy writing is fun, but it’s also work. Most comedians and comedy writers forget about that. You have to put in the work to get the rewards. The more work you put in the bigger and better the rewards…usually.

It is like guitar playing. I play guitar as a hobby. The more I practice, the better I get. The better I get, the more I want to play. But when I stop practicing and just play the songs I already know, I stop getting better. Got it?

Sometimes the work might not produce material that works. But that’s the process. You have to learn to accept that sometimes the writing session comes up without truly rewarding material. You have to brush it off and return the next day. Everyone goes through that. The better you get, the fewer encounters you have with that kind of failure, but it does happen.

There are two major mistakes comedians and writers make when writing comedy.

  • Giving up too soon.
  • Trying to find something funny to write about.

Giving up too soon is very common with comedians and comedy writers. Recently I did a comedy writing seminar at the World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas, a week-long comedy conference/competition I recommend to all comedians. While at the seminar I asked the comedians how many of them spent a minimum of 3 hours a day writing material? Five comedians raised their hands—that’s out of eighty in attendance!

If you’re not spending a few hours a day writing, then get the hell out of the business. It’s cut-throat out there and if you’re not putting in the time on your comedy writing, then you’re not going to be able to compete in the stand up comedy business. Besides, if you treat yourself as a professional, the results will begin to start coming back to you in a more professional way. Dig in. Dig deep and get to work.

I learned this many years ago. I was touring with a guy who used to be the head writer on a comedy show. I wrote a joke about Congress that I was pretty proud of. I told it to him. He said, “dig deeper.” I wrote another one, he said, “dig deeper.” He kept repeating that until I had put 3 hours in on the joke. By the time I was done I had 30 lines for that one joke and the more I worked, the funnier they got.

Because of that one event, I started digging deep all the time. It wasn’t long before I got 30 lines in two hours, then an hour.

The Biggest Mistake We Can Make When Writing Comedy

The other big mistake comedians and  comedy writers make when writing comedy is they try to find something funny to write about. It’s uncanny. We’ll look at the newspaper and online stories and repeat like a mantra: “that’s not funny…that’s not funny…that’s not funny.” Until we conclude that there’s nothing funny in the news today. And that’s the biggest mistake we can make when writing comedy.

A joke in its simplest form is STRAIGHT LINE – PUNCHLINE. It’s not FUNNY LINE – PUNCHLINE. So the comedy writer must be vigilant in taking the straight line, the fact, the statement and writing it down. Isolate it in its most unfunny state, then, turn it funny by finding the double-entendre play, or doing a reverse, or doing a listing technique or an analogy play or apply 7 other comedy formulas to turn it into something funny. But always start with a straight line first.

Set a goal: When you sit down to write, just tell yourself you’re going to write 25 straight lines. For some of you that could be the most writing you’ve done in a while.

Keep checking back I’ll have more on this later.

How To Be a Better Comedian

By Jerry Corley | Founder – The Stand Up Comedy Clinic

Student Robert NarholzA young comedian came up to me the other day and asked, “how can be a better comedy writer…I mean, right now?”

My first thought was to give him the standard rhetoric about how it’s a process and it takes time, blah, blah, blah. But, instead, I watched his act and I got a sense of where he was in his comic “trajectory, ” for lack of a better term. It was as I thought, so I just told him, “You want to get better right now? Stop trying so hard. Stop trying to find “funny” things to talk about and start talking about what’s true.

Comedy in it’s most basic structure has a straight line and and punch line. The straight line (aka: setup) is crucial. It’s got to be believable. It must be a situation or a statement that sounds logical is recognizable to an audience. Once the straight line is clear, you can spin it with an unexpected result. But it’s best if it starts with something that is true.

In addition, I know a ton of comics—okay, one guy, but he weighs about two-thousand pounds—(see what I did there?). I know a lot of comics in all levels of their careers who have trouble coming up with material because they are always looking for something funny to write about. Talk about putting the pressure on yourself to write everyday! If you’re just looking for “funny things” to write about, then you’re going to find yourself creating your own writer’s block. Just write the truth then turn it into something funny.

You can start with yourself: What’s true about me?

  1. I’m Irish and American Indian…
  2. I come from a large family…
  3. I’ve been married a total of 19 years…
  4. I went to a very strict Catholic school…

On the surface these are just statements about my life. I’m not looking for “funny things” about my life, I’m just looking for statements that describe me. Nothing funny there right? But if you understand that comedy has structure and it’s in the surprise where the jokes come from you can apply the ten major comedy formulas to any of these statements and make them “funny.” Let’s do it… write jokes that is…

  1. I’m Irish and American Indian… so you know pretty much that I have V.I.P. seats waiting for me at any A.A. meeting. I walk into that meeting it’s like, “Hey ‘Running-Bear O’Reilly, ’ we have a chair for you in the front row!”
  2. I come from a large family… four Moms, Five Dads…
  3. I’ve been married a total of 19 years… it would be nice if it wasn’t split between three wives.
  4. I went to a very strict Catholic School… I had A.D.D…. Once!

Very simple straight lines can become very effective jokes. Of course it’s much easier once you understand the ten major comedy formulas and how to apply them. But the key is they didn’t come from trying to write about “funny things.” They came from just writing about what’s true.

10 Sure-Fire Tips on Radio Interviews for Comedians

on the airOne of the things we are asked to do as comedians, from time to time, is radio interviews. When we are on the road working in a club, if the club owner has a relationship with the local radio station, the comedian, (usually the headliner), will be required to do some kind of promotion on the radio. The radio interview can be a “call-in, ” or it an “in-studio’” interview. In my 25 years touring the country as a professional comedian, I’ve done countless radio interviews. My favorite are “in-studio.” In studio interviews give the comedian a chance to meet face-to-face with the D.J. so you can get acquainted. I’ve been asked many times about radio interviews, so I’ve put together a list of 10 sure-fire radio-interview tips for the comedian:

 

  1. Strut Your Material. You are there to sell you! And since you’re a comedian, you need to be funny. The radio audience, who is usually driving in the car or getting ready for work, wants—I should say NEEDS—to know you’re funny. If you do segments of your act that you know get laughs, then you increase the odds that those listeners will come see your show. Some comedians, believe it or not just start talking about their lives without any punchlines or any funny. From a radio listeners point of view, that is BORING. Think about a movie trailer. That trailer better have something good in it or you’re not going to see the movie. Tease them with portions of your act and choose those portions of your act that brand you.
  2. Know how much time you have. One of the things you should know is how much time you have for your segment. Just like doing a set in a brand new club or for a showcase, always know how much “air time” you are going to be given. This will help you prepare your material for the segment. If you don’t know how much, you might be getting ready to hit them with your punchline just as the engineer hits them with a commercial.
  3. Know the Station I.D. There’s nothing more embarrassing than going on the radio and not knowing what radio station you’re on. HINT: write it down on a piece of paper and have it in front of you the entire segment. Better yet, write it at the top of set list you are using to guide you through your segment. You’d be amazed at how many comedians forget what radio station they are on and they wind up embarrassing themselves, the D.J., the club owner, and the program director. It may not seem like a big thing, but if the president of the station is listening and you blow the station ID, it’s not going to go over well. Besides, knowing the station I.D. shows that you are a professional.
  4. Prepare Your Questions. Depending on how much time you have, offer the D.J. a sheet of 4 to 10 questions to ask you that will cue you to do the comedy bits you want to feature. Most D.J.’s will thank you for this. In fact, in my years of doing this I’ve never had a D.J. who didn’t appreciate the questions. They might have other questions they want to ask you that are factual, or based on your bio, but the list will help you present the bits that will get the callers asking for tickets.
  5. Own Your Time. One of the biggest factors to remember on the radio is that despite the fact that it’s their radio station. It’s YOUR segment. Take your space and do your thing. For those minutes that you are on the air, it is your show, so do it. Have you ever listened to Robin Williams on the radio or seen him on a talk show. Hosts love to have him on because they know that those minutes are going to be some of the most entertaining of the evening. When that “On The Air” light goes on, I turn on. I play, I joke, I’ll even make fun of the D.J., but in the same way I would make fun of my best friend. It creates an energy if you take over the show. The results are fantastic. No fewer than 3 times, I’ve been approached after a radio segment I’ve done and I’ve been offered a job as on air talent.
  6. Create A Radio Set List. Too many comedians hit the airwaves unprepared. Don’t get caught in that trap. Prepare a set list (which should go with the questions you give the D.J.), Take a look at your act and write a short radio set list that will highlight the segments of your act you want people to hear. Don’t worry about them hearing it on the radio AND THEN hearing it at the show. Audiences love this. They feel like they are a part of something special. If you make a set list, you only have to do it once in while. Save it on your smartphone to use whenever you need it. Of course remember to update it as your act changes.
  7. Be Your Own Laugh Track. Occasionally when you’re doing radio, you get a D.J. that just won’t give you any energy. He doesn’t laugh at your bits and he’s just not a fun guy. When this happens, take over and laugh at your own bits. Perceive what the radio listener is hearing and have fun. There’s an old saying in comedy and entertainment. “The audience is in whatever state the performer is in.” This holds true on radio too! Have fun. Giggle, laugh, play take jabs at the D.J. if that what it takes and if that fits in your persona or style and represents the comedian you are promoting that night.
  8. Avoid Jokes That Are Visual. This might seem so simple that it’s stupid, but again you’d be surprised at the number of comedians that get on the air, forget to prep and the next thing you know they’re launching into a bit that ends with a visual punchline. On the radio it will end with dead air. That’s why it’s important to prepare your set and know what you’re going to do before the light goes on.
  9. Do Something Local. When you’re doing local radio, take the time to look at the local newspaper (in print or online), to find out what’s going on? Sometimes, just a jokes about the size of the town of something about the local events that are being pimped in the newspaper can get a great response. The audience will totally appreciate the fact that you took the time to take an interest in where they live, even if it was just to make jokes about it.
  10. Offer Free Tickets. Make sure to ask whether or not the station is giving a select amount of comps to callers. This is an essential part of selling the interest in the show. Take control and make mention of it before the D.J. does. Say something like, “Oh Yeah! Before I go I want to offer some free tickets to the show to the first few callers!” It personalizes the show and makes you look like a rock star!

So these are my 10 tips. I’m sure there’s more. Feel free to leave a comment and keep the discussion going with your own input, or suggestions from your own experience.

 

Jerry Corley is the Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic. He teaches from his own studio in Burbank, CA

Pandora Now Has Comedy

pandoraFor those who thought comedy was dead, think again. Comedy is becoming more popular by the megabit, as Pandora, the online programmable radio station which is now in it’s fifth year, has added several new comedy stations. Their reason? Comedy has been one of their top requests from users.

Want to hear the latest, hottest comedian or the old classics? Tune in Pandora. They’ve just announced that they have loaded over 10, 000 comedy clips, and just like with their music, users can listen or skip tracks, vote thumbs up or thumbs down on a comedian and personalize their comedy.

One of the attractions of Pandora is that they do a good job categorizing their music. You can search by title, artist, genre, etc. So when Pandora made the decision to add comedy, they did the right thing; they teamed up with comedians who assisted in categorizing the comedy tracks, so users can really search comedy by comedian, subject, style and even structure! Want to look up a joke that has a unique juxtaposition? You might come up with a joke that starts out, “So a horse trots into a brothel…” Or if you like horse and brothel jokes, you could type that in and maybe come up with a quip that has a “Katherine The Great” twist to it. (Google it…).

From a pure business perspective Pandora has their ear to the rail, so to speak, as the popularity of comedy has been picking up globally. According the Google Keyword Tool, a handy online app, there are over a million global searches for the keyword “comedian, ” and over nine million searches for the keyword, “comedy.”

So go check out Pandora’s new comedy channels, there’s something for everyone.

Jerry Corley is the founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic. He teaches from his studio in Burbank, CA

Writing Jokes About Osama Bin Ladin

By Jerry Corley – Founder of  The Stand Up Comedy Clinic

The Joke Doctor teaching at his studioWhen something big happens in the news, my first instinct is to write jokes. Whether it’s a stressful situation or a happy situation, I want to try to find the funny in it. Many times I’ll Tweet the jokes or put them on Facebook. It’s a challenge to myself to see, not only how many jokes I can write in a short period of time, but see how many I can write that are less than 140 characters.

Comedians or humorists should alway try to take a humorous approach to almost every situation. It doesn’t make us less human, it makes us more able to see things in a different light. Sometimes it can alleviate stress. Sometimes it can ease pain, but ultimately the writing makes us better.

So if you want to become comedian, or you want to become better at writing comedy, or you just want to be funny in your life, write jokes. It feels good.

Here are some of the jokes I put together the moment they announced that U.S. forces found and killed Public Enemy number one, Osama Bin Ladin. Most of these jokes were already Tweeted or posted to Facebook. They helped me take the edge off. I hope they help you too! Enjoy! And if you feel like it, post your own jokes and see how good it feels.

CNN announced that Osama bin Ladin was found and killed. How were they able to track him? Turns out he was using an iPhone.

When I heard the news last night the first thing I thought was: this is the best thing politically to happen to Obama since John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate.

Obama is dead: Neighbors are shooting fireworks, NYPD is riding lights and sirens. Rush Limbaugh is shitting a live mongoose.

You can tell Bin Ladin is dead because The “War on Terror” is now just a new name for Charlie Sheen’s road show.

Former President Bush was notified that Osama Bin Ladin was found and killed. Bush responded by saying, “I’m sorry…who?”

President Obama is planning to announce success in finding and killing Osama Bin Ladin. Republicans have already said, “our plan is better.”

The Arab world learned a lesson by President Obama giving the order to kill Bin Ladin: Don’t piss off a brotha!

I know the election’s far away, but the campaign goes something like this: Obama: “I got Bin Ladin, what do you got?”

One of the mob cheering Bin Ladin’s death in NYC said, I’m just happy the U.S. finally got Justic—shit, somebody just stole my wallet!

President Obama is going to announce that Bin Ladin is dead. Donald Trump is already stating that he believes the death certificate is a fake.

I know the presidential election is still far off, but I think the campaign will go like this: OBAMA: I got Bin Ladin. What do you got?

The mission to kill Osama Bin Ladin was pulled off and not a single American Life was lost. Sadly that claim can never be made by Kaiser.

Reports coming in say that Bin Ladin being buried at sea is “unusual.” But what’s really weird is the Eulogy was performed by Captain Jack Sparrow.

U.S. military says they have several pieces of evidence to confirm Bin Ladin’s identity. They have facial recognition, DNA samples and evidently they stowed his heart in the “Dead Man’s Chest.”

The military operation to get Osama Bin Ladin was done with precision. Helicopters landed in his compound, they got into a firefight, killed Bin Ladin, took his body. The only thing that would’ve made it better is if there was a soundtrack playing The Black Eyed Peas’, “Boom-Boom-Pow.”