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.

Testing Your Jokes Against Late Night

 

Tonight Show-Jimmy Fallon

 

“How do I know when my jokes are working?”

If you’ve been following my blog, by now you know that writing one and two liners is key to really making your story-telling pop.

If you aren’t aware of this, I’ll remind you.

Stories are great. I do stories, but with the clubs and television expecting a laugh every 18-20 seconds, you must be sure you include laugh-points all along the arc of that story. The best way to do this is to get really good at your one and two-liners, giving your story an opportunity to create a laugh after almost every one to three sentences.

If you don’t have laugh points in your stories, then you’re not doing comedy.

Keep in mind, there are some exceptions to this rule, but overall, if we’re in a comedy club, we want to laugh.

So How Do You Get Good at This?

You have to start to recognize opportunities for comedy ‘plays’ along your story’s journey. There are a vast array of techniques and structures to help you hit your laugh points, and if you’ve read and worked through my eBook, “Breaking Comedy’s DNA,” you’d know almost every one of those.

It’s amazing when you have the knowledge to trigger laugh in your story almost at will. That’s right “at will!”

Every logical grouping of words can be turned into something funny.

That being said, one of the best way to develop and laser sharpen  your ability to do this is by working your one and two-liners.

And the best way of doing that is through current event, trivia and factoid humor.

Why? Because the first part of the joke is already written for you!

That’s right. Think about it; when you read a headline, a factoid or a piece of trivia, the headline is already written. All you have to do is come up with an ending!

Then you re-tool, tinker and tighten, add some misdirection, surprise or incongruity and ‘BAM!’ you have a joke.

  • They are reopening the Washington Monument. The thing has been shut down for the last two years – just like Congress.
  • Some NFL players criticized Michael Sam for kissing his boyfriend after getting drafted. He has to learn that NFL players are not supposed to be in gay relationships until after they’re in prison!

Both of these jokes utilize the ‘listing technique;’ the most powerful technique used in comedy today. One definition of a joke is ‘the convergence of two dissimilar ideas.’

In the Washington monument joke, all I did is take the first part of the joke: “They are reopening the Washington monument, which has been shut down for the last two years…” and I listed everything about Washington in one column, then everything about the Washington monument in another column. When I found similarities between the two (even in my imagination, because comedy is heightened reality), I finessed a joke from that idea.

I did the same thing with the Michael Sam joke. Here we have more than two dissimilar ideas converging.

Can you tell what those ideas are? NFL, PRISON, GAY RELATIONSHIPS, RELATIONSHIPS, ETC. *(See a more thorough example of this comedy writing tool here)* 

In this case I would list everything I could think of utilizing all four ideas. Notice how I also used ‘relationships,’ not just ‘gay relationships?’

When we open up the idea of ‘gay relationships’ to relationships, I now have a possible idea for a slam on the NFL and all the cases of sexual assault. So that joke could be something like:

  • Some NFL players criticized Michael Sam for kissing his boyfriend after getting drafted. See, Michael Sam doesn’t get it, in order to be accepted in the NFL you can’t do something gross like kiss another man, you gotta rape a chick.

Now you have an edgy joke. This joke might not be my voice. It certainly won’t fit on Late Night, but it could be suitable for ‘The Daily Show’ or Bill Maher. If not, I’m sure I could sell it to Chris Rock.

In essence, before I finish this blog post, I’ve already made 50 bucks!

How do you know it’s funny?

If you set a goal to write at least 10 of these jokes a day, then all you have to do is compare it against the Late Night shows jokes and see whose his funnier.

Sometimes it will be theirs. Sometimes Yours.

The more you do it, the better you get. Then you’ll more readily recognize the opportunities for these ‘plays’ in your stories and your stories will be funnier, more compelling and more worthy of the definition of comedy.

CBS Blew It! – Craig Ferguson Announces He’s Leaving ‘Late Late Show’

Craig Ferguson announces he'll be leaving the Late, Late Show

The field is totally opening up!

Craig Ferguson announced Monday night that he’ll be leaving the Late, Late Show at the end of this year.  There is a lot of speculation that Ferguson was mistreated and completely overlooked, when CBS passed over him to replace David Letterman who will be retiring at the end of this year.

This after a 10-year run!

He was like a second string quarterback waiting his turn to take over the team.

Imagine if the Green Bay Packers overlooked Aaron Rogers after Brett Favre left the team?

Tragic!

CBS Blew It!

I think CBS completely blew it with this decision. They instead went with Stephen Colbert.

Colbert is very talented, but unproven and untested as a host in a non-satirical, non-character-based environment.

Ferguson is fresh, unique and extremely talented.

The execs who made this decision have ABSOLUTELY NO CONCEPT of the level of talent it takes to go off-script like Ferguson does and riff on a subject and get consistently great laughs. The guy is a genius.

*But Jerry, tell us how you really feel!*

He has an ability to detach from the show and actually make you feel like he’s in your living room; all the while still engaging the studio audience.

Who else does that?!

Answer: Nobody!

I don’t understand their reasoning for this decision. The only thing I can hypothesize on is that they are looking to target the 18-34 male demographic; the demo that is so coveted by advertisers and and already targeted by Comedy Central, Colbert’s current home.

But if that’s the case they blew it, as Ferguson and Colbert are virtually the same age!

Writing Positions Are Opening Up

But what does this mean for my readers, (all 3 of you)?

I know that some of you are really into looking to nail a job on a Late Night Show as a writer. This is a truly historic time with the shake-ups that are happening all around late night. Never in my life time have there been so many changes in the late night line up. in the same year.

With Colbert replacing Letterman and Ferguson leaving at the end of this year, new opportunities will be springing up all over the network.

Time to sharpen your pencils, freshen your pens and get your carpel tunnel wrist braces on and start re-typing and re-writing your Late Night TV submission packets.

Those of you who have taken my workshop on writing for late night know that you should be re-tooling your submission packet every 6 months and sending it in to the shows producers on a regular basis.

You should also be tweeting your daily jokes. Why?  The Late Night with Seth Meyers people plucked an I.T. worker from Peoria, and put him on the staff for the show after reading his humorous tweets.

Now the Dude is earning a $4000 minimum weekly paycheck as a staff writer on the show. Hell Yes!

So even though I’m in disagreement about the network’s decision to overlook Ferguson, I am laser-beam focused on the new opportunities available for writers.

Get writing!

Late Show With Seth Meyers Plucks ‘I.T. Guy From Peoria’ as Writer

Heath Ledger in a Knights Tale

There is a movie out there called “A Knight’s Tale.” It stars the late Heath Ledger as William Thatcher, a peasant squire, who, after his master dies, changes “his stars” by changing his identity and becoming a knight.

It’s a fairy tale. Or is it?

About a month ago, a regular guy from Peoria, Illinois, who tweeted regular jokes as a way of venting from work and the grind of daily life, got picked up by the executives over at Late Night with Seth Meyers, to be a staff writer on the show after they took notice of his funny tweets.

 

I’ve been telling my students for several years now that they need to be tweeting their jokes regularly to get their writing out there, seen by others. Now it seems that crazy idea is paying off.

In the blink of a tweet, Bryan Donaldson a family man, went from a clock puncher for an insurance company to a staff writer on network television.

Is this sheer luck? No! He worked hard everyday tweeting jokes and gaining followers on Twitter. He’s a classic example of opportunity meeting preparedness.

Through his diligent and funny tweeting, Donaldson got an opportunity of a lifetime.

Can you do the same? Maybe so.

The point I’m trying to make is opportunity is out there every single day. But most of us are not doing what we need to do to take advantage of it.

You should be writing every day, generating material. Either to tweet or for practice. Every time you write, you get better. And that’s the goal; to be prepared when opportunity arises.

Then, like Heath Ledger’s character in “A Knight’s Tale,” you too might be able to “change your stars.”

Tonight Show is Not Just For the Old Folks

Justin Timberlake   Jimmy Fallon s  History Of Rap 5  Is Perfect

Jimmy Fallon’s “Tonight Show” is just finishing its first week and it has been an experience in engaging entertainment. Fallon has found that “something” that the show has been missing for the last 20 years; FUN!

Fallon’s ability to do impressions and his talent with music is the driving force of the show. Not to go without mention, the hipness and playfulness of his house band “The Roots,” makes Fallon’s “Tonight” totally entertaining and has turned the Tonight Show from that show than Mom and Dad watch before they go to bed, into a show that could entertain the tweens through the fifty-somethings at least.

I’m fifty (hard to admit it), and I find that show totally engaging.

How does that affect you as a comedian or a writer?

Simple. As a comedian or writer it is always good to reinvent yourself. Update, reboot, rewire, retrofit, restore rehab or renovate. Whatever you want to call it, keeping up to date and staying “now” is what drives engagement.

Now this should not be confused with age or birthdate.

Although Jimmy Fallon represents youth and will help NBC acquire the coveted 18-34 demographic in the late night slot, it doesn’t mean that in order to capture that demo, you must utilize only 18-34 talent.

The biggest draw on cable for a nightly show is still Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. (Stewart turns 52 this year and Colbert 50).

The key to driving engagement, at least where Fallon is concerned is his ability to be recognizable with his entertainment. He engages the audience with stuff they recognize (Ie: Song parodies and impressions). Even in the sketch above with Justin Timberlake, he slips into a Snoop Dog impression, a Dr. Dre, Ton Loc and Beastie Boys.

Familiarity and recognition drive engagement. If we recognize something we react physically to the television with a point a gesture like, “I’ve seen that,” “I know that!” “I remember that!”

This keeps the viewer watching and the ratings high.

It doesn’t have to be impressions. In fact, I would warn against that, unless you really nail the voice.

But doing something that creates an “in the moment” and “now” dynamic like engaging with the audience, act-outs, interaction with the band, keeps it moving and keeps it now.

There’s an old theatre science theory that states: "The audience is in whatever state the performer is in." Watch Fallon and Timberlake below and see just how much fun they are having and ask yourself, Is the audience having fun too?

What are your thoughts?