How To Write Comedy | Conan Writer Rips On His Boss…

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!

What is Funny?

comedy_tragedyWhat is funny?

You really want to know what’s funny? How ’bout some dumb-ass blogger trying to write an article entitled “What is Funny?!”

Funny is such a subjective term. How is anyone going to write about how to be funny? It’s almost like trying to definitively answer, “Who is God?” Or “What is Love?”

As a comedian of 25 years, a comedy writer for Jay Leno and The Tonight Show, comedy instructor and founder of The Stand Up Comedy Clinic, (a comedy workshop in Los Angeles), the question is posed to me, literally, every single day. So I thought I’d get serious about it for a minute and try to come up with a possible answer.

Please remember, this is just my theory and by no means a definitive answer. So keep the nasty comments to yourself. I’m still searching too! In other words, shut your conch! J

What is “funny?” You could ask that question in many different ways–“What is funny?” “What is funny?” “What is Funny?” Or even “What’s so funny, bitch?!:” and still come up with a blank stare. I’m not going to proclaim that I know what’s funny to everyone. Funny is very subjective. What is funny to one person is not necessary going to be funny to another. In a nutshell, we’re just guessing, the audience is the judge.

Here’s what I can do. I can analyze funny. In fact, let’s do it together. According to the dictionary, the number one definition of “Funny” is “to cause laughter or amusement.” Most people can agree on that. I was going to say “all people can agree on that, ” but people will find any reason not to agree—just watch the U.S. Congress.

So, for the purpose of this article, let’s all agree on the definition of “Funny;” that it causes laughter or amusement. In this case, since we are looking for laughs, let’s focus on laughter.

Because amusement is even more subjective. To some, the “Tilt-a-Whirl” at a carnival causes amusement. For me, it causes vomit. And here I think we can all agree that—and I’ve done a little research in this area—that vomiting is only amusing:if it’s not you.

Okay, back to what is funny?. How do we find funny? Well since we know that funny equals laughter we can start by looking at the science of laughter. When we do, we discover that according to experts on human behavior, the number one element that triggers human laughter is surprise.

Now by answering that, do you have any idea how far we’ve come now solving our initial question? It’s almost algebraic. It’s almost an “if-then” statement: What is funny is something that causes laughter. What causes laughter? Surprise, and if A=B and B=C, then A=C, then if Funny=Laughter and Surprise=Laughter, then Funny=Surprise! Got it?

Some people say that you can’t teach stand up comedy or for that matter teach somebody how to be funny. And while I do believe you are born with talent and you develop skill, I also know that if you have a reasonable amount of intelligence and a command of the English language you can learn the structures of how to manipulate words to take something seemingly mundane and turn it into something funny. I teach a comedy class in the Los Angeles area and I can teach just that to average, but amazing people and I’ve had tremendous results. How, you ask?

All it takes is a little surprise. Sid Caesar said, “Comedy is a story with a curlicue.” If you tell me a story and you give it a surprise ending, you have just written your first joke. Tell me something about yourself:

Comedian Tim Bidore used to open with this joke: “I come from a large family:four Moms, five Dads:” He just took something mundane, a cliché of everyday life and really just changed the ending. It’s a curlicue. It’s unexpected. Hence, it’s a surprise. Is it Funny? Let’s go back to the formula If Laughter=Funny, and Surprise=Laughter, then Surprise=Funny.

But we also understand the adage, the audience is the judge and in this case the audience still laughs at that line every time:and what is laughter equal to? FUNNY! Now we’re starting to get it!

Let’s look at it in another way:

How about when you go to the grocery store? When you check out, what does the clerk always say? “Did you find everything you were looking for?” Right? How do you usually respond? By saying, “Yes.” Because even if you didn’t find everything you were looking for, you just don’t want to deal with it.

What if you really took a moment, looked at that question and answered it in a unique way and surprising way?

First, look at the question: “Did you find everything you were looking for?” We know what he/she means when they ask that question. What they’re asking is: Did you find everything you were looking for while you were shopping today.

What if we blew it up a little? What if we took the meaning to the next level? “Did you find everything you’re looking for?” But this time we analyze it in a more “universal” sense, what do most people look for, not at the store, but in life; the meaning of life, or a soul mate, or love?

So what if we took one of those interpretations and responded to the question differently? Does it change? Let’s look:

Clerk: Did you find everything you were looking for?

Me: (Looking at the items on the conveyor) Well, I found some wine and some candlelight, but I couldn’t find my soulmate. You had Mahi-Mahi, but I’m just not into twins.

But then you realize that sometimes there might be someone that thinks you’re trying to relate women to fish. So you change it just to be silly:

Clerk: Did you find everything you were looking for?

Me: Well, I found the wine and the candles, but I couldn’t find my soul mate. So instead, I got Cheeze Whiz!”

Now you have something that’s clever and unique. It will get a laugh every time at the grocery store and since it’s impossible to hate someone who makes you laugh, the next time you go into that store, they’re going to have everything you’re looking for!

Of course this is only one way to create laughter. This method creates surprise by saying something unexpected by using a comedy formula called, Double Entendre. It’s French. The literal interpretation is: “Two meanings.”

In my comedy courses I’ve broken down ten major comedy formulas that are used in contemporary comedy today. These formulas are used, literally, by all the comedians working today. Bottom line is if they make you laugh they are using one of these formulas.

When you learn these formulas and learn how to properly apply them, you can learn to effectively create surprise and as we learned earlier, surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter.

That’s it for now! Stay tuned for my next article: “Who is God:or is God Love?”

Jerry Corley’s Stand Up Comedy Clinic is an 8-week comedy class based in Los Angeles. Jerry teaches the fundamentals of comedy and humor writing and works hand-in-hand with students to help them create their own 5-7 minute stand-up act, which they perform in a Los Angeles Comedy Club.

Is Stage Time the “Only Way” to Learn Comedy?

By Jerry Corley – Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic

I just got an email from someone who said, “The only way to learn stand up comedy is stage time.” That’s a common response, but is it really well thought out? I would have to say, “No.” If the comedian is like a surgeon and the audience are his patients, this comedian must have the stench of death following close behind.

Is it fair to make that comparison? After all, medicine is not comedy.

Think about it this way. It you were to compare being a comedian to piloting an airplane, how many of you would want to fly “Open-Mic Airlines?”

Comedy is an art form and stand up comedy is a performing art, as is music, acting, dancing, singing and magic. Sorry mimes, if I left you out. However, what some people forget is that the comedian, unless he’s just buying jokes or stealing them—why, Carlos Mencia, has your name has become synonymous with that theme?—then the comedian is also a writer.

Every single one of those art forms has a learning learning curve. Comedy, in its form, is most like magic. As magic is about misdirection and surprise, so is comedy. In fact, scientifically, the number one element that triggers human laughter is surprise. When the magician takes the ball into his hand waves the wand over it and says, “abracadabra, ” “presto-chango, ” “expelliarmus, ” (or whatever magicians are saying these days)  and the magician opens his hand and the ball is gone, we smile, we giggle, because we have been surprised. But if a magician doesn’t learn the formula, if the ball doesn’t disappear and reappear or worse, if we see where the ball is going, then there is no surprise and there is no magic and the smiles and giggles will be replaced by groans and boos and hisses. Misdirection and surprise are part of the comedian’s fundamentals as well and must be learned before getting “stagetime, ” otherwise those same groans, boos and hisses—and worse, will follow the comedian.

Structurally, comedy is also about story telling and music. Most of us know that a good story and a good piece of music has a beginning, middle and end. Unfortunately, most comedians don’t know this or don’t know to put it in their acts:certainly they need this over at SNL. When you do build this in, you stand out. Audiences love resolution and they respond with applause. It’s as simple as a musical scale, if you sing: DO-RE-MI-FA-SO-LA-TI-, the audience is going to feel unresolved. They will feel like something is missing. However, if you sing, DO-RE-MI-FA-SO-LA-TI-DO, the audience will feel compelled to raise their hands in applause. Learn your fundamentals, your scales, your rudiments, then can you make beautiful music.

It’s the same thing in comedy. Stagetime is definitely the way to hone your skills of performing comedy, but if you learn what makes people laugh and you learn to identify surprise, irony, incongruity and recognition, then apply that to your performance before you get your “stagetime, ” you probably would’ve saved the audiences you’ve encountered a lot of misery you unwittingly injected into their hearts, their memories and their olfactories, because the potency of the stench of death you most certainly left behind would’ve been a lot less significant.

Weekend Comedy Seminar in Vegas in 2 Days!

Comedy Seminar - Las VegasSo here’s your chance to get the best information available regarding joke writing, performance technique, act-shaping and how to know when your jokes are funny before you hit the stage. Even if you’re not into the performing part of comedy, this seminar is for you!

Jerry Corley, the pre-eminent comedy teacher in Los Angeles who spent 26 years on the road, wrote for The Tonight With Jay Leno for 8 years and who has been called a “genius” by his competitors, is coming to Las Vegas to teach a weekend comedy intensive.

Bring your notebooks and your digital voice recorders because this is the real deal. You will learn more in the two days you spend with Jerry than you’ll learn toiling on the road for years. You’ll cut to the chase and find out:

  • What triggers human laughter.
  • How to master the writing techniques to pull that trigger.
  • How to get multiple laughs out of one joke.
  • How to heighten your act to build applause breaks.
  • How to finesse your act to make it sound effortless.
  • How to write jokes about anything, even when you don’t feel funny.
  • What techniques to use to develop relationships and get work.

Find out why Jerry’s comedy students win competitions. Jerry’s student, J.C. Morgan, just won L.A.’s Funniest Comic award, (for the category of performers with less than 2 years experience).

So come down and check it out.

Alexis Park Resort Hotel 375 East Harmon Avenue
Las Vegas, NV 89169  (702) 796-3322
WHEN: Saturday &  Sunday April 9-10. 9am-5pm

It’s gonna be a blast and you’ll be so excited about what you learned you’ll want to get right to work writing your new material. Guaranteed!

It’s National Humor Month!

Written by Jerry Corley – Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic

That’s right! April is National Humor Month and it’s about time too, because I was just recovering from March, which is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. Who doesn’t need a laugh after having your prostate checked–daily, mind you! It was my choice. I happen to have a very hot female internist as my regular doctor, so really, who’s the victim?

So how do we celebrate National Humor Month? I’m going to celebrate by making sure to have a laugh every day. In addition, I’m going to write 10 new jokes a day. Yeah, that’s it!. And I’m going to present that challenge to everyone, professional and amateur comedians alike. Challenge yourself to write 10 per day. Here’s the catch. It’s humor, not stress, so if you only come up with one, that’s fine! Here are the rules: No topic is off limits and you have to have fun doing it. Once it stops being fun and you find yourself stressing, go to YouTube, look up your favorite comedian and spend the next 10 minutes laughing and forget about it. Nobody can be a failure during National Humor Month…well, except Kirstie Alley. I have a feeling she’s going to wind up being the butt of many of the jokes–speaking of butt, have you seen the way Kirstie is moving her butt on Dancing With The Stars? Last Monday night’s episode she shook it so hard it wound up in the first 10 minutes of “House.”

I encourage everyone reading–which should be about 3 of you–to try to write some jokes. Read my blog called JOKES 1-2-3 (You can find it by looking in the search window), to give you some ideas on how to come up with ideas and get started, because everyone should laugh. Then add the joke to the comment box.

Did you know the number one quality men and women look for in a partner is a “sense of humor?” So not only is laughter the best medicine, it could also get you laid! Can I count that as my first joke?

Jerry Corley is the founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic, a 8-week comedy course taught at his studio in Burbank, CA.