How do I Get on Stage and be Funny When Everything Hurts?


Got a call from a young comedian today. Didn’t recognize the number, but I took the call anyway.

He said, “Thanks for taking my call. I really need some advice…”

I sighed to myself and thought… I knew I shouldn’t have answered the phone…

Then I heard his voice crack a little.

Dude was hurting.  He went on to tell me what was up. He said, “I have a show tonight. My girlfriend just broke up with me and I’m fu**ing crushed. She won’t even talk to me. What do I do?”

I thought to myself, Did you call the right number? I’m a joke writer!

Then he said, “How do I go on stage and be funny when everything hurts?”

I like to help people. I thrive in it, but when he said that, I could feel myself like, I don’t know–jump–to the occasion.

I didn’t know whether the comedian in me was feeling heroic or schadenfreude;  some kind of sadistic enjoyment that someone else was suffering.

So I took a breath and just let words come out of my mouth. I’m sure it was rambling–like these blog posts the three of you endure from me!

I said, “I’m sorry you’re going through such pain. Don’t fight it. You’re human. Embrace it.

“Allow yourself to wallow in it and experience it, but when that spotlight turns on and they call your name… it’s showtime… got it?!

“Because feeling overwhelmed by emotion is only one part of being human. Another part being able to turn on your own light, shift your emotion and give them a show, even if it’s on a fucking dime.

Because being a performer is not what we do, it’s who we are.” 

I know that might sound cliche or trite to the point of sounding ingenuous, but nothing could be truer.

When I first started in this business, one of my life changing moments occurred when I heard a joke by Rodney Dangerfield (now, you have to imagine his voice saying this joke for the best effect).

He said, “Comedy is in my blood; too bad it’s not in my material!”

And though I laughed at the punchline, it was the set up that I really felt to my bones. I thought comedy is in my blood.  And that was the moment I decided to do it for the rest of my life.

And in the rest of your life, you are going to experience ups and downs, breakups and deaths, but that doesn’t change who you are.

That light still goes on at eight o’clock and that audience has paid good money to laugh. So for that five minutes, thirty minutes or an hour, you have to bring it and bring it hard.

My talk seemed to help this young man on the phone, because his voice changed. He became animated.

“You’re right!” He said. His voice cracked again, but this time for a different reason; he was excited.

“Thank you for taking my call and thank you for the advice, man. Really!”

We hung up the phone. (Okay, didn’t really ‘hang up’ the phone. I pressed a button…)

But, if I didn’t say it on the phone, I’ll say it here: ‘Thank YOU, young comedian!’

After that call, I felt I was supposed to feel proud of myself and, I don’t know–maybe heroic?

But in that precise moment, my eyes filled with tears and I realized, that call was as much for him as it was for me.

In short, we’re human. Allow yourself to feel, to go through the ups and downs of life. But when that light goes on, give them a show and be unstoppable!

After all, being a comedian or a performer is not what you do; it’s who you are.

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Stop Overthinking the Joke. Sometimes It’s Just ‘Funny’


If there was a big yellow caution sign for anyone in the comedy world it should be “Watch for Big Head”

One of my most notorious weaknesses in comedy is trying to be too clever.

I’ve spent nearly thirty years, not only as a comedian and comedy writer, but also as a comedy scientist; figuring out what makes something funny and how to bottle it so it can be reproduced at will.

Sometimes I’ll write a joke and think to myself, ‘that’s too simple… that’s not going to get a big laugh,’ only to try the joke on stage and get not just a great laugh, but an applause break.

I wrote a joke the other day and opened with it that night at the Comedy Store:

“The republicans are consulting with Caitlyn Jenner on how to best deal with Donald Trump. You know, since she’s now the expert on how to quickly eliminate a dick.”

The joke got a crisp laugh, then solid applause followed… and just earlier I was in my ‘big head’ I wondering whether that would even get a good laugh.

It’s Easy to Get Too Clever

The more experience we have in comedy, the easier it is to get too clever; to get stuck in analysis of the joke.

Most solid comedy is about simple associations, recognition and release of tension. Because Caitlyn Jenner, Donald Trump and the presidential race are all politically charged and issues that are now, it’s more likely to create tension and provide for solid release. And since release is the one of the top triggers for applause, it worked.

But because I was in my ‘big head,’ I second guessed myself.

If it Sounds Funny, Do It!

Sometimes, we have to remember to get out of our own way and write what we think is funny. Does it sound funny? Does it feel funny? Then do it.

Emmy Award-winning writer, Gene Perret said, “Sometimes the joke doesn’t need to be categorized. Sometimes it defies explanation, it’s just funny.

He goes on to say,

“Steven Wright, one of the most inventive comedy writers of all time, has a line that defies categorizing, that reads:

“When I was a kid we had a sandbox in our back yard that was filled with quicksand. I was an only child… eventually.”

Kathleen Madigan had a line in her act during the time when the book Final Exit, a controversial book on how to commit suicide, was first published. She talked about being in a bookstore checkout line behind a customer who was buying it.

“The guy was about to pay $19.95 for a book on how to commit suicide. I said, ‘Hey man, I’ll stab you in the head for five dollars.'”

Mr. Perret makes a good point. Although each of these jokes has a definite reason that they would trigger laughs, they don’t necessarily fit into any category. They are just funny.

I like explaining and understanding ‘why’ something is funny. It’s my life’s work. But sometimes you don’t need an explanation, sometimes funny is just funny.

So resist the temptation of getting into over analysis of the joke, if it feels funny, just do it.

In other words, watch out for ‘big head.’


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The Best Way to Write a Comedy Act if You’re an Absolute Newbie


Got an email from a kid, (I say, kid but for all I know the guy could’ve been fifty!), it said, “Hey Jerry I’m new in comedy. What’s the best way to start building a comedy set? Should I write it down first or just do stuff that my friends think is funny?”

This is a great question and one I receive a lot.

One of the benefits of people leaving me comments at the bottom of my blog posts and sending me emails is that I can then turn around and answer them on my comedy blog.

So how do you write a comedy act if you’re an absolute newbie?

The thing is that there’s no single answer to this question. Comedians work different ways.

I emphasize writing, because that’s how I started.

I studied other comedians then started taking the things that happened in my daily observations and wrote them down.

I didn’t begin performing until I had what I thought was an hour of material. I didn’t think you could start until you had an hour, because that was about the length of all the comedy albums I was listening to at the time.

Of course we know differently now. You can begin to perform in comedy if you have three to five minutes.

I started by doing observational, external material, because I wasn’t yet comfortable talking about myself.

Two things that stand out in my recollection:

1. When I was twelve I went to the Post Office with my father and there was a sign on the door,  it said, “NO DOGS ALLOWED, except seeing-eye dogs.”
I said to my father, “Dad, what’s a ‘seeing-eye’ dog?”
He said, “It’s a dog that helps blind people get around.”
I then said, “Then who’s this sign for?”

My Dad thought it was funny. I didn’t even think it was a joke. Years later I heard Garry Shandling do almost an exact version of that which I didn’t even think was a joke and he got big laughs.

But at that time I was playing soccer and music and didn’t have any interest in performing or writing comedy.

2. When I started studying comedy another Garry Shandling joke stood out. The joke was, “I just sold the house I live in. Got a great price for it too. Made the landlord mad as hell…”

The first Shandling joke just stuck out to me as simple observational humor, (which I now know is more than just a simple observation; it’s more paradoxical, possibly tipping into irony), which is more powerful than simple observation.

The second one is pure structure. It is a perfect reverse. Being armed with this information changed the way I went about creating my early comedy sets.

I still have my very first performance on VHS. I watch it and it’s okay, but the structure is sloppy and it just sounds unorganized. It was me telling stories and observations that weren’t economized and reduced to what I know a tight bit should sound like now.

There are three primary techniques I use when creating a comedy routine. The first way is to always write down things that are funny. Usually when I’m with a group of friends and something occurs that makes me and them laugh, I will write it down to possibly use later.

The other technique is to sit down and write jokes. I prefer this technique because I don’t have to wait for the coincidence of the moment with friends or a funny situation to just happen to ‘occur’ to me. I can just sit down and generate material.

I do this by utilizing about 23 different approaches, but for the sake of this blog post, I will just write about two approaches. Here they are…

They are simple called “Fifty Facts” and “Fifty Random Lines.” That’s where I will write down fifty facts about me. The procedure usually goes like this:

  1. Write down 50 facts about me; just facts.
  2. Sometimes I will get the facts from answering questions on a personality profile quiz.
  3. Select 10-25 of those facts that seem to antagonize or inspire me most.
  4. Put each of those lines on a page and try to utilize 3 primary comedy structures:
    1. Double-entendre  using the implied meaning of a word and turning it into the comedic meaning. (Ie: Came home from work the other night and I say to my wife. “How you doin’? She’s says, “Having some gas pains. I’m like, “Everyone is, it’s like four bucks a gallon again.”).
    2. Incongruity (finding and juxtaposing 2 or more contrasting ideas that are in the line ie: “I’m Irish and American Indian. You know what that means? I pretty much have VIP seats waiting for me at any AA meeting.”).
    3. Reverse (as in the Gary Shandling joke above. Ie: “You know what my baby loves to play with? Chest hair and she’ll yank on it too. Finally I had to say to my wife, ‘You know, you might want to get that shit lasered.”).
  5. After I have several jokes written, I go back and flesh the jokes out with tags, toppers and act-outs, to bring the jokes alive and get more laughs per minute from each.
  6. I will then repeat this process with the 50 Random Lines which are external facts, headlines, ad copy, statements from leaders, etc.

This is of course the simplified version and a lot more goes into it. But this is the beginning. After I have about five minutes (a page and a half at a 12 point Times New Roman font ), I then rehearse it out loud. When we say our material out loud, different creative parts of our brains are being accessed and new ideas will be inspired. I audio record all out loud rehearsals so I don’t miss anything. After I rehearse it 25 times all the way through, I then perform it on stage…

Remember I said I used three techniques? This is the third; performance.

When you’re on stage in front of an audience you, once again, have new sensations that are occurring and your brain is in somewhat of an altered state resulting in new impulses and ideas which will continue to help you to shape the act even more.

So in answer to the “Kid’s” question, you can use what works for you, but for me it’s a combination of writing jokes, recording coincidental observation and letting the act evolve in performance.

This is a simple approach I also look for paradoxical situations, comedic irony and one of my favorites, benign retaliation.  To really dig deep into all of the available laughter triggers and comedy structures dig into my eBook writing system, “Breaking Comedy’s DNA” and start to really break into comedy writing.

If you have any questions about getting your act started, leave me a comment below. Love to talk to you!

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Measuring Yourself Against The Better You

shutterstock_244966906I’ve been very fortunate in my personal and professional life. I did my first acting job when I was eighteen months old, played on a professional soccer team at 19 years old (for a short period of time because I… sucked.), played in a very cool horn band, (I played the trombone), appeared in a lot of commercials in my twenties, I transitioned into comedy and comedy writing, I played the road for years, (many years 43 weeks a year), I wrote for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno for eight years.

I founded a school that teaches comedy writing, stand-up and improv, develops comedians and gets them working.

I recently evolved and transitioned and added another Me and created, executive produced and co-wrote a major motion picture called Stretch (a comedy-action-thriller), which had a star-studded cast.

Oh and I helped raise a terrific group of kids (most in college, but still with a 15-year-old and 4-year-old).

I did and continue to do, because I keep moving, keep learning and keep innovating.

There were plenty of backslides and points of desperation, (failed relationships, dry spells, periods of lower income, etc.)…

But, one of the things I remind myself of is that that this life is constant. In order to achieve success, you must constantly and continuously reinvent yourself.

One of the most frequent questions people ask is “what’s the secret to success?”

I know this: there is not one secret. But I do know one secret and that secret I learned from Tony Robbins, (who, by the way, got it from Dale Carnegie, who got it from Napolean Hill, who got it from… you get the point).

Tony said, “Find out what the successful people are doing, copy it and you will be successful.”

Which leads me to this post. It’s a little inspiration from Jack Cheng, ( It’s called “The Better You.”

If it inspires you, leave me a comment. Share it. Go forth and conquer!


by Jack Cheng
Someone is sitting at your desk. There is something familiar about this person. From a distance, this person bears a striking resemblance to you: they have the same frame, the same face, the same features as you. But as you get closer, you begin to notice subtle differences between this person and yourself.

They look like they eat healthier and exercise a little more regularly. Their posture is slightly better and their clothes have fewer wrinkles.

This person is the Better You.

The Better You knows the same things you know. They’ve had the same successes you’ve had, and they’ve made the same mistakes.

They strive for the same virtues and falter to the same vices. The Better You procrastinates, too. The Better You is not perfect. But the difference between you and the Better You is that the latter reacts a little faster, with a little more willpower. They practice their virtues a little more often and succumb to their vices a little less often. They rein in their procrastination a little quicker. They start their work a little earlier. They know when to take a break a little sooner.

The Better You knows, just as you know, that doing what you love is difficult but worthwhile. They know, just as you know, that the difficulty is what makes it worthwhile in the first place. They know, as you know, that if everything was easy, nothing would have significance, and you wouldn’t need to adopt new metaphors or read new books about how to do the work you should be doing.

The Better You is your believable possible. Your believable possible is your potential in any given moment, the person you know at your very core that you are capable of being at this instant. Your believable possible exists at the edge of your perceived ability. Your believable possible is frightening and uncomfortable, but not to the point of paralysis. Your believable possible is just uncomfortable enough.

We all have different believable possibles. Bruce Lee’s believable possible was being the most dangerous man in the world. Muhammad Al’s was being the greatest boxer of all time. Your own believable possible maybe slightly less ambitious. But only you know what your own believable possible is.

The Better You is not a fixed, singular being. The Better You springs new from each moment, is born and dies with each action you take. Each action creates a new set of possibilities. The Better You is an alternate dynamic present, rather than a fixed, static past.

Measuring yourself against the Better You is no mere matter of racing to beat the person you were the day before. Instead, you’re racing to keep up with the person you could be right now.
The Better You wants you to meet them where they are. The Better You is the ant that has strayed from the colony and discovered a source of food.

The Better You knows the way. It says: follow me. And even when there is no food in sight, you know where the trail will take you in the end. The Better You will never lead you astray. So you follow the trail. You sit at the desk and place your hands on your tools—on your keyboard and mouse, your notebook and pen, your palette and brush—and you start on your way.

There are the rare moments of alignment, moments when you reunite with the Better You, when you match the Better You move for move. They are sitting at the desk and working and writing and sketching, and you are sitting at the same desk and working and writing and sketching.

You and the Better You are occupying the same physical space and the same mental space. You are completely engaged in the work before you. And when you are doing the work you should be doing, the work the Better You is doing, you become whole, fully there.

The joy of alignment makes alignment more frequent, and as alignment becomes more frequent, something interesting happens: you begin to see a different person, a better Better You. The new Better You is slightly out of reach, just as the old one was, because there is no limit to Better.

Better is the mechanized rabbit on the rail at a greyhound race. Better is propelled by motors and microprocessors and magic and things our dog-brains cannot comprehend, our dog-bodies cannot outrun.But the Better You knows, just as you know, that the thrill is in the chase, that happiness is motion, and that fulfillment is the constant striving for that which is just beyond our reach.

The Better You knows this is the way it has always been, and the way it always will be. And you know it, too.

JACK CHENG is  writer, designer, and entrepreneur based in Brooklyn. He is the author of These Days, o novel about the human side of technology, published in spring 2013.

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How to Write Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction

Wanna learn what makes Daniel Tosh tick? Some people just think he’s an arrogant A-hole. But there’s more to Tosh than meets the eye.

Take a look at this deconstruction of an 8-minute segment of Tosh’s special “Happy Thoughts” and learn exactly the tools Tosh uses to get laughs.

Some Background on Tosh

Happy Thoughts was released in 2011 and was Daniel Tosh’s second big comedy special after his acclaimed debut stand-up special, ‘Completely Serious.’

Prior to this, Tosh was already hosting and executive producing Tosh 2.0 for Comedy Central. He already had a huge fan base that knows his character and what he does as a comedian; he presents you with a slice of life from a cynic’s double-edged switch blade.

Tosh was born in Germany and raised in Florida as the son of a preacher, which may explain his notorious cynicism toward life. I know if I was raised as a preacher’s kid, I would think the world was full of crap too.

So as we deconstruct a little Tosh here, (about 8 minutes), understand that most of the audience already ‘gets’ him and his point of view and if you don’t, it’s basically through the eyes of a bit of a clever, nerdy, skeptic.

I say, nerdy because the Tosh went to Astronaut High School… and yes, he did graduate.

He could’ve been named “Most likely to have a countdown,” because on his website, he actually had a clock counting down to his thirty-eighth birthday. It was then where he said that if he wasn’t a success, he would retire from comedy and kill himself… or move to the beach.

When the clock finally counted down his fans sent emails telling him he was a success.

He now lives at the beach.

How Tosh Gets Laughs

Watch how Tosh uses all the comedy structures and taps into all the laughter triggers we discuss and have made our mantra at the Comedy Clinic.

So watch the video then come back and see line-by-line, how Tosh triggers the laugh each and every time. There’s almost no mystery to how or why he gets laughs.

One absolute take-away I got from this video is that Tosh is NOT just an “attack” comedian. Tosh continuously uses self-deprecation to remind the audience that he doesn’t take himself that seriously. Count how many ways he uses it.

You’ll learn a lot about diversifying your own self-deprecation and how many different ways you can write it.

It’s all in the structure. Here we go…


TOSH: San Francisco..

TOSH: Alright you’re ruining the show.
(Cheers subside).

TOSH: Thank you for clapping for what my parents are ashamed of.
(LAUGHS). Self-deprecation.

TOSH: San Francisco. Yes.

TOSH: My third favorite city to do comedy in.
(LAUGHS). Surprise. Unexpected. Ambivalence. Most comedians give praise. He tells them pretty much that they weren’t good enough for first. Think about it this way:

When someone gives praise, we’re so used to hearing them say something like, “you’re the best.” Instead he gives them a solid and specific ranking of ‘third.’ (Unexpected). And because of the tension of the live audience, it heightens the moment.

It’s almost like if a guy and girl are in bed and he he says, “If we were in school what kind of grade would you give my dick?” Girl’s like, “C-minus.” That would be a funny situation.

You would expect in a heightened moment like that the girl would absolutely give her lover an A but she not only surprises us with less than that, she actually gets really specific with the ‘minus.’

TOSH: That’s not bad right? Top ten. Congratulations.

Tags to the previous line. The audience is laughing at the quirky incongruity that he’s congratulating them on placing third.

TOSH: More butt-fucking per square foot… (LAUGHS) than anywhere else in the world.

There are many times when you hear a skilled comedian say something that elicits a groan, or makes the audience pull back, but instead of dropping it, the comedian will repeat it and repeat it again. What he is using is the the ambivalence laughter trigger at its essence.

It’s like he’s saying, I will say it over and over letting you know that I know it’s inappropriate, but I’m saying it anyway… that totally pulls the ambivalence trigger and that also creates surprise. It’s also part of Tosh’s rules-don’t-apply-to-me character.

TOSH: That’s you guys, that’s you.
Talking right at them, creates tension and release and also embarrassment, again, because of the outlandish accusation.

That takes balls people.

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction2

But he’s not done yet. He carries it further when he then uses incongruity and association in his next joke…

TOSH: Put that on your post cards. (LAUGHS) “San Francisco… more butt-fucking per square foot… miss you.” Tosh adds the “miss you” line as part of the the recognizable piece of the post card tag.

Recognition is powerful. How many of you saw the image of the postcard; especially when Tosh said “Miss You?”

Tosh now transitions, by using some self-deprecation…

TOSH: Now, if you’ve not seen me perform before, I am NOT good live… heads up.
Perfect time to knock himself down a peg after picking on San Francisco. And notice the tag ‘heads up…’ It might seem innocuous, but it’s well-planted to get another tickle from the audience to keep them rolling.

Everyone should consider reviewing their core act and really studying where one might put some extra tags and toppers that ‘color’ their jokes. Not only do tags and toppers add more laugh points, but they serve the purpose of making the jokes sound more conversational.

This is one of the key reasons people don’t think Tosh does ‘jokes.’  Reading this break-down you can clearly see that he does. He’s just terrific at finessing the material!

Quick side note: the San Francisco-Butt-Fucking premise is nothing original. But he does approach it in an interesting way.

TOSH: If I offend anybody tonight, I apologize. That’s not my intention. I’m not going to guess what your personal line of decency is, I cross my own from time to time… it’s how I know I still have one. (LAUGHS)

It’s simple truth and also a little bit of self-deprecation, in that he implies that he has to check to see if he has a line of decency. (and that’s funny!) And it’s a terrific way to ease into his next joke which is an attack joke. But not directly, as he finesses into it by saying…

TOSH: I have no problem with illegal immigration in this country… except for the fact that they don’t serve on jury duty.

I love this line because it is so unexpected, right? Who would’ve thought to use illegal immigrants on jury duty? Brilliant! But that just warms up the audience for his next line…

TOSH: That’s horse shit! It should be the other way around, they should serve exclusively on jury duty… yeah!

This elicits laughter and a solid applause break, first because the incongruity (we don’t usually think of illegal immigrants on jury duty and secondly the audience applauds because it’s a social situation that creates a lot of tension and he found a way to utilize illegal immigrants to solve what is considered a hassle for most people (jury duty), imposed on us by the ‘Man.’

So there’s benign retaliation and paradox present because we utilize what’s considered a social problem to take care of another social problem. Benign retaliation is like the perfect joke structure because it has an antagonist and a protagonist.

Tosh finds a way to have the antagonist (illegal immigrants) used to go after the other antagonist (government mandated jury duty). Clever & Paradoxical.

Paradox is one of those structures that doesn’t always reach the level of comedic irony. But it is an impressive tool that can take your writing to the next level.

But that only sets the audience up for the double edge of the joke…

TOSH: Then it finally would be a jury of one’s own peers… (ouch)

Laughter, applause, groans… (And notice how he let’s them have their moment), because he stepped over the “line.” But being Tosh, he doesn’t pull back he presses the subject further…

TOSH: It’s not a stereotype if it’s always true. (Simple Truth. His simple truth, but we get it).
This goads the audience in typical Tosh fashion; not apologizing for the overreaching statement, which through his character, is what makes it funny.

On top of that, notice he said, “always true.” That surreptitiously takes this joke to a level of absurdity, so that if you’re listening closely, you can tell he’s clowning and not serious. You can get away with this level of absurdity when you’re using the ambivalence laughter trigger as well as benign retaliation.

It gets the audience laughing at the fact that they shouldn’t be laughing… then he pushes again.
TOSH: Yeah, then it becomes law.

Then he pushes yet again, but then teases the audience.

TOSH: That joke is called, “Latinos are Criminals.” (They laugh-groan), That’s just the title, it doesn’t mean anything. (Using simple truth to call them out on their judgement of the material).

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh – A Deconstruction3

This one of my favorite things Tosh does. He says “Latinos are Criminals” with his tongue planted deeply in his cheek and when the audience still groans, he remains playful and calls them out by saying, “That’s just the title…” It’s his way of continuously reminding the audience that they just might be overreacting.

After another hard-hitting bit of material, Tosh then does some more self-deprecation; this time by using his girlfriend. The girlfriend in this case is sort of used in a quasi benign-retaliation scenario. He also uses compare and contrast to build it more into a joke format…

TOSH: Sometimes before I walk on stage my girlfriend might say, “Have a great show. Break a leg.” This is what she said to me a few weeks ago, right before I walked on stage, she said, “Hey, you ever worry about gettin’ shot when you’re out there?”
I’m like, ‘what the hell is wrong with you?’
She followed it with, “You should move around more.”
This is a perfect setup for benign retaliation, with which Tosh responds…
‘Uh, You should go back to reading your vampire books.’

I should move around more? As if a sniper would get frustrated; ‘I can’t keep up. He lives.’
(Notice how Tosh doesn’t bail on the act-out, he continues to play it through even as the audience is laughing. He gives the “thumbs-up” as though he was the sniper).

TOSH: You ever scratch your girlfriend with a hangnail and pretend you’re Wolverine?

This is an interesting joke choice. It’s almost a non-sequitur. It seems to come completely out of left field. It’s so surprising and disconnected that the audience laughs. There’s also recognition present. I’ve scratched my girlfriend with a hangnail, but never pretended I was Wolverine–since comedy is heightened-reality the pretending is plausible.

Here’s what’s super interesting to me. Since Tosh added the Wolverine element, he continues with the story simply by imposing the values of the plot points of Wolverine on himself:

TOSH: She’s like, “Knock it off.” I’m like (character voice): ‘You made me like this…’ Then you run into the woods, you’re naked. You’ve gotta figure things out; ‘where’d I come from?’ ‘why am I wearing dog tags?’ ‘DID I SERVE?!’

This is awesome example of pure structure getting the laugh. The idea barely makes any sense but since Tosh uses the Wolverine element to drive an act-out scenario and includes recognizable story points from the movie “Wolverine,” the audience laughs.

TOSH: A lot of times people complain that their significant other takes too long to get ready to go out at night. I’ve never had that complaint. And I think it’s because I never want to go anywhere. (LAUGH). Strange huh? Why did the audience laugh at that?

It’s not that funny on the page. But if you listen rhythm of the joke it’s a paired phrase (‘never had that complaint’ / ‘never want to go anywhere’). Another example of the structure getting triggering the audience’s laughter mechanism.

TOSH: So I could care less how long it takes her to get ready. That’s just less time I have to spend with her horrible friends pretending I don’t want to kill myself. (LAUGH) Here’s another example of heightened reality. The laughter trigger at play here is ambivalence. Heightened and exaggerated.

There is surprise that also results from the seemingly cold-hearted ambivalence. But with Tosh, we’ve already established that when he goes this deep he’s all tongue-in-cheek. Plus EVERYONE has been in a relationship where they have to endure their significant other’s friends. So recognition is also very present. This is what stimulates that applause.

TOSH: She’ll take an hour and a half to get ready, she’ll come down and be like, “Oh my God, you were so patient.” I’ll be like, “For what? You look disgusting! Right? Yeah! Now she’s crying… whatever! I just bought myself another two hours to watch the game!

Again outrageous. Almost not believable.

But it’s Tosh, so we go with it. Ambivalence and recognition, pure and simple, is what is stimulating the laughs. But who else besides Tosh could get away with that? But in Tosh style, he know it crosses the line, but this time instead of self-deprecating, he pushes more…

TOSH: Yeah, it’s not like she’s gonna break up with me… she’s ten years younger. She’s one opinion away from being replaced. (This elicits groans and applause; evil and good fighting it out in the audience). Then Tosh uses more ambivalence…

TOSH: I can say that. I have a television show. (LAUGHS) Yeah, the power at our household has shifted dramatically. (LAUGHS) Pure ambivalence again. Tosh even sort of turns away from the audience in an sort-of “I-don’t-even-care-what-you-think” pose. Ambivalence creates surprise, because, really?

Who says that sort of stuff in public? (Except comedians). Also keep in mind he’s sort of giggling throughout. That’s important when doing run-on ambivalence. If the audience knows you’re joking then they want to joke with you. Also remember that people love to be given permission to misbehave.

This taps into the release laughter trigger as well, leaving the audience with sort of the feeling of: I’ve always wanted to vent like that…

When Tosh says, “The power at our house has shifted dramatically.” He taps into the structure of associative humor (he just tagged the joke using a phrase that related to the original subject matter).

Since the audience is already rolling with the laughs, comments (or tags and toppers) that associate to what you just said will carry the laughs further. Plus it has the added benefit of keeping it conversational.

Then, once again, Tosh comes back with self-deprecation, but with an interesting twist:

TOSH: Now, if you’re following me on Twitter, you know that I had diarrhea today. (LAUGHS) Non-sequitur surprise, self deprecation. (Remember: anytime Tosh self-deprecates, he’s using the superiority laughter trigger; making the audience feel superior, while reminding them that he has flaws and doesn’t really take himself too seriously).

TOSH: Am I using that website properly? (LAUGH). Mischievous, playful, incongruity and recognition.

TOSH: Sometimes I like to sit on the toilet in reverse. (LAUGH; you could even say “cheap” laugh), but nonetheless, this non-sequitur performs well giving us a silly transition to a silly visual. (Really? Who didn’t get a visual of a guy straddling the toilet backwards in that scenario?!).

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh4
Then Tosh pauses giving the audience a real chance to contemplate what he just said. He then uses an act-out of the audience macro conscience…

TOSH: We’re listening. (LAUGHS)… I’ll give you one guess as to why they laughed here; If recognition triggers the audience’s collective conscience to say I’ve seen that, I’ve heard that, I’ve done that. Isn’t it just as powerful–if not more so–for the audience to say, I’m doing that?!

That also taps into coincidence, doesn’t it? And after all, when something is coincidental isn’t it also surprising?

Then to heighten the play, Tosh, does an act out of sitting on the toilet backwards and the possible conversation one might have with oneself. This conjures another solid laugh with applause. Often the act-out tag does this because it taps into the listener recognizing the situation that the comedian just set up.

Study that structure; it’s awesome. Some comedians utilize that one structure for nearly their entire acts. It’s powerful.

TOSH: Yeah, the people that are clapping right now are the ones who are saying, “Okay all kidding aside, that guy is a genius.” Again he uses the tactic of assuming what the audience is saying… He’s tapping into recognition and coincidence.

The audience recognizes that even though they’re probably not thinking that exactly, they may be thinking, hmmm, never thought about that… or something similar.

Even if they’re not thinking that, what Tosh did was plant that visual of him sitting on the toilet backwards, (in effect saying ‘anyone can do this’), in their collective minds, so that when he refers to it (even with the tactic of assuming what the audience is saying) it’s still an associative tag to the original setup of “sitting on the toilet backwards.”

Great technique.

TOSH: No, no, no, no… it’s the simplicity. I’ve been sitting on that thing my whole life. You’re telling me that I can turn around, have a bowl of cereal, (LAUGH)… yeah… set the alarm ten minutes later, (LAUGH)… multi-task, (LAUGH)… alright, nobody should eat while on the toilet… (ACT-OUT: Dumb Guy): “But I’m lactose intolerant and I’ve always wanted to enjoy a bowl of Puffins with whole milk…”

Keep in mind this whole joke is a shit joke. I mostly veer away from shit jokes, but you have to admit, it’s a pretty clever approach to doing shit joke. Also if you study the run Tosh does with this… that last bit continues with short–sometimes, one word–tags; each getting a solid laugh.

This is why Tosh is looked at as one of the top comics today. His ability to keep the audience rolling in laughter.

Immediately following this, once again Tosh goes into self-deprecation; this time it’s someone calling him out via email he received about this joke. Those who think Tosh is just an attack comic are missing out on the finer techniques he’s using as a comedic artist, painting in a stumble everywhere it’s needed to remind the audience that he has flaws too.

TOSH: Somebody emailed me and they’re like, “Hey Dipshit…” Which for the record is a wonderful subject line if you ever want me to read your email… Oh, let’s see what this nice fan has to say…! You had me at hello… (LAUGHS).

Tosh is wonderful at both blending quick act-outs and the milking the act-out tags. Realize that everytime he speaks either as another person or character, or his own consciousness, he’s doing a bit of an act-out.

Then he not only says the line “Oh, let’s see what this nice fan has to say…” He pushes it again with a frivolous “You-had-me-at-hello” comment that is also recognizable. And gets a strong laugh. (Recognition is such a powerful laughter trigger!) Cleverly crafted for increased laugh points.

Then he gets back to the act-out of the fan who emailed…

TOSH: (ACT-OUT): “You know you have to take your pants completely off to sit on the toilet backwards. (PAUSES, REFLECTS ACKNOWLEDGES HE’S BUSTED). Touche. Alright. So I don’t research. It’s a pre-shower shit agreed? Can we move on? Sticklers to every joke detail! (PAUSE) You ever have a post-shower shit? Oh! Might as well go back to bed and start your whole day over. (LAUGHS).

There’s a bit of very clever self-deprecation. Tosh is allowing some non-existent fan to put him in his place. This is a great way to use Candor. Candor is nearly a never-miss tactic to use with any audience. It’s admitting to the audience that you are flawed.

Who won’t accept you when you admit to being flawed. Candor taps into the superiority laughter trigger (making the audience feel superior) while also buying yourself some more comedic credibility.

Notice Tosh is using the same sparring technique he used with the tete a tete he had with his girlfriend. She wins, then he wins, then she wins, then he ultimately wins. Using this tactic taps into the benign retaliation strategy.

This strategy usually always works at some level because the audience is not included. It’s a similar tactic to having a back and forth with someone in the audience only there’s less tension. The key is that the entire time, the audience feels superior either to Tosh (when he loses) or to the third party (when they lose).

There’s genius working here on many levels. First, Tosh uses an email, that criticizes his joke, as material for his own act! This is why I don’t mind hecklers, they always provide me with fodder for another show. In a way they’re writing for me and they don’t know it.

Second, when Tosh ‘reads’ the email, and says, “Hey dipshit…” at that very moment, don’t you crave for Tosh to get back at this emailing critic? If your emotions, even a small degree, were urging Tosh to have a comeback for this emailing critic, then Tosh did his job at getting you, the listener, actively involved in his story. Awesome!

Tosh then continues to tag (he uses act-out tags brilliantly) to create a run similar to the Wolverine run he did earlier.

TOSH: Things are wrong! That’s not the order of events. There’s a glitch in the matrix. This world’s not real. Mom! (LAUGHS) Wipe me! (APPLAUSE BREAK).

This run builds tension and when it finally releases the audience is tapped on laughter so they acknowledge the cleverness of the run with applause.

TOSH: Am I the only person that hopes David Beckham has sex with Brad Pitt? (SMALL CHUCKLE) I don’t know who’s in charge of casting in Hollywood, but make it happen before one of them is out of their prime. (SMALL LAUGH) Could you imagine those two men together making love? (BIGGER LAUGH).

Here we have massive incongruity, surprise and recognition laughter triggers at play.

TOSH: If there’s a man in here who’s junk doesn’t wiggle just a little bit at the thought of those two men together… (LAUGH) Embarrassment, surprise and recognition are at play here.

TOSH: This has nothing to do with your homophobic sexual preference. At that level it’s art you monkey! Okay? (Wry grin) (LAUGHS) Ambivalence, recognition and incongruity. Plus the added surprise that he would call someone “monkey.” (Interesting and surprising choice of words).

You should be honored that you share the same restroom with those Greek Gods. (SMALL LAUGH) A topper to continue the roll of the joke.

TOSH: Can you imagine if they had a child (TOSH uses classic comedy structure of “what if?” Instead uses “can you imagine?” This allows the listener to participate in something that can’t really happen). But we still get a vague image of an imaginary good-looking baby.

How to Write Stand up Comedy Like Daniel Tosh5


TOSH:(ACT-OUT: Celestial sound effect): Was that Simba? What the f**k? Was that Simba? (Small laughs). Was that the Beckham-Pitt kid? Was that “Pitt-Kham?” (BIG LAUGH) If you guessed recognition with this one, you’re catching on.

This was recorded during the time when the media was joint branding couples and babies, (IE: “Brad-Jolie”).

TOSH: The most beautiful child the world has ever seen… picture baby-Jesus with better abs. (LAUGHS). That’s a good-looking baby.

Simple incongruity and recognition here; apply the values of a baby on to Jesus and vice-versa. Did you get clear and real imagery in your mind’s eye? Then Tosh did his job.

The more clear the recognizable imagery, the more an opportunity for a solid laugh. But he pushes further and farther than anyone expects…

TOSH: If they had a baby Abercrombie store? They’d hire him to work the front door… (LAUGHS)

Interesting right? There’s not even a punch line here or anything. But that’s the power of tags and toppers along with real recognition.

When he says Abercrombie, do you see the store? Specificity is important when you’re performing because you want the audience to see the images you are creating.

The more specific you get, the more it increases the possibility for a laugh and using recognizable brands is a great and simple way of doing this.

Now Tosh does classic Tosh; he starts to do an act out. Posing like the baby.

TOSH: Right. Just standing there, shirtless… propped up. He can’t stand yet… just leaning against the wall… (Laugh)

Again the imagery is funny. Creating visual imagery. And when Tosh does this there is massive incongruity because we’ve seen the carved manikins and models they use at Abercrombie with their six-packs. Tosh is putting a baby in this scenario and the incongruity and recognition is what is triggering the laughs.

Now he does something really interesting. In the middle of his special, he shifts gears and changes the story from a real baby to a “poster” of a baby, (we’ll get into the reasons he may have made this choice later).

TOSH: Big poster… Big poster of himself… just standin’– little tight Pampers… and you’d walk in and you’d be like, (ACT-OUT): I don’t want to say this… but I want to fuck that baby. (BIG LAUGH with BIG GROANS) The audience laughs due to the big surprise and the incongruity and ambivalence of actually imposing a baby into a sexual situation.

But this is where TOSH does this thing; instead of backing off when the audience begins to release their groan, he pushes harder…

TOSH: Oh man do I want to fuck that baby!

Then he adds and act-out within an act-out…

TOSH: If I had three wishes, two of them would be to fuck that baby and one would be for more wishes. (LAUGHS). (ACT-OUT: as the Genie or person who grants wishes) “Well you can’t do that…” Well then I wanna fuck the baby a third time… (More LAUGHS with some possible GROANS) Tosh continues to plow through…

TOSH: I want to use all three wishes bangin’ that baby! (LAUGHS with some applause)… Tosh again heads them off at the pass…

TOSH: Go ahead dumb people… be offended by a joke that doesn’t have a plausible premise. (LAUGHS). Oh, I’d love to read your email… (ACT-OUT: Reading an email as the person who sent it): “I felt you went over the line a bit… when you theoretically wanted to fornicate with a mythical child… (LAUGHS & APPLAUSE)… END OF SEGMENT.

Summarizing Tosh’s Act

The baby part is one of my favorite parts of this segment of Tosh’s act (which in its entirety is over an hour), because he pushes the audiences groan button by intentionally stepping over the line, but in a non existent scenario. Then he continuously pushes harder.

The magic of what he did here is that the scenario is so over the top (but in imagination; remember he said, “Imagine if those two had a child…) When something is put into imagination we’ll imagine the plausibility because it’s like a dream. But even though they started with groans, Tosh got them to a place of nervous, self-conscious laughter.

I call this ‘funeral’ or ‘church’ laughter. It’s that nervous laughter that happens when you know you shouldn’t be laughing at the material, but it is funny so you laugh both at the material and at the fact that you shouldn’t be laughing.

This kind of laughter is contagious.

Then at the very end he calls out the “dumb people.” This is a great technique to utilize embarrassment, superiority, recognition and simple truth.

By calling out the dumb people the vast majority of the audience knows he’s not talking about them, so they feel both superiority and embarrassment for the “dumb people” and then when he talks about someone’s possible email, we get the to the simple truth of what actually just transpired. A non-existent story about something that never happened and never would happen.

By doing this, in a roundabout way, Tosh calls the audience out on their own over sensitivity toward what is just a comedy routine. This releases the audience from their tension and it resolves in a nice applause break, which very effectively, concludes the bit.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Before I wrap what has to be my longest blog post, remember when Tosh shifted gears and said it was a ‘poster’ of a baby? Let’s briefly examine why Tosh shifted gears. I believe it’s because he finally did realize that he might be crossing his own line of decency, (that or the show’s producer).

Think about it, he went from what seemed like the polished version of his joke to suddenly calling it a ‘poster’ of a baby… because even though it’s in our imaginations, fornicating with a poster of a mythical baby is easier to digest than imagining it being a real, living baby.

This totally validates Tosh as not just some frivolous attack comedian, but as a mischievous, wickedly sardonic craftsman of comedy.

Laughs Per Minute

In this short 8-minute segment, Tosh got a ton of laughter and applause; in fact in this video, 72 laugh points in 8 minutes. That averages 9 laugh points per minute throughout this entire 8-minute segment that we’ve examined.

That’s pretty awesome, considering that the average is 4 per minute.

Once you examine this deconstruction of Tosh, who I now have a renewed respect for as a comedic craftsman, I think you will find that his use of the laughter triggers and comedy structures is exactly how he created the stimuli for the audience to release their laughter.

After all, you who are reading this (all three of you) already know that it’s not magic and it’s not a guessing game, it’s a well-crafted understanding and implementation of the art and science known as comedy.

Don’t Watch Comedy Passively

When you study comedians live or on video, you shouldn’t just watch passively, but with the intention of learning. Ask yourself, what’s the take-away? With Tosh these are my take-aways:

Play through my act-outs. Don’t bail too soon.
When I hit something that the audience takes as too edgy, I will commit to saying it over and over a few times until they laugh at the fact that they shouldn’t be laughing at what I’m saying. Turn their groans into funeral or “church” laughter.

Remember to use self-deprecation to remind the audience (and myself) not to take myself too seriously, (Remember comedy is about obstacles).

I hope you enjoyed this. Please share the love and leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this evaluation.

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