COMEDY TECHNIQUE – COMPARE & CONTRAST
How many times have you sat down and stared at a blank page or a blank computer screen trying to find something funny to write?
Discovering how to write comedy on a regular, routine basis does not need to be a mystery.
There are a vast array of techniques that you can apply on a daily basis during your writing sessions that can help you generate a ton of material.
The Compare and Contrast (also know as complex to simple) comedy structure is a very simple, yet very powerful comedy structure that can get you quick laughs.
It’s used by all the top comedians to varying degrees and is a very effective tool.
Bill Burr uses compare and contrast in a self-deprecating way in order to belittle himself or his achievements.
He’ll compare the achievements of others then reference his own achievements to point out that in comparison to the other persons achievements, he is insignificant.
This taps into the superiority laughter trigger, (making the audience feel superior) and usually winds up with a solid laugh.
Bill uses this in his bit on “Gold Digging Whores” when he talks about the achievements of Arnold Schwarzenegger:
Bill Burr – Compare & Contrast Joke Technique
“Anybody here think they could move to Austria, learn the language, become famous for working out, then be a movie star, then marry into their royalty, then hold public office? How many lifetimes would you need? I’m on my third attempt at Rosetta Stone Spanish!”
Here he gets laughs and an applause break! My theory is that the laughs come from the superiority laughter trigger, but Burr also utilizes recognition and says, “Rosetta Stone” Spanish.
He doesn’t just say “I’m on my third attempt at Spanish.” When he says “Rosetta Stone” ask yourself if you get an instant image of the Rosetta Stone brand in your mind’s eye.
In addition to the image, Rosetta Stone is known as the best method for learning a language fast, so Burr is really cutting himself down.
It’s the recognition of Rosetta Stone that takes that joke up a notch so the applause break comes as part of the recognition.
The audience can’t just laugh they want to give Burr more accolades than just laughter.
*Want to see a full breakdown of how Bill Burr Writes Comedy?
There are several ways to use Compare & Contrast as a comedy structure:
Compare & Contrast Act-Out
Amy Schumer finds this technique extremely useful in creating laughs for her act. In a video on “Certified Funny” Schumer uses this technique very effectively within the first 30 seconds of her act:
Amy Schumer – Compare-Contrast Joke Writing Technique
“I’m not shallow at all…
like the guy I’m seeing right now, isn’t even good-looking. Setup
“I’m serious.” Focuser
No one’s ever like: Setup to the Act-out (Here it comes!)
“Who’s that?” Act-out (Compare)
They’re like: Setup to the contrast
“What Happened? Is he Ill? Should we call someone?” Contrasting Act-out
See how cleverly Schumer uses this technique to create the laugh on the way to the “A” joke of ‘not being shallow?’
Once you understand the power of Compare and Contrast as a comedic structure, you’ll be able to plug it in to your act when you need an additional laugh.
One of the advantages of this technique is that it is truly structured. The audience will quickly focus when you hit them with a compare and contrast line.
Because by it’s nature it’s one of those lines that gets just gets audiences focused. That’s one of the reasons commercials that use that side-by-side comparison are so successful. Because it’s sort of a puzzle and an audience gets to participate mentally.
Also much of compare and contrast is dealing with the recognition laughter trigger. The comparisons are familiar to an audience and if you’ve read my book or are familiar with the psychological laughter triggers of a human being, then you know how powerful recognition can be.
Pick 3 Compare & Contrast Subjects and Write 5-10 Comparisons for each. You don’t have to be as clever as Schumer or Burr. In fact I want you to do simple comparisons for your exercise. It will help you mine your brain for these contrasts and help you to train yourself to recognize them in your daily life: Here are some examples:
- Men – Women
- Conservatives – Liberals
- Gay People – Straight People
- Rich People – Broke People
- Hot Chicks – Ugly (or not so hot) Chicks
- Black People – White People
- Fat People – Skinny People
- Cats – Dogs
- Casey Kasem – Ryan Seacrest
- Mother’s Day – Father’s Day
- Tony Stewart – Martha Stewart
- Jews – Catholics
We could go on and on, but…
Let’s take the simple example of Women and Men. I was at my niece’s graduation party recently and lots of family showed up as well as my niece’s friends. The World Cup was on and it was an interesting observation to see how quickly the genders split up and found their spots at the house. The Men were inside the house watching the World Cup and the Women were outside sitting in the Gazebo.
Men and Women
The conversations the men were having and the conversations the women were having were the same only different: Men were like, “Did you see that play? That’s ridiculous! If that’s not a damn foul, I don’t know what is!” And the women were like, “Did you hear who Kim is dating?” It’s ridiculous! He’s 10 years younger. If that’s not craddle-robbing I don’t know what is!”
So, in also utilizing the “Paired-Phrase” structure, in paring the rhythms of the two act-outs, we also heighten the joke.
Another Example: Specificity
Is it me, or did you notice how when you saw Casey Kasem and Ryan Seacrest, the specificity of those items conjured up new ideas. Was there more focus? Did you see images? Sometimes getting specific can give you more motivation to write jokes.
In the example of Tony Stewart (Nascar driver) and Martha Stewart (Magazine editor, entrepreneur), I actually got that idea from Twitter. I was looking through tweets and I saw the name “@Melissa Stewart” and at first glance I thought it was @MarthaStewart.
So in looking for an exaggerated incongruity I thought it would be funny to mistake @MarthaStewart for an opposite, say, @MartyStewart.
In a compare and contrast exercise in my head I said, “If I followed @MarthaStewart I could finally get my master bedroom to coordinate. If I followed @MartyStewart I could probably do the same, but it would be in a bold sports theme.
The thinking being, of course, that we associate good decorating with Martha Stewart while Marty sounds like a beer drinking guy who spends his weekends watching sports.
In a revised draft, using specificity, I decided that in might be better to use a more commonly known Nascar driver, Tony Stewart, (yes, I had to look him up). People who know Tony Stewart. His name is used often enough in middle America.
So the joke might wind up reading:
“I was on Twitter and instead of following @MarthaStewart I accidentally followed @TonyStewart. My rug still ties in the room, but in a bold @Nascar theme!”
Are you starting to get some ideas? Now get to work and write your own! Have fun!