2 Simple Comedy Writing Exercises that Secretly Make You Faster and Funnier

wax-on-wax-off

“Wax on. Wax Off.”

Do you ever have those days when you don’t feel inspired to write comedy? You want to write but you don’t feel funny? Or you’re feeling defeated because you don’t feel like you are growing or not growing fast enough?
Here are 2 simple comedy writing exercises you can do just to stimulate your comedic instincts. These are great when you just want to keep up your writing but you don’t feel like you have anything to write about.

These exercises are like the “Wax-on-wax-off” exercises Mr. Miyagi gave to his student “Daniel-San” in the movie “The Karate Kid.”

In the movie, the kid is bullied by a group of rogue martial arts students, he is saved by a man name Mr. Miyagi, who offers to teach the kid how to defend himself.

Mr. Miyagi starts by giving Daniel-San some chores. One chore is to wash and wax Mr. Miyagi’s cars. To the kid this makes no sense.

What does this have to do with learning karate? 

The kid later learns that the muscles used in putting the wax on the car and rubbing the wax off the car are important muscles used while executing defensive moves in karate.

With comedians, we want to get to the laugh. We want to get to the punchline. But just as most of Karate is not about punching, but redirecting the energy of the other person’s momentum, comedy is often about leading the listener and using the momentum of their expectations to create a surprise ending.

Comedy is more than just trying to “be funny.”

The comedy writing exercises I’m going to show you here may seem to have very little to do with your actual stand-up comedy. But what they do for you is sharpen your instinct and your skill with comedic technique, ultimately making you faster on your feet.

There is an app online called a random sentence generator. Just for kicks I loaded up 10 random sentences and tried to come up with some jokes using a variety of techniques. I came up with a couple of useable jokes, but that’s not the goal of this exercise. It’s just to get some practice in “thinking” like a comedian; looking beyond what’s implied by the the statement.

Start with 3 Questions

I start by taking the sentence, then asking three questions:
  1. What is assumed, expected or what do I imagine the audience sees, and can I shatter it?
  2. Is there a double-entendre in the sentence that I can write an alternate meaning on. In other words does a word have an implied meaning that I can turn to a comedic meaning?
  3. Are there two dissimilar ideas converging that I can do a list with and juxtapose those ideas?

When I was little I had a car door slammed shut on my hand.  

After that my mom thought it would probably be better if she just spanked me.

My mom didn’t really know how to raise kids. Like one time when I was little I had a car door slammed shut on my hand. And my mom was like “next time I should probably just spank him.”

She wrote him a long letter, but he didn’t read it

I dated this girl that I met originally when we were five. I hadn’t seen her in years. But she wrote me a letter. Which was fascinating because the day we met she drew me a letter. Yeah. And I drew her one. It was a letter D for her name Danielle. She cried because I wouldn’t give it to her. We’re gonna have dinner tonight. I’m excited because I think she still wants the D.
Then I rewrote it to tighten it a little below…

This girl I hadn’t seen in years just wrote me a letter. Which was interesting because when we first met when we were in kindergarten, she drew me a letter. I drew her one too. It was the first letter of her name, Danielle. I remember she cried because I wouldn’t give it to her, I wanted to keep it. Anyway, We’re gonna grab dinner tonight. I’m pretty excited because I think she still wants the D.

Notice how in the second draft I changed “we met when we were five,” to “when we were in kindergarten.” It’s an important change. The 5 elements of story are:
  • Character
  • Theme
  • Setting
  • Conflict
  • Plot
Adding “when we met in kindergarten” accomplishes two things: It states our age and it gives the audience a setting; kindergarten.
If the audience sees a kindergarten classroom in their imagination, the line did its job. When the audience sees the colors, smells the smells and feels the textures of the story you’re telling–even in a quick joke–then they are more compelled and involved emotionally in your story.
Therefore, they are not just hearing a joke, they are experiencing it. Big difference.
In taking a random sentence, keep in mind that the 3 questions I ask at the beginning is only the start. I can apply 10 other comedy structures to find a way to turn a sentence into a joke.

Using Inflection to Find an Angle

This next exercise, I just repeated the line aloud multiple times while emphasizing a different word each time, this has an almost magical effect in that it gives the reader a different perspective on the meaning of the speaker’s intent.
What I did with this line is imagine a scene at the airport and the chauffeur is saying the line to the arriving passenger at the luggage carousel. I underlined each word that I emphasized to write each response.
Let me help you with your BAGGAGE.
No need. We left my mother-in-law at home.
Let me help you with your BAGGAGE.
That won’t be necessary. I left the kids at their moms.
Let me help you with your BAGGAGE.
Wait. You can get rid of my wife?
Let me help you with YOUR baggage.
Because it would be weird if you helped me with THAT GUY’S Baggage.
Let me help you with YOUR baggage.
Thank you, Jeeves and uhm… feel free to help with my wife’s baggage too.
Let ME help you with your baggage.
Why? Did you have somebody else who was gonna do it?
Let me HELP you with your baggage.
When you’re done with that can you HELP me find a sex worker?
Let ME help you with your baggage.
Let you? Geez, look at you. Who’s gonna stop you?
Let me HELP you with your baggage.
You’ll get a better tip if you just do it yourself.

I may never use this in a stand-up act, but if you allow your imagination to see all the possible ways you can play the intent of this simple line, you can imagine a character in a movie or on TV respond to a chauffeur in a similar silly way.

See if you can come up with your own, based on what I did on this page, then go generate some of your own random sentences and see if you can come up with some yourself.
Some of you might think this exercise is childish, but when you practice these techniques they have a big impact on your overall skill. They make you wittier, funnier and faster. And every comic wants that!
Like in The Karate Kid, you have to work those muscles you never knew you even had, because when you’re on the stage, there may come a time when you have to “sweep the leg.”

Have fun!

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