Treating Your Comedy Like a Science

test-tubeYou ever watch other comedians come to the club or the open-mic time and time again with new material? Are you envious? You ever watch other comedians just seemingly come up with material on the spot that makes you say to yourself “Genius! I wish I thought of that!” You ever wonder how they did it? How they seem to be able to do it time and time again?” You ask yourself how do they learn how to write comedy so well?

Well there are reasons that some comedians are good at this and some are not. In one instance you might say that a particular comedian is a “natural,” or he was “born with a gift.” But odds are he or she wasn’t “born with it” at all. Very few babies pop out of their mother’s womb saying stuff like “You call that a birth canal? It’s more like trying to push an egg through a stir stick!” or “Hey, Mom! Shave that! Haven’t you heard of a ‘Brazillian?'”

In most instances people who seem to be “born with it” actually had early exposure to comedy either through video or audio when they were younger. If you, as a child are exposed on a regular basis to the rhythms of comedy you begin to identify with comedy more readily and apply it in your life.

Your personality definitely has something to do with it. But the comedian then takes the next step and makes a conscious decision to actually apply it in their life. A light switch goes off and they say, “Hey, I can get laughs with this!” They then begin to recognize what they are doing that gets them laughter and they begin to replicate it. Whether they know it or not, they are learning how to write comedy.

A really good comedian will also study other comedians then apply some of the nuances to their material, recognizing patterns that seem to be consistently effective and use those in their approach to comedy. They see a comedian make an observational joke, then they observe something with a similar nuance and apply it to their repertoire.  As they get better at this, they may start writing this stuff down and then actually take the leap, build an act and start pursuing comedy. The more they do comedy the more they readily identify with the patterns and apply them more. 

For example, since I was seven years old, I listened to George Carlin, Richard Pryor and Bill Cosby, constantly. They all do a lot of observational material. When I was twelve, I went to the Post Office with my father. There was a sign on the door that said, “NO DOGS ALLOWED, EXCEPT ‘SEEING-EYE DOGS’.” I said, “Dad, what’s a ‘seeing-eye’ dog,” (imagining a dog with one really big ‘seeing’ eye:).

He said, “It’s a dog that helps blind people get around:”

I looked at the sign, looked at him and said, “Then who’s this sign for?”

He thought that was really funny. A few years later, I heard comedian Gary Shandling do that same thing as a joke and get really big laughs. I thought to myself, “Wow, if I just collected a whole bunch of those ideas, I could get laughs too!”

It’s almost like a guitar player. You ask any famous guitar player, they’ll tell you how they learned a riff from another guitar player then developed a variation or multiple variations on that riff, until they had their own brand. The more riffs they learn, the more they developed their own version, soon they are the guitar player everyone is emulating.

What’s my point? The point is that a comedian learns to identify with patterns that get laughs. When those “patterns”—whether they are rhythmical patterns or recognition patterns—are part of what some of us in comedy refer to as “comedy structure” or “comedy formula.”

Some comedians, like Dave Chappelle, for example (one of my absolute favorites) develop an understanding of these rhythms by trial and error and experience. Chappelle has been doing stand up comedy since he was thirteen. He has learned what seems to work by developing and tuning his instinct. Jerry Seinfeld (another favorite of mine) also works almost totally on instinct. And when I say instinct, they apply formulas and patterns—not consciously knowing the formula—but because it ‘feels’ right.

In my twenty-five years as a comedian, comedy writer and diligent student of comedy, I have identified 11 major comedy formulas used in comedy today. I’ve learned to memorize them and put them into practice on a regular basis. Now when I write comedy they almost automatically come out and get applied to my stories. They also are a part of my conversation and thought process. Learning these formulas has helped me become a solid comedy writer, being able to write 60-120 jokes a day or more, because studying the formulas helped me really learn how to write comedy. I use these formulas on a daily basis to write comedy and in one of my other blog posts I demonstrate how I do this to write 15 jokes on one topic in thirty minutes.

Once you learn that comedy does have rhythms and patterns (formulas and structure) that do get consistent laughs and in fact are the reason all comedians trigger laughter from an audience, you will be a better comedian and comedy writer yourself. Learning the formulas early helps you to cut through the learning curve and instead of being a comedian that relies purely on their instinct, you can be the comedian who knows why a joke is funny and how to put it into your comedy whenever you want. Then you’ll be the comedian who knows not only how to be funny, but also, how to write comedy.

How To Be A Funny Man in 3 Steps

laughing_girlThere’s an old saying, “It is impossible to dislike someone who makes you laugh.”  Whether you are looking to use humor to improve relationships, sales, presentations, script writing or simply your personality, the power of humor is all around us and shouldn’t be underestimated.

Fortunately, learning how to be a funny man is really not difficult at all. You just need to understand what makes people laugh and then learn how to implement that in your daily dialogue. So let’s get started learning how to be a funny man.

1. Learn what Makes People Laugh

So what makes people laugh? The answer is simple: SURPRISE. That’s right. Surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter. Once you understand that concept you are well on your way to learning how to be a funny man!

There are around eleven comedy formulas in used in contemporary comedy today. I am going to teach you two of the most powerful that you can use in everyday situations that will help you to create surprise, thus, create laughter.

2. The Reverse:

The reverse is a formula that sets up an assumption or expectation for the listener as to what you are going to say and then, at the last minute, shatters that assumption. In doing that you create crisp surprise and trigger laughter from your listener.

E.G.: “I was in Reno last week staying at the Atlantis Hotel. One morning, the house keeper started banging on the door, just banging. Finally I had to get up and let her out!”

Most of us have been in a hotel room when a housekeeper woke us up by knocking. When we hear that story we imagine that she is outside knocking on the door, but when you change the point of view, at the last minute, you shatter the assumption of the listener, therefore, creating surprise and the result is laughter on the part of the listener.

I’m trying to teach my 5 year old daughter how to tie her shoes. She’s like, “I can’t Dad, I can’t.” I said, “How many times have I told you not to use that word? I am NOT your Dad.”

Once again the listener assumes you are going to say one thing, but you shatter that assumption, creating surprise and get laughs. Once you learn to command this technique you are well on your way to learning how to be a funny man.

 

3. The Double Entendre:

The Double Entendre formula is very powerful. In fact word-play is used in the majority of humor today. Words have multiple meanings and if you can keep yourself aware, you can find the alternate meaning of a word and use it to create humor.

Say you’re at the grocery store. We are used to things going a certain way. When we change that familiarity with sudden surprise, we can create laughter. Here’s the key: Listen. I mean really listen to what the people are saying. You will be certain to hear a word that has multiple meanings.

Clerk: “Did you find everything you were looking for?” (What does the clerk mean by “everything?” Groceries, right? What do you think of as “everything?” The meaning of life, a soul mate possibly?) So change the meaning when you answer the question. It might go something like this:

Clerk: Did you find everything you were looking for?

You: I found some wine and candles, but I couldn’t find a soul mate, so instead I got Cheez-Wiz!

The double entendre comedy formula is the most commonly used formula in everyday humor. Do you have a friend that turns everything you say into a sexual connotation? He/She is using double entendre:

A husband and wife are watching American Idol. There’s a terrible singer singing off key:

Wife: Somebody should get her off.

Husband (leering): I’ll get her off.

Wife: I tell you what, you learn to get me off, then you can get her off!

So there you have it. Once you learn that surprise is the number one element that triggers human laughter then you learn the reverse and the double entendre formula to help you develop surprise and in 3 steps you are well on your way to learning how to be a funny man!

Biggest Mistakes Comedians Make When Writing Comedy

By Jerry Corley | Founder – The Stand Up Comedy Clinic

man-scratching-head-300x200Comedy writing is rewarding. There is no better feeling than writing a joke and getting an appreciative laugh. Okay, maybe there is a better feeling but that belongs in a different blog:besides, if I told my wife that the things she does don’t compare to joke writing, she might get offended. Winking smileBut I digress:

The dichotomy between the fun and the reward of getting the laugh versus the sometimes tedious and frustrating process of comedy writing,   is often misunderstood. Comedy writing is fun, but it’s also work. Most comedians and comedy writers forget about that. You have to put in the work to get the rewards. The more work you put in the bigger and better the rewards:usually.

It is like guitar playing. I play guitar as a hobby. The more I practice, the better I get. The better I get, the more I want to play. But when I stop practicing and just play the songs I already know, I stop getting better. Got it?

Sometimes the work might not produce material that works. But that’s the process. You have to learn to accept that sometimes the writing session comes up without truly rewarding material. You have to brush it off and return the next day. Everyone goes through that. The better you get, the fewer encounters you have with that kind of failure, but it does happen.

There are two major mistakes comedians and writers make when writing comedy.

  • Giving up too soon.
  • Trying to find something funny to write about.

Giving up too soon is very common with comedians and comedy writers. Recently I did a comedy writing seminar at the World Series of Comedy in Las Vegas, a week-long comedy conference/competition I recommend to all comedians. While at the seminar I asked the comedians how many of them spent a minimum of 3 hours a day writing material? Five comedians raised their hands—that’s out of eighty in attendance!

If you’re not spending a few hours a day writing, then get the hell out of the business. It’s cut-throat out there and if you’re not putting in the time on your comedy writing, then you’re not going to be able to compete in the stand up comedy business. Besides, if you treat yourself as a professional, the results will begin to start coming back to you in a more professional way. Dig in. Dig deep and get to work.

I learned this many years ago. I was touring with a guy who used to be the head writer on a comedy show. I wrote a joke about Congress that I was pretty proud of. I told it to him. He said, “dig deeper.” I wrote another one, he said, “dig deeper.” He kept repeating that until I had put 3 hours in on the joke. By the time I was done I had 30 lines for that one joke and the more I worked, the funnier they got.

Because of that one event, I started digging deep all the time. It wasn’t long before I got 30 lines in two hours, then an hour.

The Biggest Mistake We Can Make When Writing Comedy

The other big mistake comedians and  comedy writers make when writing comedy is they try to find something funny to write about. It’s uncanny. We’ll look at the newspaper and online stories and repeat like a mantra: “that’s not funny:that’s not funny:that’s not funny.” Until we conclude that there’s nothing funny in the news today. And that’s the biggest mistake we can make when writing comedy.

A joke in its simplest form is STRAIGHT LINE – PUNCHLINE. It’s not FUNNY LINE – PUNCHLINE. So the comedy writer must be vigilant in taking the straight line, the fact, the statement and writing it down. Isolate it in its most unfunny state, then, turn it funny by finding the double-entendre play, or doing a reverse, or doing a listing technique or an analogy play or apply 7 other comedy formulas to turn it into something funny. But always start with a straight line first.

Set a goal: When you sit down to write, just tell yourself you’re going to write 25 straight lines. For some of you that could be the most writing you’ve done in a while.

Keep checking back I’ll have more on this later.

Comedy Clinic Student To Do Set For Showtime

JC Morgan at LovitzComedian and Stand Up Comedy Clinic student JC Morgan, also winner of the “Funniest Comic in L.A.” contest, was recently asked to appear on Showtime for a special they are shooting on ‘pot’ comedy. JC is a very talented writer and comedian and is a perfect example of a student who works hard and applies the techniques taught in Jerry Corley’s classes. He gets noticed, wins comptetitions and now is doing his first special for T.V.! This is all in less than two years.

So What are you waiting for? Get yourself going in comedy and sign up for a class today!

What’s The Key to a Good Joke?

by Jerry Corley – Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic

cardseartI was recently asked “what’s the key to a good joke?” The answer is quite simple actually. Some people think it’s subjective. I asked a couple of pretty popular “comedy teachers” and they said, “laughter, ” another instructor said, “a good punch line.”

Well, “laughter” might be the response when your joke actually contains the key, or “a good punchline” might be a good comedy catch phrase, but it fails to give the student of comedy any real answers. Nor does it give a comedy or humor student any idea on how to design a good punch line. Want the answer? The key to a good joke is the same thing that is key to a good sleight of hand trick. The key is surprise.  That’s right, surprise.

Surprise, according to experts is also the number one element that triggers human laughter. If you surprise the audience as to what you are going to say, then they will usually laugh. If expectation was a balloon, you, as the humorist would inflate that expectation and then:pop it.

“I’m losing my hair. It really bothers me. Like in the mornings, when my wife is running her fingers through my hair—but I already left for work.” 

“I woke up in the hotel this morning and the housekeeper was banging on the door:just banging—finally I had to get up and let her out.”

“My daughter’s five and I’m trying to teach her to tie her shoes. She’s like, ‘I can’t, Dad. I can’t.’ I said, ‘How many times have I told you not to use that word? I am not your Dad.'”

In each of these jokes, you can see that the expectation was inflated, then “popped, ” at the last possible second.

But surprise isn’t the only element that is the key to good humor. Today, the best comedians out there are using four major formulas to get laughs. That’s right: Four!

In fact, there are 10 comedy formulas that are used in conventional comedy. But only four are used by the best comics out there. Whether it’s Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, Robins Williams, Kat Williams or any other comedian that makes you laugh, you’ll find that they pretty much use only four.

I teach all 10 formulas in my comedy courses. But you really only have to master four to be a successful comic, and yes, because they are formulas and contain structure you can teach them to anyone.

To learn more, sign up for my newsletter (located in the right sidebar). You’ll find it is very useful when it comes to writing or performing comedy, or humorous speeches.

In other words, it could give you the answers to the question: “What is the key to a good joke.”

Stand Up Comedy Clinic Alumn is “great” on “Car Warriors”

by Jerry Corley – Founder of The Stand Up Comedy Clinic

That’s right. The students at the clinic are getting work! Tommy Otis who plays “Itchy” on “Car Warriors,” (Wednesday nights @9pm on the Speed network),  is great on “Car Warriors.” I’ve been working with Tommy in the comedy class and doing private coaching with him for about a year now and his ability on and off camera has really blossomed. He’s a naturally funny guy and he’s taking his comedy and his career to new levels.

Tommy’s one of those people who is out there doing the work. Like many comedy students, he’s a little undisciplined, but that also give him the ability to remain unfiltered and just say what’s on his mind.

Car Warriors is an extreme 72-hour custom car build-off where a team of car “all-stars” competes against a team of locals from various shops around the country. In just 3 days they have to build and customize a car. Who would’ve thought there would be so much drama in car customization. These guys can get upset. During an episode, one guy actually starts to choke Tommy. I wasn’t too surprised. Hell, I’ve wanted to choke Tommy!

I’m used to just seeing cars in guys garages as they slowly re-do and re-build. I’ve re-built two engines in my life in my friend’s dad’s custom transmission shop. And I say two engines, because the first time, we screwed it up and had to rebuild it. It took us two months. There was no choking, there wasn’t even a gag. But I guess when you add to the mix 72 hours and competition against a rival team of customizers and you’ve got a show. A show that one of my students is in and that’s cool!

Tommy is an award winning pinstriper, so he had the skills, but add in that he’s working on his comedy skills at the Stand Up Comedy Clinic and he became someone who was a great candidate for the show. Great work Tommy!

Top 10 Best Comedians Of All Time

by Jerry Corley – Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic

I was asked recently if I would post who I thought were the top comedians of all time. At first I thought, “No problem!” Then as I began to put together my list I realized that it was an impossible task. There are so many great comedians. They are great for so many different reasons. I would just make the list anyway and post it, but it’s by no means an accurate list. I’ll also add an honorable mention. I have to because when I first scribbled my list, I lost it. Then I made a new list. I found the old list and they were different so this is by no means an official list. I would love to hear your thoughts, as comedy is an art and art is subjective. Everyone has different tastes. Feel free to contribute.

1. George Carlin
George was my Mentor. I grew up listening to George. I studied him and actually got to share a limo with him to the airport while in New York. He was both a socio-political comedian and an observational/word-play comedian. His “Seven Words You Can’t Say On Television” is classic. He, in my view, was the best, but then again, he gave me the best advice. He said, “Take the shit that drives you absolutely crazy and make it funny!

2. Bill Cosby
Bill Cosby is, of course, on the list. Here’s another comedian I grew up listening to. Bill wasn’t just a stand up. He was also a sit-down. He was a story teller. His inflections and stories about family and human behavior were so familiar we laughed because we had experienced the “same thing.” in our homes.
Despite his issues and being accused of sexual assault, it doesn’t mean he didn’t do anything for comedy. I might drop him from the list soon, but for now, he stays.
One of my favorite routines is “Kids Are Brain Damaged!”

3. Richard Pryor
Richard Pryor was a favorite and yes, another one of the comedians I grew up listening too. My parents used to play his albums, alongside Carlin and Cosby. The language was never a big deal. My parents used to say, “If you have any questions about the words, just ask.” You could imagine the dinner table discussions that inspired. In general, human behavior sense, there are two types of performers: Givers and Takers. Pryor was a giver. He shared his pain, admitted his faults and pleaded with the audience to like him. And we did!

4. Lenny BruceTop 10 Comedians - Lenny BruceWhat else could you say about Lenny Bruce. He took the bullet for all comedians. Some say he paved the way for just the comedians who use profanity in their routines. But Lenny was grander than that. He paved the way to allow “free speech” in entertainment. Even though his life was short (he lived to 41), his effort and love for the art form and to be able to speak freely in this country, allowed all who followed to do the same.

5. Bob Hope – People forget that when Bob Hope was 75, he was still at the top of his game. He continued to shoot television specials and tour the world. Hell, he ran NBC. When he wanted to do a special, he would call the head of N.B.C. and say, “Fred, we want this Sunday.” The head of N.B.C. would say, “Okay, Bob.” And reprogram the network’s entire Sunday evening lineup to accommodate Bob Hope. He was loved all over the world and gave millions to charities. He never did a re-run, EVER! He always wanted his material to be fresh. The only thing that would leave him off this list is that he didn’t write all his own material. He had a well-paid writing staff that was available 24/7.

6. Jerry Seinfeld – Some people would say, “What’s the deal with putting Jerry Seinfeld on the top 10 list?” That’s pure and simple, Jerry Seinfeld took observational material to a whole new level. So much so that he spawned a T.V. show that was nearly canceled in its first airing.  It was entitled “The Seinfeld Chronicles.” The show was brought back as “Seinfeld.” It had a very successful run of 9 seasons. Jerry, decided to end the run, not the network. Then despite being set for 6 lifetimes, Jerry went back to doing stand up. Now that’s a comedian. Jerry is worth over 2 billion dollars. So when you ask why Jerry? I got 2 billion reasons. Here’s a clip of Jerry’s first appearance on H.B.O. He was doing the Smothers Brothers special.

7. Paula Poundstone – I had to get a female in here. I know there are a lot of funny gals out there, but Paula is one of my favorites. Who else can make fun of her suicide attempt and make it funny. She’s quirky and likeable. I always enjoy watching me some Paula Poundstone. I could have put in work-a-holics like Joan Rivers or Phyllis Diller, but, to me, they seemed more like volume contributors rather than substance contributors. Plus, Paula wrote all her own material. Paula is also one who is a “giver” in the Richard Pryor sense. She shares her pain and struggles. The best part of that is that she does it in a way that makes me laugh!

8. Bill Hicks One of the most honest comedians on the face of the planet. His honesty got him notoriety but also got him in trouble. He had limited options because of his honesty and I think that’s why he’s one of my favorites. He took on everything and basically to the “nth” degree. He took George Carlin’s saying, “Take the shit that drives you crazy and make it funny.” He is one of a kind in my book.

9. Steve Martin – Like Lenny Bruce, Steve Martin changed the face of comedy. But he went the other way. His zany antics and use of props took comedy to an entirely different place. He was unique and basically dressed the part. If comedy is incongruity then his white suit, coupled with ‘happy feet’ and the arrow through the head, at the time was legendary. I don’t know how it would play now. But Steve Martin left an impression on the art form.

10. Eddie Murphy – Okay, okay… I know many of you are wondering, “Where’s so-and-so? How can you put together this list and not mention Brian Regan, Milton Berle, Henny Youngman, Jack Benny, Sam Kinnison, George Burns, Mitch Headburg, Ellen DeGenerous, Alan King and so many more? The only thing I can say is the list was not long enough and I put together a list that impacted my life. So Eddie Murphy makes the cut. His Delirious album was one of the funniest I’ve ever listened to, although I preferred Richard Pryor. Eddie sly persona was revealed through that goofy classic Eddie laugh that he carried into films…you know the good ones: Trading Places, Beverly Hills Cop, etc. Here’s one of my favorites: “Ice Cream”

So that’s it! Please feel free to add your own. Comedy is an amazing art form and I applaud all comedians who work hard in this business. I’m in awe of the struggle they go through to make it and the commitment it takes. To all the comedians out there: YOU ROCK!