Quickest Joke Writing Tip Known to Mankind

Okay, that’s kind of a lie… because it’s womankind too.

This is going to be a short post because after all, I did say “quickest” joke writing tip. And I promise that it’ll be quicker than a celebrity marriage.

Which reminds me, since 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce when they say “till death do you part…” they really mean “death” of the relationship, right? Because if all marriages ended because of human death, marriage would be the World’s number cause of death.

Maybe that’s why the groom always looks so pale…

Let’s Get Started

So, you’re sitting there and you have nothing to write about, (pretty sure you’ve all experienced that moment). What do you do?

One of my suggestions is to use the exercise I call “Joke Writing 1-2-3.” Which you can access by clicking the image on this page that says, “How to Write a Joke in 3 Minutes.” It will take you to a video on this website that will walk you through it.

Most new comedians think they have to come up with amusing stories or funny situations before they start writing anything. And you probably know from experience that that can be a trap!

And you can get stuck in that trap staring at a blank page for what seems like an eternity; mumbling something like, “What’s funny? What’s Funny? What’s funny?”

So stop trying to think of something funny. Just think of something and make it funny! It’s exactly what that lesson does for you.

It’s a short video lesson that helps you come up with facts.

It doesn’t matter what the fact is! Just put it on the page.

In fact, you can come up with several facts.

Then write down the fact:


In comedy, a setup to a joke is intended to provide information. It’s not intended to be funny. And the above fact does provide information but it’s definitely not funny…

So just think for a moment. If I was one of those people that believe that I have to first think of something funny, would that idea be included in any of my thoughts?

Essential Qualities of a Good Comedic Premise

It is also worth noting that, in order for a fact to be a candidate for a good comedic setup, (also known as a premise), the sentence should contain these qualities:

  1. At least two dissimilar ideas.
  2. Be something the average audience can relate to.
  3. Inspires some kind of emotion.
  4. Touch on at least 4 points of the maxim of the 5 W’s (Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?)

Number 4 is important because no story is considered complete without touching on all six of those factors.

In comedy, poetry, and lyrical prose or song, you can leave out one or two of those factors if they are not essential to the story because the listener will actually fill in the gaps with their own assumptions.

So if we look at that setup again:


We can apply the maxim of the 5 W’s this way:

Where? N/A
Why? N/A
When? JUST (recently)
How? DIAGNOSED (We assume he was diagnosed by a doctor).

When we break down that fact into its basic elements we can see that there’s a couple of factors (where and why) left out of that fact.

That is where we will focus our attention.

“Where,” the location of my father is or where he was diagnosed is irrelevant for me to communicate the main idea which was that my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. But this particular statement can still be considered complete without mentioning where. The same goes for “Why?”

There are 9 major psychological laughter triggers known to mankind. If you don’t know what they are, you should. Otherwise, you are truly running blind in your writing. You can find them in my book “Breaking Comedy’s D.N.A.

One of the most commonly used laughter triggers is surprise

Using Ambivalence to Create Surprise

In order to create surprise, there needs to be some kind of built-in expectation. When you shatter that expectation, that is what triggers surprise. 

Another laughter trigger is AMBIVALENCE. Which means being uncompassionate about something you should be compassionate about. Ambivalence creates surprise especially when the subject matter you’re talking about seemingly requires your utmost concern or attention.

And because the statement about my father having stage IV colon cancer is so alarming, it is a perfect statement to use ambivalence for comedic effect.

So one way to create an opportunity with the above setup is to add a condition or a factor to the concerning statement that is seemingly irrelevant.

In our breakdown of the fact using Who? What? Where? Why? When? and How? we determined that “where” was a piece of irrelevant information which is why it was left out of the original fact.

If we add where to the fact we might open up the premise a little bit…


Now with this revised setup, the irrelevant information almost stands out like a sore thumb, right? Bakersfield is obviously the least concerning part of this otherwise very concerning statement.

But for comedy, Bakersfield (the where) gives the comedian who has a keen understanding that ambivalence is a laughter trigger, an opportunity to make Bakersfield the most important part of the statement.

So using ambivalence in the punchline would significantly increase the potential to trigger a laugh with an audience.

So the joke might go something like this:


So you see, just by adding a seemingly irrelevant condition or factor to a statement that is already concerning, then giving the irrelevant factor the utmost importance, you surprise the audience.

A Versatile Comedy Writing Technique

This could work with any irrelevant condition you might add to the original piece of information.




That last joke is a little more crafty because I felt I needed to add some more information to it for the semi-colon punchline to work, but essentially it’s the same simple technique.

Try it yourself using these 3 steps:

  2. Come up with your own irrelevant information
  3. Add the punchline.

Then, take your own idea that could be urgent, concerning, shocking, then add a seemingly irrelevant condition or factor, then see if you can create some expectation and surprise by making the irrelevant, relevant.

Marc Maron’s Secret to Captivating the Audience Sitting or Standing

I originally posted this as a video on YouTube, but some people don’t or can’t watch a video under their given circumstances, so I’m going to be putting all my videos into blog posts so subscribers have a choice to read the content or view the content on YouTube.

The Golden Rule

One of my students who follow me on Twitter asked a good question. He said, “When I got my first club booking, the booker told me not to sit on the stool while doing material, she said it makes me relaxed on stage, which makes the audience relaxed. What she probably meant they would be too relaxed to laugh. 

“Marc Maron makes it work on the stool. When should a comic take to the stool? Are certain types of comics better than others getting laughs sitting down? How does the audience react when a comic to a comic that sits? “

Well, okay, that’s not one question… that’s like five! But hey, let’s get to it. Right? Because if you have this question, I’m sure a lot of other people have this question. 

First of all, let’s talk about the booker. The booker is in charge, right? The booker makes the call. 

It’s the golden rule, man. He who has the gold makes the rule. 

In this case, it appears that she who has the gold makes the rule. And if she wants you to stand and you’re capable of standing, well then stand! 

Like, if you’re in a wheelchair, and the booker wants you to stand? Well, that’s a question for the Americans for Disabilities Act. And I think it’s a labor law violation. 🙂

But in this case, if the Booker asks you to stand, then stand. 

The Audience is in Whatever State the Performer is In

There is something to be said for the idea of when you’re sitting down, the audience then kind of has relaxed energy, they’re not as jazzed up because you’re not moving around creating energy. 

But that’s a perception thing. 

And maybe the Booker made this rule due to experience on her part. So maybe she’s decided Hey, I want my comedians to stand. 

There’s the old saying: “The audience is in whatever state the performer is in.” 

And so, if there’s a part of you sitting down that feels like you’re losing energy, then the audience is going to respond in kind. 

But you can still have energy while you’re sitting on the stool, it all depends on what’s coming from the inside, right. 

So first of all, I think, to be able to really work the stool, you’ve got to have some experience, you have to be confident, you have to know that your jokes work, you have to know that you’re connecting with the audience. 

The question is, is the material compelling? Are you able to still keep that audience interested in what you’re saying? If you can do that while sitting on the stool, that’s great! 

Let’s take a look at a quick clip of Marc Marin, because you mentioned in your tweet that Marc Marin Marin makes it work on the stool. Yes, he does. He’s like the master of the stool. This guy can sit on the stool, and he still can be compelling and interesting. And just keep that audience right there in the palm of his hands the entire time. It’s almost like he sits on that stool and goes, “Okay, bring it in!” And now he’s gonna give us the big pep talk that’s going to inspire us to win the game. 

So let’s take a quick look at Marc Maron owning the stool…

Do you notice how Marc Maron is just interesting and compelling? And his stories are still just keeping the audience’s attention? Because he’s right there, absolutely in the moment with the audience. 

His vocal inflections are changing with every minute inspiration he gets, right? 

He’s not reciting material. 

He’s talking to the audience. He just has that compelling banter, right? 

I’m going to say something and I want you to write this down: 

Stand-up comedy is a conversation. 

I’ve said this countless times. And you have to have that conversation with the audience and be absolutely present with that audience, not in your head reciting material. 

A conversation is talking AND listening to your audience. And that is where timing comes from.

That’s why he’s able to captivate that audience the entire time he’s talking. The audience pays attention all the way through. They’re hanging on every single word as he delivers the material. 

Because when we talk, there’s the rise and fall, we have tension, and we have release points, and he hits all of them. 

He also uses structure in that three-way build-up that he did to get that laugh. 

So Marc Maron is not only a master conversationalist, he’s also a comedian who knows how to write a joke. And because he knows how to write a joke, his stories automatically take on the structure that gets the laugh. 

Marc Maron has been doing it for 40 years. So he gets on stage with absolute confidence. Marc Maron knows every step of the way, what’s getting the laugh. 

So when those laughs occur, they occur because Maron is using a structure to land that joke. 

Like when he hits us with the irony in the line, “… and fascism we’re finding,” his vocal inflections are what communicate that irony to the audience.

It doesn’t just happen. He KNOWS it’s going to happen.  

When to Take to the Stool

When should a comic take to the stool? Well, number one, when you have that, that ultra confidence that Marc Maron has because you know how to deliver a joke, you know, that these jokes with high odds are going to get a laugh. 

George Carlin said when he knew with 98% accuracy, that a joke was going to get a laugh before he took the stage. That’s high confidence. So Carlin could take the stage and own a stool if he chose to sit, he was always so super present with that audience. He was ever in his head. 

The moment you get into your head, you detach from that audience. 

Remember, human beings connect through emotion. 

So you can still be on a stage and still be as compelling as you are when you’re standing up.

In essence, whether or not you can pull off a good show has nothing to do with the stool, it has to do with whether or not you have the ability to keep the audience captivated throughout your performance.

Does it Take 10 Years to Find Your Comedic Persona?

There are several reasons that finding your persona is an important part of your development as a comedian. 

It makes you more memorable and helps you to stand out from the crowd. And that’s always important in terms of reaching a level of success.

But how do you find it? And How long does it take?

Some people on social media have said with absolute certainty that it takes “10 years for you to find your persona,” like that’s some magical number or something.​ 

There is a more streamlined approach to finding your persona and it’s easier than you might think. 

I discuss that in this video.

You can also read the transcription below:

The 10-year myth

Hi, it’s Jerry Corley. Stand up comedy clinic dot com. With another episode of Ask The Joke Doctor in this episode, we’re covering the question, Does it really take 10 years to find your persona?

Welcome back to ask the joke doctor. I just got a question the other day from a student of mine, he tweeted at asked the joke doctor. He said, “Joke Doctor, does it really take 10 years to find your persona?”

Around town, and on social media, I’m hearing from comics that say it takes 10 years to find your persona. First of all, let me address that. I don’t know where this magical number “10 years” came from. Like, you know, Hey at nine and a half, you’re almost there, but you got to wait a few months and then you’re going to hit 10 years. And then, that’s magically when your persona will appear.

And that’s ridiculous.

Stand-up comedy is a relatively new art form

Think about this, stand-up comedy is still relatively new as an art form in our history. If we go back to fine arts, if we go back to sculpting, if we go back to painting, dancing music acting, they go way back to the Greek days and standup comedy, as we know, it’s pretty much about 75, 80 years old in this country.

So it’s still a relatively new art form. People throw around rumors and innuendo and urban lore like it’s actually fact, anytime anybody paints anything with a broad brush, you’ve really just got to kind of shrug your shoulders because they think they know it, but they don’t really know it. 

I mean, despite the evidence of everything to the contrary being right before their very eyes, they’ll cast out facts. Like it takes 10 years to find your persona. Like, you know, that’s the rule.

Let’s take a look: 

Jerry Seinfeld didn’t take 10 years to find his persona

You want evidence? Jerry Seinfeld, from the very first day he stepped on stage in his early twenties. I think he was 20 or 21 when he stepped on stage at Catch Rising Star in New York City. That first time on stage where he froze for his first five minutes, I think he was up there for like a minute and a half and he just walked off the stage.

Then he came back again some time later, and could only do premises. Then he just kept working and kept working from that day, five years later, five years later, he was on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

And pretty much from that day on, he’s never really changed. His “what is it with bugs,” still the same guy he was back then. So five years, 10 years. I don’t know. What’s the quotient, right? How do you know?

Be the guy you are around your friends

Lots of guys have their own individual approaches towards comedy? I mean George Burns, the famous George Burns. He reinvented himself, I think five to eight times before he finally hit on George Burns. So you’ll go through evolutions. The first goal, as far as persona, I think is to find out if you can be the guy you are around your friends on that stage in front of strangers, that’s the first goal.

If you can do that, you’re off to a start. As far as finding your persona, your persona may evolve.

I started out emulating Jerry Seinfeld

When I started out, I started out very “Seinfeldian,” you know, despite the fact that I grew up listening to George Carlin, Richard Pryor, and Bill Cosby.

I wound up being more “Seinfeldian” in my early days.

It was bad, like to the point where I was actually ridiculed by Seinfeld!

I was actually on stage at the laugh factory and it was doing stuff like, “You know, I saw a sign that said ‘Positively No Smoking’ as opposed to “Negatively, Smoke Please.” That’s kind of the way I started. And Seinfeld was standing right there. He had done a set earlier, just kind of looked at me and went, “Yeah, Whatever.”

The “tip” from George Carlin that changed everything

So eventually I found my voice. It was after I met George Carlin and he said to me, “take the shit that drives you absolutely crazy and make that funny.”

So that’s what really turned me on. That’s how I started to find my persona if you will. Which is basically just me being myself and being pretty cynical about the sociopolitical mess that this country is in. And we’re always in some sort of sociopolitical mess. Aren’t we?

There’s always something going on that we can pick on. So the five-year ten-year thing, there’s no such thing. People say, some people say seven years, some people say 10 years…

Most comedians spend their early years just figuring out how to write a joke

Here’s the deal, When you first start, you’re spending the first three to five years, just trying to figure out how to write jokes. Isn’t that true?

So it’s like people are just trying to figure out the mechanics of what triggers laughter. But when you know how to write an early point, when you understand what triggers human laughter, like the Nine Psychological Laughter Triggers and the 13 Major Comedy Structures and what you need in order to pull those triggers, like through a reverse, or incongruity, or paradox, or comedic irony, or using recognition or ambivalence to trigger a laugh, then you’re way ahead of everybody already.

So it doesn’t take as long to find your persona,

Make it a rule to break the rules

But these rules that people layout, always blow my mind. It’s like, don’t listen to the rules. Picasso said, “You’ve got to know the rules before you can break the rules.”

That particular thing is not even a rule. It’s just something somebody made up, you know, 10 years to find your persona, you know?

Mark Lonow, who was the co-owner at the improv in Los Angeles here. He used to have this little orientation for all the new comics that were coming in that wanted to do an audition for a spot at the improv. And I remember during that orientation, he said to the group of new comedians, he said, “It takes seven years to become a headliner.” Like, again, that’s the rule. Like at six, six years and nine months, you’re going to go “Three more months and I’ll be headlining.”

It doesn’t work that way. When he said seven years, I said to myself, I’m going to beat that. And I headlined my first gig in three and a half years. When I said that to my class, one of my students said, I said, I’m gonna beat that. So he did it in two and a half years. He was headlining and also did TV before that. See, interestingly enough, this guy says 10 years…

Random “rules” can hold you back

I have a course called “How to be The Richest Comedian Nobody’s Ever Heard Of,” because it’s basically my blueprint for how I was making $250,000 a year with standup and nobody knew my name because I wasn’t JUST doing standup in clubs.

I was creating multiple revenue streams with my comedy and making money. So, but this guy put on my blog, “Hey, don’t even expect to make any money until you’ve been in this business 10 years.”

Again, some little number that popped out of the blue that he decides is a rule for everybody else. And the thing that bothers me about that, it’s like, you’ve got these people that want to get into this business that really eager about being comedians. And then they got guys who were making up these rules that make no sense.

Just stop listening to people with these arbitrary rules. Just be, you. Be the best you, you can be and I know how cliche that sounds, but just be you. Just be the best. You just go out there and start to explore, get out there and start, you know, being super confident with your identity, no matter who you are.

And even if you’re, even if your persona changes, just get up there and be you. And don’t worry about what anybody else is thinking and try to set goals, you know?

Somebody said to me, what seven years, 10 years to make any money really 10 years? It was less than two years that I was in this business that I was making money in comedy and it was doing it in corporate and not in in the clubs. So I mean $800 a gig to start. And that’s how I started in this business. 

Listen to your own voice

So don’t listen to these guys that come up with this arbitrary nonsense and try to paint something with a broad brush. You’ve got to take your own journey. Each individual will find their own way, but this 10 years stuff to find your persona, doesn’t have to be that way. 

It might take that long, depends on you, but in the long run, you’re going to do what you do.

And eventually you’re going to find yourself first goal, be able to be you on stage and not just recite material. You know, mechanics of the materials is one thing. The structure of the material is one thing, but being able to be in the moment and have a conversation with the audience, you’re going to find yourself. I skewed towards being cynical and doing socio-political material.

How Anthony Jeselnik found his persona

Anthony Jeselnik in his interview that I saw online. He actually said that he was just practicing doing jokes. He was just doing jokes with an audience and he hit a couple of dark jokes and it seemed like that’s what the audience was kind of responding to the best. So that’s the direction he went.

He actually was inspired by Jack Handy’s “Deep Thoughts” on Saturday Night Live, remember that little segment?

He would kind of write his material based off of versions of that. He started with Deep Thoughts and then came up with his own. And that was kind of his direction. And then he found out that the dark ones, the edgy ones, were the ones that people were responding to so he went in that direction with his material.

It’s not a random number, it’s your number

So 10 years, seven years, five years, two years, one and a half years. It doesn’t matter. Just get up there and be you and find your own voice and stop listening to these things. You know, maybe you found your voice and then, some guy says 10 years and you’re like, “Oh, I couldn’t have found my voice. Cause that dude said ’10 years.'”

It’s not nothing like that. Everybody’s an individual. They do to do their own thing.

And you can break all those rules that are out there and find your own way.

I hope this helped add value to your day. Remember if you have any questions, hit me up on Twitter, where my handle is @jokedoctor. Ask me a question, then hashtag it with #AskTheJokeDoctor, and I’ll do a video for YouTube and give you my best answer.

Great to have you here!

When Do You Think it’s Too Late to Break Into This Business of Comedy?

older character actor

One of the most popular questions I receive on my YouTube Channel or Twitter is “When do you think it’s too late to break into this business?”

Each time I get that question I take a deep breath, because–okay no reason really–I just like doing breathing exercises!

See, I was trying to make it sound all dramatic like one of my favorite Fed-EX commercials where the two businessmen realize the package they sent is not going to arrive in time and they sit there in the office saying, “We’re doomed!” “Doomed!” “Doomed!”

The commercial made me laugh, but the commercial also made me think, If your entire business is doomed because a couple of packages arrive a day late then you should diversify your business plan!

I’m going to use that perspective to give you my best answer to the question, “When do you think it’s too late to get into this business?”

I addressed this issue in one of my YouTube videos entitled Ageism in Comedy is No Joke, but let me address it from a fresher perspective.

You ready?

I think anyone can get involved in this business anytime they want. I mean that totally seriously. Any. Time. You. Want.

In comedy, there’s only one requirement; get laughs, and do it consistently.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a couple of jokes that don’t resonate once in a while, (I mean SNL does that… A lot!).

But that’s just talking about “getting into the industry of comedy.

If you are talking about the bigger picture. Show business. The Entertainment Industry. The machine. And then having some level of success in it…

That level of getting into the industry has some other requirements.

You Need to be Able to Sell Soap

After you have a level of confidence with your ability to be humorous or funny consistently, these are the next two requirements that most of us comedians, rarely, if ever, consider.

You hear comedians say, “I killed it!” “I crushed it.”

When we first start out in this business, all we’re thinking about is making the audience laugh.

But if you want to reach the level in this industry where you’re actually achieving some success, (and of course, I’m talking about making money), the next requirement is the ability to develop an audience.

You have to have people who want to see you. To watch you. To listen to you. To stop what they’re doing and listen or watch what you’re doing.

The third requirement of this business is you need to be able to sell soap.

And when I say “sell soap,” I mean attract viewers who want to buy products that companies advertise. Because that’s what keeps shows on the air.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being able to sell soap.

Show business is two words. There’s the show and there’s the BUSINESS. And “BUSINESS” is always in ALL CAPS.

But, here’s the good news…

In today’s world, all the potential is in the palm of your hands… literally. Especially if you’re reading this blog post or watching this video, right now, on your smartphone.

It’s Time to Think Differently

I think most people have a this vision that getting into comedy means that you have to go to open mics, where you may or may not get on stage, but before you do get on stage, you have to sit through a sea of jokes about dicks, or jokes about smoking too much weed, or jokes about dicks who smoke too much weed.

If you’re over 40, the thought of having to slog out to do that several nights a week is not pleasant.

But there’s another way…

Doing comedy isn’t only about performing at clubs like the Comedy Store or the Improv. Doing comedy can and should encompass a lot more.

There’s a lot that can be done with comedy that most comedians don’t think about.

You can crush an audience with your humor at colleges and universities, cruise ships, corporate events, service organizations, (Optimists, Rotary, Soroptimists), or trade associations and so much more.

School assemblies, Trade show hosting, Convention Entertainment, Audience warm-up, Private parties, Opening for bands, Executive Roasts, Grad-night shows, Assisted Living Facilities, Book Launches and the list goes on.

These are just few avenues a comedian can pursue in performance-based comedy. In fact, many of these events prefer more mature performers.

There are a lot of other avenues a comedian who gets into the game later in life can pursue. Too many for me to get into in this article.

I go into a ton more in my course “How to be the Richest Comedian Nobody’s Ever Heard Of.”

You Can do This at Any Age

The bottom line is, there are so many niches in comedy that I truly believe you can get into comedy at any age.

But it doesn’t stop there. Any comedian can develop a niche audience at any point in their lives. They just have to be willing to be consistent and do the work to develop an audience of raving fans.

You know how you can do this?

Social Media. Specifically, YouTube.

Before you go all tech-phobic on me, here me out.

I have a student named Charlie Berens, who did this exact thing. He built a following of raving fans on YouTube and he’d only been doing comedy for a couple of years.

In one of my classes that Charlie was attending, I mentioned developing a niche by creating a character or having a well-defined point-of-view and publishing short videos on YouTube.

So Charlie started a YouTube Channel called the “Manitowoc Minute.”

On the channel, his character, who is a Wisconsin yokel, delivers short bits of news and commentary with lots of local references, while adding jokes along the way. He also has interesting giveaways and philanthropic opportunities.

How Effective is His YouTube Channel?

Well, when I first found out he had a channel last fall, he had 77,000 subscribers. That might not sound like a lot, but that 77K allowed him to sell out comedy rooms for one-night special events all over the country!

Including selling out 280 seats in the main room at Flappers Comedy Club in Burbank, CA on a Saturday at 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

I mean who’s selling out comedy shows at 4 o’clock in the afternoon?!

How many comedians who have been in comedy for such short time are doing that?

As of this writing, Charlie’s “Manitowoc Minute” Channel, has earned 217K subscribers. He literally tripled his subscribers in 9 months!

Charlie has also been getting a ton of traditional media exposure, so don’t be surprised if you see him on Netflix sometime soon or hear about a show being developed for network starring this quirky, funny dude with a very noticeable Wisconsin dialect.

To be candid, you might check out Charlie’s channel and comeback at me with something like, “Yeah, but he’s young!” And you would be right.

He’s younger than me, but then I would just send you over to my friend Cowboy Kent Rollins on YouTube, who started with a “How to Make Cowboy Coffee” video and now has (at the time of this posting) 2 million subscribers.

He’s not only making coffee, he’s making bank!

So What’s the Secret to Their Success?

If you took a moment to really take a look at the videos I so carefully embedded on this page for you, (Hint, hint. Go take a look), you might notice that these two guys have a couple of things in common.

They both provide solid entertainment enmeshed with well-refined personas.

There is some really cool science underlying how powerful a well-refined comedy persona can be for those of you who are looking, not only to get into, but to succeed, in this business, that will just blow your mind.

It gets a little deep, and I don’t have the space to cover it in this article.

It’s a proven science. Jeff Foxworthy the “Redneck Comedian” has sold more comedy albums (CDs, DVDs,) than any other comedian in history.

The reason? A well-refined persona.

The bottom line is, a well-refined persona attracts a niche (focused) audience. That audience has an almost unavoidable tendency to become raving fans.

And raving fans have an even bigger tendency to buy soap.


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


“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!

The Biggest Secret in Comedy

the brain

In this article I’m going to share with you the biggest secret in comedy.

Recently I posted an article and promoted it on Facebook. I got some great comments on that article, but some of the comments…? Disappointing. Hilariously, disappointing!

The article talked about the brain. Left-side/Right-side theory and how it is involved in processing information.

One of the comments was, “Stupid! I thought this was going to be an article about comedy, but this dude is talking about the brain. What’s the brain got to do with comedy?!”

I get it. There are a lot of people out there who have been told that you can’t learn comedy.

You hear them say things like, “You can’t learn to be funny.” “You either got it or you don’t.” “You’re born with it.” And they just take that as the unwavering truth, the gospel–despite the fact that there’s evidence right in front of them that so easily proves that theory WRONG!

Those skeptics just haven’t taken the time to really think it through. To really drill down and understand what makes comedy, comedy. They go up on stage, talk to the audience and HOPE that the audience sometimes laughs.

Understanding WHY an Audience Laughs

One of the problems is they don’t know WHY an audience laughs.

When you think about it that way, that just sounds crazy!

Could you imagine trying to fix a light switch and connecting one wire to the another wire and just hoping that it will work?

When you understand WHY, then you can start the process of developing your own level of mastery when it comes to comedy.

I’m not saying that every joke will work. The audience is always the final judge. Even the masters get shit wrong.

But when you understand comedy from a mastery perspective, you get a lot more of it right.

George Carlin said he knew with 98 percent accuracy that a joke was going to get a laugh before he got on stage.

Ninety-eight percent! I want to be like that.

However, to get to a level of mastery with your comedy, you first have to understand why people laugh and how comedy works.

The Biggest Secret in Comedy Is…

And here’s where I share with you the biggest secret in comedy…

The human brain responds with laughter to nine psychological stimuli, I like to call them “laughter triggers.” I cover these triggers in depth, in my book “Breaking Comedy’s DNA,”  and in my joke writing and stand-up classes.

The most common laughter trigger is surprise. The irony –for most of you–is that understanding that the most common laughter trigger is surprise is really no big surprise.

But there’s more to it than that...

It all boils down to expectation and anticipation.

When you surprise someone with what they expect you to say or do, odds are–if nobody gets hurt– you will trigger their brain to send a signal out that makes them laugh.

If you read on, you will find out that creating that surprise can be relatively simple.

It is based on how the brain works. Our brains are wired to create very definite expectations.

It’s how we learn and evolve from babies to adults.

Expectation is Developed Through Experience

When we learn to catch a ball, we develop an expectation of how that ball moves through the air: the speed, the trajectory. We process that data and we move our bodies to where we expect that ball will wind up. But we need the experience and the practice to develop that expectation.

That’s why when we first learn to catch a ball, we suck at it, because we haven’t had the experience of learning what to expect when the ball is thrown.

After some practice, we move effortlessly to where we expect the ball to be, instantly processing the data of speed, friction, trajectory that is being presented to us from the moment the ball is released, when it’s moving threw the air and the instant before it hits our hands.

We’ve developed definite expectations based on that repeated experience. After some repeated practice we feel like we’ve gotten really good at it.

Then, someone throws a frisbee…

Remember the first time you tried to catch a frisbee? It kind of jerked up and down, went over your head and passed you. You thought no way I can catch that! Only to watch it reverse directions and come back to you. WTF?!


It’s all because we develop definite expectations based on our experiences.

It’s the same thing in comedy. Audiences are made of people (last time I checked), and people create very linear expectations with language so they anticipate what we are going to say logically, linearly and in the context of what we are saying.

That’s how we process conversation. When we listen to what people say we are already anticipating the endings to their sentences.

We have no choice. That’s how the brain works.

Comedians can exploit this scientific brain fact and use it to their advantage to create laughter.

If someone says to you, “Knock, knock…” how do you instantly want to respond?

If English is your first language and you understand the game of Knock-knock jokes and have had some experience with them, odds are you wanted to say, “Who’s there?”

Because that is the expectation that has been created from your experience. And that’s such an advantage to comedians and magicians.

Surprise in Simple Conversation

It happens with simple sentences and simple situations too.

If I say, “I was at the Silver Legacy Hotel and Casino in Reno, Nevada last week. I woke up in the morning and the housekeeper was banging on the door… finally I had to get up and let her out.”

If you’ve stayed at hotels and had experiences with housekeepers banging on your door, you’ve created expectations based on your experience that the housekeeper is outside the room, wanting to come into to the room so they can clean it.

The audience has this expectation too. It is so ingrained in the mind of the person in the audience that they are already finishing the story you are telling with acutely linear expectations.

That last second switch of the expectation is what triggers the laugh.

Here’s where it gets really powerful

If you already know this, good! What you might not know is that if you do it correctly, the audience will always fall for it, because their brains cannot process what is expected and what is not expected at the same time. It’s impossible.

But this is just the simplest example of shattering the audience’s expectation. There are tons of other methods and techniques you can learn to use to create laughter.

So the next time someone says to you, “What’s the brain got to do with comedy?” You can say, Oh, I don’t know, how about everything?!”


Boring Premise to Great Routine

boring premise to solid routine

Give me your tired. your poor, your huddled, boring premises…

I received a terrific question in a in a recent Tweet and I put together a video to answer the question. You’ll find a link to it below.

I was asked if there was a way to find good premises to start writing jokes from:

Premise to Routine Tweet

There’s no sure-fire technique that I know of that can get you great premises to begin with, but I do know how you can take a bland subject and turn it into a curious (at the least) and great (at best) premise that will stimulate laughter.

To be clear, it’s important to understand what a premise is in the first place. A single word is not a premise. A single word–say “dating,” is not quite a premise. In order for it to be a premise there needs to be some context.

It’s okay if you didn’t know this. Not a lot of people do, but it’s one of the main reasons people get stuck writing in the first place. Knowing the difference should open up a world of possibility in your writing.

If you added a modifier, (using the Maxim of the 5 W’s Who? What? Where? Why? When? and How? to help you get there), then you have a premise.

If you just say “dating,” there is no context, but if you add What? How? When? Who?, then dating takes on a new connotation.

For example, what if we applied “When?”

Then we might have something like:

Dating at 55 vs. Dating at 25.

You can already feel the premise taking shape, can’t you?

You can also incorporate your point-of-view, or an angle (usually discovered by exploring your attitude toward the subject) to help you find your premise and a strong emotion to support it.

Attitude might be something like, Dating at 55 is so much more difficult than dating at 25.

Now that you added an attitude you can see even more possibility with the premise.

That’s what this video deals with. So take a look at it and don’t forget, you can always leave a comment for clarification. I love to help!

So try this yourself. Take a subject. Then give it context and a point of view and see if it helps you take a bland premise and turn it into some good material.