Are you funny around your friends? Do you make your friends laugh in everyday situations, but then you try to put it on the page and it just doesn’t sound like you or the idea that you thought was funny is no longer funny?
It’s like your natural ability to be funny is being killed by the writing.
This is a common complaint with people and there are a lot of things that are going on that cause that to happen.
In this post, I’m going to discuss the main reason as to why we’re funny in person and it gets lost on the page and what you can do to keep your natural funny growing while learning to develop the funny in your writing.
If you’re one of those people who’s naturally funny in the moment with your friends, you should understand that the way you developed that (most likely) is through exposure. I’ve yet to meet a so-called naturally funny person who wasn’t exposed to comedy at a younger age.
My writing partner, Rob Rose, is probably the fastest, funniest guy I’ve ever worked with. He’s so quick when we’re at parties or social gatherings I just stand back and let him do his thing. But Rob wasn’t “born” with this. Rob used to hide in his room (because of an abusive step-father) and watch comedy shows. He watched all the greats. Their structure and timing were immaculate. Because of his constant exposure, he began to repeat jokes and use some stuff in his own dialogue. Eventually, he started to recognize the patterns that created the laugh. By coincidence, in conversation, he would recognize more opportunities to use those patterns with his own words.
When I met Rob he was already a funny guy. He was part of a 2-man comedy team that just messed around at an open mic in Sacramento.
A couple of years later, he started going on the road with me as a solo act. His first night on stage, he bombed… horribly. What do I mean by that? He was only able to do about a minute and a half. He was supposed to do thirty!
He thought that just because he was such a funny guy, he could go up on stage and wing it. But being funny in person doesn’t always equate to being funny within a certain time frame on stage and on cue.
In stand-up comedy, you have to get them early and you’re expected to get a laugh every 18-20 seconds (minimum), on average. Rob didn’t get a laugh in the first 90 seconds… started sweating said, “Good night!” and ran off the stage.
We had a contract to provide a 90-minute show. So I had to go up and do 90-minutes. Lol!
Looking back on it, Rob laughs about that night. It’s still embarrassing, but he laughs about it.
After that night Rob and I spent the entire next day going over his act. I turned on a video camera, (It was one of those camcorders that had the VHS tape in it), and had Rob come into the room like it was a stage and do his act, by reading it off the page.
Every time he messed it up, he would go back out of the room and we’d start the tape over. He would come back and start his set like he was actually starting his act.
Yep, just like two grown-ass men playing pretend!
Eventually, Rob got it. We took the tape and put it in Rob’s VCR player in his hotel room.
He listened to it over and over.
He’s so good in the moment and on the fly that I said, “If you ever feel stuck, just go to your strength,” (being in the moment).
That night Rob crushed it so hard that people were asking for his autograph after the show.
The key is, we played to his strength which is being in the moment.
Before I forget, one crucial point: We went over Rob’s act orally, then I wrote down every joke/story. The reason I wrote it down was because when Rob actually wrote his jokes, he had a tendency to “overwrite” them. He would overwrite them to the point where they were no longer funny.
Rob eventually fixed that. But only through a lot of practice writing jokes and writing dialogue.
Comedy has a certain structure. Rob spent his childhood learning that structure orally to that structure and it worked when he was in the moment.
In essence, when Rob was learning orally, he was using different regions of the brain to access his funny mechanism. But that’s not all…
Throughout our entire school careers, when we are taught to write, we are brainwashed (in a sense) to write in prose. We’re taught creative writing, but usually with a focus on using correct grammar, punctuation, etc. And it’s usually dull when read aloud.
Try this take even an exciting book of fiction and try reading it aloud. It will “sound” like a book.
Stand-up, on the other hand, is a conversation, (usually one-sided). We’re expected to be present like we would be at a party with our friends.
Problem is we’ve spent years learning to write NOT the way we speak. We speak in broken sentences, in slang, with contractions, etc.
It’s amazing to watch someone who’s developing their skill at writing. They could crack a great joke right in front of you. And the moment you ask them to write it down, they fall back on their learning of writing in school, trying to use correct punctuation, grammar, etc., and they over write the joke.
That can kill the joke.
It’s not just common in stand-up, but also in script writing. It’s hard to find someone who can write great dialogue. Why? Because dialogue is
Why? Because dialogue is conversation.
There are many different ways to correct this. It takes time to learn how to write the way you talk. Too many to cover in this blog post.
However, you can start by learning to record your jokes with your friends. By first recognizing that they’re laughing at what you’re saying, then getting it on the recorder on your iPhone or Android device. Then transcribing the joke exactly as you said it without falling back into your grade school lessons and writing the way you were taught, but writing the way you speak.
If you practice this often, you will soon learn to write the way you talk.
Another way to do it is to write your jokes like you’re writing a Facebook post, a text or an email. When we’re doing that we have a tendency to write like we’re talking to a specific person.
If you’re funny in person, but lose the funny when you put it on the page, focus on your strength of being funny in the moment with your friends.
Practice your joke writing during the day but when you hit the stage focus on your strength
Eventually, your writing will match your personality.