Writing Comedy

Recently, for a side project, I’ve had occasion to write some comedy bits.

Now, I’m a moderately funny guy to my friends; I have my moments of comedic joy, just like everyone does.

But writing comedy, especially for standup (which this particular project isn’t) is hard.

I’ve done a lot of research into this recently, lots of listening to Sirus 103 Blue Collar Comedy, reading comedic books and so on and what I’ve deduced has been fascinating – the ways that professional comedians project their work.

For some, it’s about their cadence – how they say stuff rather than what they say. Obviously the subject matter has to be at least mildly amusing, but it’s more about their delivery than anything – some comics shout stuff, get indignant and their comedy is about them railing against the world; something we can all relate to.

For some it’s about story telling – they use stories of their lives to highlight something silly or just tell it in a humorous way. Bill Engval is a master of this – he just tells you about stuff that happened to him, yet it’s hilarious. The material itself isn’t that amazingly funny, but Good old Bill makes it funny by his delivery.

Some people just tell jokes – the older generation are generally good at that, witness Rodney Dangerfield. He was, at heart, a jokemiester, nothing more. But he was wickedly pointed with the jokes.

Some people do personal observation – not the same as telling stories like Bill Engval – Jerry Sienfeld is all about personal observation. He doesn’t tell you stories about his life, he talks about silly situations and takes them to illogical extremes.

Then there’s the one liners. A full 50% of Larry the Cable Guys act is actually one liners – all throw away stuff that’s hilarious, but actually isn’t connected to anything.

The most interesting thing though was the fact that a) all of these guys are polished. They are all comfortable on stage in their deliveries and their knowledge they have material that can make you laugh. Now maybe you are more disposed to find stuff funny since you went to a comedy club in the first place – maybe not. b) they all have their own style of delivery – whilst some might borrow some idea’s from each other, most successful comics have their own method of delivery, whether it’s making political satire, riffing off the audience, telling static jokes, telling stories of their lives or whatever. And c), that they ever got started.

Think about it. If you need to be comfortable on stage to deliver stuff in the manner most appropriate to who you are, and therefore get laughs, then to start with you have to be comfortable on stage in the first place. Or to put it another way, to really get laughs, you have to already know you are going to and be comfortable with the way you are going to.

How the Hell do you get to that? I think that going up on stage to make people laugh must be staggeringly hard. Doing theatre is all very well, but you don’t get the immediate return right there and then to what you are doing as a comic does.

I dunno if I could do it myself, which just makes me admire stand up comedians even more.

Keep at it guys. The world needs to laugh.

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