Archive for Joke Writing

Fat Jokes are for Amateurs

Someone who gets on and off the bathroom scale every day in a panic does not laugh at fat jokes in the comedy club. Some subjects hit too close to home and are just plain painful like bullying, poverty, and illness. Yes, there is plenty of material about overweight people falling through chairs or not being able to get on an airplane, but really, how low do you have to go to get a laugh. Diabetes and ill health are scary and laughter does diminish fear, but it is often cruel and demeaning, so avoid it like the plague (another taboo subject). Often people are struggling with their weight, using all sorts of diets and special weight loss digital scales to win a tough fight. Humor in good fun is an art, and if you get dig into your soul and find some honest material there, by all means go for it. The response will speak volumes. Respect will follow.

Slang, nasty curse words of the worst kind, self-deprecation, irony, and mockery are the substance of some comics’ routines. It worked for hecklers like Don Rickles, but it won’t for you. It is the easy way out and most do it when learning the game. Amateurs can be spotted with this kind of lifted material. You will get nervous titters. Bathroom jokes are equally pitiful. We all go so what’s the big deal. It isn’t really funny. It’s cute to talk about your kids first efforts on the john, and that’s it. Cute is not for the stage.

My advice: pick up the bathroom scale and toss the fat stuff along with it out the window. Start to become more original. Read up on current news and events and use that for inspiration for a new routine. The real world is loaded with comedic opportunity and the serious can slide into the sublime. You can make fun of groups without targeting individuals in your audience. They will cower at one look from you and never return for future engagements.

Who are the great comedians in history? I don’t have to tell you. They can be stupid pie-throwing silly like Milton Berle, witty like Jonathan Winters, dumbstruck like Red Skelton, great with unusual language like Robin Williams, folksy like Bill Cosby, and self-deprecating like Joan Rivers. When they are the focus, they shine. They get the brunt of the attack, not you.

Humor revolves around shared experience which is why fat jokes are so prevalent. Let me tell you they have run their course. Other taboo topics would be terrorism, death, religion, and handicaps. Politics are fine as are celebs and public figures. What everyone knows is great material. There is common ground in humor. Childhood memories are filled with stories to be retold. Remember camp, high school, sports events, your worst teacher, your best girlfriend? Car crashes no, your first car yes. Try your material out on friends. If they tell you the truth, you will have a road map to future success. You just have to separate your own limitations and assumptions from the process. Put yourself in others’ shoes. Don’t go for cheap laughs above all. It will be at your expense.

How to improve your stories like Seinfeld does

SeinfeldOne of the hardest things to do as a stand up comedian is to fine tune lines for better effect and this is not just me, it really is all comedians including the great Jerry Seinfeld. It is true he specialized in taking all of those extremely disorganized parts of life and with the mastery of comedy arrangement turn them into a perfectly ordered collection of amusing irritations. With skillfully organized wording, he manages to make the major world problems into domestic irritations.

He was constantly seeking, as we all are to improve delivery until you reach perfection. For many years Seinfeld used in his act the concept that the greatest problem facing mankind was an overflowing toilet.

No matter how extreme the emergency or problematical the occurrence it could not be as bad as a piece of fundamental plumbing being blocked. Then one night in 1991 on the Arsenio Hall Show the host pointed out that with all the wars in the world, criminal activities on the rise and economic deprivation everywhere, how could his major problem be a piece of malfunctioning plumbing.

Seinfeld was quick to point our that as great as these problems are they are “out there” not here not now where these calamities are outweighed by his fear of malfunctioning toilets the problems were all elsewhere. Using the slow, cover all approach to developing the comedy ideas is typically Seinfeld but one I aspire too, expanding and explaining the humor content in the way of a slow movement rather than a torrent, a glacier rather than an avalanche, slowly and surely constantly testing, refining and improving to reach a level which is above the norm.

One of the examples that Seinfeld used is his one liner regarding marriage, it is like a game of chess with a board made of flowing water and pieces made of smoke.

It was one of his favorites but the stumbling block for many in his audience was them trying to visualize a board of flowing water, people just did not understand and many missed the punch line whilst trying to work out the contrived wording. Also the repetition of “made of” was hindering the flow and making people think too much and missing the punch line.

As all stand up comedians he hated losing audiences and spent many hours thinking of alternatives to “made of” as away of explaining the composition of the board. His method was to try new ways, refine wording think, test and rethink. Finally he solved the problem, instead of using the line that the board was made of flowing water he merely described the shape of a chess board with his fingers and leaving out the problem “made of” phraseology sot with the hands describing the shape of the chess board the phrasing became slicker, more pointed and easier to understand the new format with the board of flowing water and pieces of smoke. Several months’ work and testing to leave out four words and increase understanding the story a hundred times easier. Some might think that’s a lucky find – but it comes from countless times of testing that joke to refine it.

The result of testing and trying out on live audiences, that is what I aspire to.

The ability to improve by rethinking every possible angle, and improving every delivery of every line. Just like Seinfeld the anticipation of facing a live audience gives me a real buzz.

I am not sure whether he was really frightened of the audience or not as he once described it as being like the last minutes of facing a firing squad when you face them, back to the wall, with a cigarette in your mouth, waiting for the bullets.

His stage act obviously had great structure but they were not scripted they just followed a similar direction.

This is evident listening to his collection of stories connected by the use of tuxedos. His underlying thread is that tuxedos clothe inherently mean the wearer is the sort of person who should not be counted on, a mini conman and the tux is their uniform. He cites the fact that they are worn by Casino personnel, Head waiters, Beauty show presenters and all these people are not deserving of trust. He admits it is a work in progress but like all his stories he will refine them so that they are timeless.

One Tuxedo story that is finished and he uses is about weddings and all male guests wearing the same suit are actually a safety feature designed by women for women. As it is well known men are not to be depended on the Tux is an identifying uniform so that if the groom decides not to go through with the service all males just move one step to the right and the next one takes over. Pure Seinfeld and a quality level to aim for. I leave you with my favorite Seinfeld one liner.

“I was the best man at the wedding. If I’m the best man, why is she marrying him?”

Jerry Seinfeld on Writing a Joke

Jokewriting2

Jerry Seinfeld is considered a god of comedy and rightfully so. He’s known for his well balanced and excellently orchestrated jokes. Most of all, which is one of his more admirable feats if you ask me, his wit. Jerry Seinfeld knew what would make himself laugh and how to deliver that to someone else who may have either shared his experience or has an understanding of what he means. Either way, he told his own jokes. He did everything the way he wanted to and followed his own system.

At the end of the day, if you aren’t making something that you would enjoy, why even bother doing it? That concept really sticks with me and it applies to comedy as well. My jokes center around things that I have experienced and found to be absolutely stomach turning because of the punch line. They were ironic and I found that hilarious.

Moments that were a good slap in the face where I couldn’t help but find myself chuckling, asking “Really!? Of all things, really?” Because that is just how life works. When I relay my jokes and stories to the audience, I’m putting out there material that I would find humorous if told to me. If I enjoy it and think it’s funny, that will definitely show when I talk about it to the audience. I am talking about what has meaning to me. One of the most important things Jerry Seinfeld stresses about comedy is to begin with something hilarious right off the bat. It doesn’t matter what it is, it just needs to be something that will hook in your audience and catch their attention.

Something funny will introduce them to the joke and kind of make them perk up their ears in curiosity. This happened, you say? Tell me more. It kind of works like that. Almost as if you were telling and story and trying to capture their interest with the first page. Your starting line of the joke is the page one of your
book. Make sure you choose wisely. It’s all about the wording in the joke. Such as key words or phrases that are going to stand out and resonate with the listener. As the comedian is talking about the story and trying to emphasize the emotional aspects of the situation, key words will be stressed to dig for an even bigger funny.

Use specific words that the audience is more likely to find funny in the first place. As for the design of it, make sure it sounds like a story. People naturally gravitate towards storytelling and it will gain their interest. They will be absorbed in it and want to know more. You have their attention. But make sure not to drag it out too much. If the story is much too lengthy, it’ll feel like the joke is being dragged out. Lastly, end that joke with a bang! The conclusion has to end with the biggest laugh that way it really sticks with the audience.