Should your stand-up comedy material be written down?
I cannot think of any other way a person could edit or adjust their jokes or stand-up comedy material unless it is written down.
Let’s assume that you have your stand-up comedy material or jokes written down.
Other than for memorization purposes…
What do you look at in the written version of your stand-up comedy material or jokes for improvement and to increase your laughs?
It seems to me that there are some very important things that you need to look at in your stand-up comedy material such as:
1. Do you know how much time your stand-up comedy material represents when delivered on stage?
As you are probably aware, this can vary depending on audience size since longer or shorter episodes of laughter can happen relative to audience size.
But if you know roughly what a minute of delivered stand-up comedy is on paper, you can then look closely at this next important item…
2. How many punchlines do you have in your stand-up comedy material?
Individuals who are delivering headliner level stand-up comedy material generate an average of 4-6+ laughs per performing minute.
That equates to an average 4-6+ punchlines and tag lines for each performing minute whether a comedian is delivering one/two line jokes or the easier topic based stand-up comedy material.
I should also mention that an individual does not have to have the “title” of headliner in order to generate headliner laughter levels.
3. Are your punchlines structured for maximum laughter impact?
There is actually quite a bit to know about punchlines — what they really are and how they are produced.
One of the things that many new comedians are not aware of is that most punchlines have a particular structure that accentuates the element of surprise.
Let me put this another way…
If a comedian actually knows what they are doing when it comes to developing comedy material, then they also know that a minor structural change in a punchline or tag line can actually make the difference between a small laugh and a big laugh.
4. Is your stand-up comedy material written in a literary way?
Most new comedians tend to write jokes or stand-up comedy material the way they were taught to write in school, which is designed for consumption by a individual reader.
Unfortunately this approach can hinder a comedian from delivering 4-6+ laughs per minute because they are only working with words and sentences on paper.
And as a general rule it takes many more words and sentences when something is written to be read than it does when explained or spoken about verbally.
Bottom line: Stand-up comedy material written strictly in a literary fashion will usually have difficulty generating even 4 laughs per minute, much less more laughs.
5. Are you able to identify which punchlines or tag lines are not working and why?
Stand-up comedy is focused on generating collective audience laughter each performing minute. Those laughs are generated with punchlines and tag lines.
Subsequently, if a comedian doesn’t really know what a punchline or tag line is, it can be difficult to make the adjustments needed to make a punchline or tag line work that is not working.
Those are just a few of the critical things you may want to review in your written stand-up comedy material if you know how (and it’s not hard at all).
But here is the rest of the story…
Developing and delivering a powerful and tight stand-up comedy routine is a direct result of the process a comedian uses.
That process contains multiple aspects that must work hand-in-hand in order for a comedian to get the laughter results they want when they hit the stage.
Subsequently, it’s rarely just one aspect of this process that holds a comedian back — there tends to be multiple aspects of the process that causes a comedian’s act to flop.
Let me put this another way…
Let’s assume a new comedian hits the stage and generates little or no audience laughter. Why did that happen?
Did the set-up lines not support the punchlines? Were the punchlines not funny? Was there too much set-up before a punchline? Were there too few punchlines? Was it the delivery that caused a punchline not to work? Was it a combination of all of these factors?
Without a true understanding of how a tight stand-up comedy routine is created, developed and delivered to get big and frequently laughs right from the start, it can be very difficult to not only determine what didn’t work and why but also how to correct the issues.
What a comedian has on paper in the way of jokes or stand-up comedy material is a comedian’s road map for what an audience is ultimately exposed to and responds to with laughter.
But if they don’t really know what they are doing, what they have written on paper may be of little value particularly when it comes to rework and making smart adjustments to their stand-up comedy material.
A comedian has precious little time each performing minute to set up and deliver 4-6+ punchlines (and tag lines).
And just for the record, let me make this clear:
Becoming a better “writer” is not the key. As a matter of fact, there is absolutely no requirement at all to become some sort of great “writer” in order to develop and deliver a powerful stand-up comedy routine.
Audiences don’t read a comedian’s act. So working only with words and sentences that are “written” on paper in a literary process like that learned in school pretty much dooms a comedian to a limited punchline frequency — before they ever hit the stage.
I am going to assume that if you are reading this that you have plenty of comedy talent already. That comedy talent made itself apparent to friends, family, coworkers and acquaintances without having to “write” a single joke.
So in my professional opinion the easiest way to produce a stand-up comedy routine that works quickly is to recognize, capture, refine, hone and deliver the natural comedy talent that you already have instead of somehow trying to “write” your way to success on the stand-up comedy stage.