Writing Down Vs. “Writing” Comedy Material And Why It Matters

The Challenge of Comedy Writing

One of the biggest challenges I have had (and continue to have) is helping people make the distinction between “writing” jokes and “writing down” material as it applies to stand-up comedy that will actually get the laughs you want when you hit the stage.

The difference is massive and greatly affects a comedian’s ability to generate laughs. So let’s start with this:

Should Your Comedy Material Be Written Down?

Absolutely, unless you have the ability to see words and edit lines as they come out of your mouth.

Writing down comedy material allows you to put one aspect of comedy in a visual form (words), one that allows you to structure, edit, delete, and rearrange that material. In other words…

“Writing down” is transcribing talking in the unique way that a person talks and uses their sense of humor and comedy talent.

Once that is done, one is able to visibly see aspects that can be (or need to be) altered, adjusted, or otherwise enhanced in order to tighten that material for stand-up comedy.

The Pitfall of Writing from Scratch

Trying to write comedy material from a blank sheet of paper is a process that involves the written word alone, which by design is intended for an individual reader to consume.

Subsequently, it is a far more difficult process as “writing” alone does not include the other aspects of verbal communication that are ESSENTIAL to get the big laughs.

Think of it this way — was the sense of humor and the associated “funny” that you are able to produce by talking to others developed as a process of writing anything and then letting the other person or persons read it to get the laughs? Nope, it did not happen that way, I am sure.

Talking vs. Writing

Talking is easy. Nobody gets talker’s block — they only get writer’s block. Why? Because they are writing for a reader instead of capturing and structuring the natural process of “talking” which is far, far easier.

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It still equates to “jokes” when presented on stage, whether you are “writing jokes” from a blank piece of paper for a reader (the way you have formally trained to do) or “writing down” what you say (or want to say) and express as talking that is far more natural and easier to do.

The Easier Path

So which is easier – talking or writing? Considering stand-up comedy is a performing art centered on talking and expression, which is easier to produce comedy material that is reflective of all the aspects of what makes you funny in the first place – talking or writing?

You will see this over and over again on this blog:

Go to any stand-up comedy open mic. Most of the comedians participating suck so bad it’s like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Is it because they don’t have comedy talent? Sometimes it is, but not usually. It’s usually because they are trying to make “writing” work as talking. This is much akin to trying to change a tire with a hammer instead of a lug wrench.

Why I Don’t Subscribe to “Writing Exercises”

This is one of the reasons I don’t subscribe to “writing exercises.” What do those do? They help develop writing skills for a reader, not develop skills for talking in a tight and structured way that generates an average of 4-6+ laughs per minute for every minute on stage.

The educational materials that I offer focus on talking as the basis for the production of comedy material, then “writing down” that talking for structural changes, editing, etc. — not the other way around.

A Real-Life Testimonial

“Thank you! I purchased your Killer Stand-Up course in February. I studied every lesson, listened to every example, and followed your instructions to the letter. My friends/family kept giving me advice, but I stuck to my guns and did it your way.

I performed at my first open mic last night. I treated the venue as my living room and the audience as friends who were guests at my party. I was in a lineup of 25 comics, including 10 professionals who had driven over to Little Rock from Memphis for the open mic. It’s a small room — holds 100 seats. The audience was 25 percent patrons and 75 percent comics waiting to go on. No matter — they all laughed at my set.

Instead of an awful experience with me rambling for 3 minutes trying to find a joke, I had a wonderful time. I was confident in my material; I had proper set-up, punch, & tag lines; and I had rehearsed and honed my set to an exact three minutes. I was prepared and that gave me the confidence to deliver my material to the best of my ability. And I owe it all to you, Mr. Roye.”

The Bottom Line

This is what keeps me going and why I do articles like this – to somehow break the inaccurate construct of trying to “write” one’s way to being funny on stage, which is as hard as it gets.

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It just doesn’t have to be that way. You have been funny your whole life TALKING. Capture that “talking” funny instead of struggling with some sort of “writing” funny approach.

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