One thing I know about stand-up comedy beyond a shadow of a doubt is this:
Individuals who actually have comedy talent tend to struggle needlessly because of their own false perceptions when it comes to developing and delivering stand-up comedy material that actually works on stage.
The reason for this is simple…
Most folks who are looking to take a shot at stand-up comedy do not fully understand or comprehend that there is a huge difference between the “written” word and the “spoken” word.
Below is a comment submitted on this blog. My response to this comment follows:
Blog Visitor Comment
I think there definitely is room to study “how to write a punchline” not that I disagree with you because I read your online course free lessons and they were great.
It’s just that I read the free lessons in your online course then I read “how to write and sell your sense of humor” by Gene Perret (two very different approaches to comedy writing) and the latter has really has allowed me to be able to write jokes (from my natural sense of humor) out of thin air – funny ones.
One of the things that I do when I get a comment like this is I email the person and ask them to send me a stand-up comedy video of their performance where their funny jokes killed on stage.
Want to know how many links I have gotten to such a stand-up video?
None. Zero, nada, zilch. And I have been asking for links to videos that demonstrate audience laughter from “jokes written from paper out of thin air” for years now. That’s no joke.
Kind of odd, huh? You would think if someone truly had the whole “writing” thing down and was getting big laughs on stage, they would readily send me the link to their stand-up comedy video where they are killing on stage with their “jokes”.
So my first question regarding the above comment is this:
Who is your audience when you “write” jokes?
That is kind of important because an individual reader of “written” content is a completely different “audience” than a live audience that stand-up comedians entertain.
My next question is this:
When a person says they have “written” funny jokes out of thin air, was that evident because of laughs they got when delivered to a live audience or was there some other measure of laughter value involved?
The reason I ask is because unless stand-up comedy material generates laughs in the live audience environment, it simply cannot be deemed “funny” — no matter how funny it “reads” or how well received it was by any individual reader.
Here is what I can tell you with great certainty:
Writing for a reader is a completely different form of communication than talking and expressing oneself to an audience.
Don’t take my word for it — just jump on any search engine and type in the term:
“Differences between writing and talking”
Last time I did a search on Google for that, there were only about 99+ million pages regarding the differences between writing and talking or speaking.
Those differences are very significant when it comes to developing powerful stand-up comedy material that has audiences howling with laughter.
Subsequently, the skill set for writing for a reader is completely different than delivering and expressing stand-up comedy material for an audience.
In other words, writing as a form of communication is NOT effectively interchangeable with talking — in particular for specialized pubic speaking which is what stand-up comedy truly is.
Another aspect to consider is this:
The comedy talent that you have right now WAS NOT developed as a result of writing — it was a result of many factors, the biggest of which is interpersonal interactions with countless numbers of people who influenced your sense of humor and how you express it.
Think about this:
You are able to cause other people to laugh when you talk without even hardly thinking about it — and it’s not because you are able to “write” the best notes or the best lines for people to read.
This is one of the main reasons why I say that you DO NOT have to be a great “writer” in order to produce and develop big laugh stand-up comedy material quickly and easily.
Whether you agree or not, my professional perspective is this:
What makes an individual funny in everyday conversations or on the stand-up comedy stage involves MUCH MORE than mere words on paper. As a matter of fact…
Think about the comedy talent you have right now — was it developed as a result of passing written notes between you and the countless others you have communicated over the course of your life?
To attempt to compare “writing for a reader” to “talking and expressing oneself to a live audience” is no different than trying to say an apple is an orange because they are both fruit.
What you need to figure out is this:
Do you want to write “jokes” for a reader or develop comedy material for live audiences that is focused on talking?
It is kind of important because one can incorporate ALL the comedy talent talent you have and the other simply cannot.
I feel like if you try too hard to write comedy people can tell. Comedy comes naturally to almost everyone. In my opinion the best way to write comedy is to write down every day situations or conversations that make you laugh and try to formulate it into jokes.
You can prove this by simply watching any 1-2 minutes of any Robin Williams stand up routine and write down every word he says. Then give it to a friend to read and asking him if he finds it funny (he probably won’t). Then show him the clip of Robin Williams doing it!!
That’s why I have bits from Jim Gaffigan and Brian Reagan transcribed in my online course BEFORE I show the videos of the bits.
I agree Steve, when it comes to comedy – especially stand-up, so many non-literal factors come into play. I write comedy for sit-coms and features – which is about as close to developing material for a live performance as possible; without having a specific character or comedian in mind. So, I have to visualize the performance, body language, facial expressions, pauses, tone and tempo of the actors voice as well as the situation it is being delivered in.
Writing for stand-up and other live performers w/o 1st researching their delivery and style, extensively – You have no idea how it’s going to play on paper – and it usually does not. It reminds me of writing comedy sketches. It is so hard to convey the humor on the written page. It seems now it is best to visualize it – play it out and record it. But then you run the risk of not having the talent to deliver it properly and professionally.
Comedy is hard. And until you actually bare your soul onstage before a live audience. It’s difficult to gage the amount of preparation and elements that go into creating a standup routine.