How To Write Stand-up Comedy Material The Hard Way

One of the very first things that I notice about new and prospective comedians is that…

They are driven to try to “write jokes” (in the literal sense) in order to try to command the big laughs on stage.

I am more than familiar with this frustrating process. It’s what I tried to do when I first started out as a comedian.

And it should come as no surprise as to the reason why that happens. It is quite simple actually…

All through our years of primary education, we are taught to write in a particular way that is specifically designed for others to consume by reading.

In other words, we are more than familiar with what writing is and how to do it. We’ve all been trained on how to do that since youth.

But when that already acquired writing skill is applied to the process of writing stand-up comedy material, it seems to fall short and not produce the laughter results a comedian wants when they take that material to the stage.

Very funny and very talented individuals can get caught in an ironic purgatory of sorts, where they can make others laugh almost at will in everyday life but…

As soon as they start “writing” jokes the way all the stand-up comedy books, courses, and workshops say that you have to, they simply bomb on stage. That should be a hint all by itself.

What would you say if I told you that the chances are great that what you believe to be the “way” to develop stand-up comedy material that will work well for you on stage is almost all wrong (more accurately, missing a ton of very important information)?

More accurately put, I will be so bold as to say that what you believe “writing” stand-up comedy material to be is actually taken out of context if you can embrace this simple and easily observable fact that gets largely overlooked and that is:

Writing and speaking are two distinctly different forms of communication.

Consider this as you consider getting into the game of stand-up comedy — information that doesn’t quite line up with the conventional “joke writing” process…

1. “Joke writing” as it is taught today is difficult at best to master. It doesn’t account for the 93% of the real impact when it comes to laughter generation – body language, facial expressions and voice tone variations.

2. We are formally taught to “write” in a structure designed to be read, which is significantly different than the way we speak and express ourselves verbally.

Audiences don’t read a comedian’s stand-up comedy material. They experience the stand-up comedy material the way the comedian expresses it.

3. It is the visual and auditory supplemental communication you use when talking that reduces the number of words needed when speaking verbally vice “writing”.

Many more words are needed when “writing” to communicate than we use when we speak to someone.

Comedians simply don’t have this luxury if they want to generate headliner level comedy material that generates 4-6+ laughs per performing minute on stage.

Related Article: Are You Using A One Dimensional Approach In A Three Dimensional Performing Art?

4. Individuals don’t need to know how to write a single “joke” in order to develop comedy material for the stage that works. But they do need to know how to structure and capitalize on the well developed sense of humor and comedy talent they already have.

5. The longer you can stay on a topic, the less set-up you have and the easier it is to add punchlines and tag lines to you material. This is difficult to do with individual jokes produced on paper from thin air.

I could literally go on and on and on.

No one can “write” their way to having more comedy talent or a better personality for stand-up comedy.

However you CAN learn how to quickly and easily capitalize on the comedy talent you have to get big laughs on stage.

Before I continue let me be perfectly clear:

Creating and delivering stand-up comedy material that works in a big way is a challenging adventure. There are many aspects that should be taken into account in order to develop a personalized process and the resulting stand-up comedy material that produces the laughter results a comedian wants.

But I will also tell you that none of what I teach comedians to do in my online course is difficult at all — certainly not anywhere near as difficult as “writing” tends to be.

Plus it can be a whole lot of fun when big laughter happens frequently.

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But for those who are stuck — convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that one can simply “write” their way to being funny on stage funny…

You would probably be best served to get your hands on any one of these popular books on writing comedy:

Popular Books On Stand-up Comedy Writing

Put what they say to do to the test for 6 months. See if you can get significant and measurable results like these folks enjoy.

However, if you are truly a talented individual and don’t want to waste your valuable trying to somehow magically make conventional old school joke writing work for you…

Check out the free lessons available now in the Killer Stand-up Online Course.

7 Replies to “How To Write Stand-up Comedy Material The Hard Way”

  1. All good point Jason but the example of “read the phone book funny” is based on you already knowing that Brian Regan, Emo Philips, or Jim Breuer are funny to you, if you never heard any of their material and just out the blue heard them read names, it might come off humorous but you won’t fall out your seat laughing. Same way Gaffigan can say “Hot Pockets” and people will lose it, it doesn’t work for me (I tried). Dead pan delivery is the hardest because voice inflection and timing are the only tools at your disposal. Yes, the well written jokes are funny but the same way Babe Ruth can hit a fastball out the park but a rookie sometimes can make contact and maybe get it to go yard are far and few in between, those comics have years of practice and experience under their belts. The best part of joking with friends is they rep a slice of the audience you might see at a comedy club. The skill isn’t taking what you said and making it funny, but taking HOW you said it and using it on stage. I’ve been following Steve Roye blog since I saw “I Am Comic” and what I gathered so far is if you want the “cut to the chase” aspect of comedy, he will show it to you. Once you learn to “be yourself” on stage (in which every person is different, might take months or years) then you can proceed to change or modify your act to your liking. Remember, the same principle Steve is offering stays true, short set-ups, effective punch lines, getting rid of what doesn’t work, and getting headliner laughs, no matter what style you choose. And Jason, leave a link so we can see your progress, mine is httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLFdpRrUlIo and here is a guy who can’t talk but does stand up httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIXguZ584v0

    • the stand up comedian who can’t talk is great because he makes fun of himself having no voice. I think the big lesson from him is, you should make fun of yourself. I’ve written (well, not literally written) a routine abut me being learning disabled (and yes, I really am learning disabled, you should tell the truth in comedy)

  2. Steve, You are always talking about how writing is one of the least important parts of the stand-up and that most of it is about the delivery, and facial expressions, and movement, and voice inflections- and that’s all well and fine for physical comedians or people who could read the phone book funny- like Brian Regan, Emo Philips, or Jim Breuer- but how do you feel about comedians with a deadpan delivery? People like Steven Write or Anthony Jeselnik or Demitri Martin, who can just stand there and kill. Or people who use old fashioned one-liners and write everything out- like Jimmy Carr, Mitch Hedberg, Rodney Dangerfield- even Emo Philips if you peel away the silly character. George Carlin- arguably the greatest stand-up comedian of all time. A man who along with Richard Pryor and Lenny Bruce completely revolutionized stand-up comedy as we know it and was one of the key influences on the last several generations of current comedy- sat there and wrote out and memorized every word of his act, every movement, every nuance- planned out and written down. Sometimes it seems like you focus solely on one style of comedy- and completely discredit the good ol fashioned set-up punch approach. I’m the funny guy in my small circle of friends and haven’t been on stage yet (apart from once where i had such severe stage fright i had to run off stage before getting even one joke out) but I’ve been obsessed with comedy for months now, doing all sorts of research and trying to figure out what style and delivery type and writing approach would be best for me. I’ve tried the wacky flailing around, or funny voices, or telling a story and trying to pepper in jokes- but it always gets a zero or when trying to talk in length about something just turns into an angry rant with little to no humor. The only style I feel comfortable with is the one-liner approach or at the very least the Emo Philips style series of connected one-liners. Sure there are brilliant comics like Dave Attell who just has a basic idea and can usually come up with a great bit after only playing with it on stage for a week or so- but the thought of something like that just seems crazy to me. I do say funny things with my friends, or have come up with a funny little story or idea- but nothing I would ever consider ‘stage worthy’. My best stuff is when I sit down with a little list of ideas and work out jokes like little puzzles, and get that rewarding feeling of coming up with a little 12 second piece of material i can really feel confident in- and putting it together with a couple dozen more, finding themes, and making my first tight 5 that I can try out in a couple weeks next time I visit the city. What do you think about these types of approach? Would you say It’s a workable method, or do you feel I’m just wasting my time?

    • When you are yucking it up with friends, do you do that in a monotone voice and keep your hands at your sides? No, you don’t. Most of your laughter generation power lies in how you say what you say, not the literal words per se. The same is true on the stand-up comedy stage — regardless of “style”, whether it be animated or deadpan or whether the material is topic based or so-called one liner type of stand-up comedy — it is not the literal words being spoken that is most responsible for the laughter, but rather the combination of attributes that is NOT the literal words that is responsible. You might want to check out this article: https://www.realfirststeps.com/2030/dimensional-approach-dimensional-performing-art/ You might also want to look at the first free lesson at http://killerstandup.com. In that lesson, I have material from both Brian Regan and Jim Gaffigan there — two completely different “styles” of comedian. As far as working on single “jokes” one at a time — I’m personally not a fan of that. That’s like trying to work with toothpicks in order to build a chair you can sit in.

      • Oh- It seems like there was an error in communication on my behalf. For some reason I was under the impression that you were trying to say that writing doesnt matter at all, and that as long as you make faces and uses stupid voices you would be guaranteed laughs- which is a completely ridiculous notion. Now I realize that what you actually meant was basically that the choice of words and the writing itself doesnt have to be perfect- its the delivery that pulls the joke together and makes it an actual joke; That if you just stand there reading jokes off paper like a jackass you wont get any laughs. It doesnt matter how funny a joke is or how well written it is- if you can’t tell it properly, then its not gonna be funny. Plain and simple. Like when some guy in class tries to quote a Hedberg joke everyone looks him like he’s an idiot. Sorry for the misunderstanding, Jason

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