How To Get Stuck In Stand-up Comedy Joke Writing Mode

joke writing sucksProbably one of the most unfortunate conditions that a comedian can experience is that they get hopelessly stuck in what I can only describe as “conventional” stand-up comedy “joke writing” mode.

When I refer to “conventional” joke writing, I am talking about the process of trying to fabricate funny jokes from a blank piece of paper out of thin air using a literary writing skill set that is designed for consumption by an individual reader.

If you have read my article about using your natural comedy talent as a comedian, then you know that trying to “write” stand-up comedy material working only with words and sentences alone to get the audience laughter a comedian needs to succeed is problematic on a number of levels.

It’s kind of like trying to eat a bowl of rice using only one chopstick.

If you sit though ANY stand-up comedy open mic night from beginning to end you will see for yourself why I say that “conventional” stand-up comedy joke writing methods not only do not work well for most people but can also put naturally funny people on a path that can severely obstruct their progress on stage as a comedian.

So, why do the vast majority of people go for the “standard” joke writing approach?

It’s fairly easy to understand when you consider that from an early age we are formally taught how to write in a standardized way for individual readers to consume.

So, given the prospect of needing to “write” stand-up comedy material for a comedy routine, people turn to the “writing” skill set they know well and have been trained to do, focusing only on words and sentences alone in order to get the audience laughter results that they crave.

Unfortunately this literary writing approach (joke writing) by its very nature effectively excludes all of the other important individual attributes, qualities and characteristics that give a person the ability to cause laughter to happen when they interact with others in person.

If you want to be ahead of the pack as a comedian, know this:

Talking is not writing. Talking, speaking or communicating verbally involves the natural integration of a number of vital aspects that give a person their ability to generate laughs, whether they are on or off the stand-up comedy stage.

Talking also allows a person to use an economy of words, which is critical to the punchline frequency needed every performing minute to make headway as a comedian.

“Writing” on the other hand only involves words and sentences that are specifically designed to be read unlike the spoken word which is experienced by an observer and involves much more than just words alone.

The literal words and sentences a person uses when they talk are actually a very small part of what a person uses to generate laughter from others, whether they are talking with friends and family or they are standing before a live audience as a comedian.

Unfortunately in the world of stand-up comedy, the “literary” approach to writing stand-up comedy is not only prevalent but also proliferated by so-called stand-up comedy experts without regard to the other critical attributes that actually gives a comedian the vast majority of their laughter generation power.

I can’t think of a single person who would even begin to try to put together a jigsaw puzzle if they knew that most of the pieces were missing.

But this happens everyday in stand-up comedy.

Plus to add insult to injury…

Virtually everyone already knows what “writing” is from years of instruction in school from the elementary level and beyond.

Once a person make the connection between what they know “writing” to be as they have been taught, they simply get stuck in what I have referred to in the beginning as “joke writing mode”.

Now you might be asking yourself this question:

“Is he saying my stand-up comedy material shouldn’t be written down?”

The answer is NO, that’s not what I am saying at all.

Since it is impossible to see the spoken word, the only way to edit, adjust, structure, hone or even delete stand-up comedy material is to have stand-up comedy material written down.

But if you don’t know what you are doing in that regard, you end up effectively trying to “write” you way to being funny on stage in the hardest way possible.

And let me share this little secret while you are here:

Trying to “write” anything in the literary context (the context that most people approach developing stand-up comedy material) makes it very difficult to produce 4-6+ punchlines per minute, much less the set-up lines to support that punchline frequency.

But writing stand-up comedy material in the context that incorporates all aspects of verbal communication is relatively EASY if you truly know what you are doing.

But don’t take my word for it. Not at all.

Go talk to ANY established headliner comedian and ask them how long it took to be able to deliver 30 minutes of headliner level material.

Go to any stand-up comedy open mic and find out how long any of the comedians there have been sucking on stage. Ask them how they learned to develop their comedy material (that is not getting laughs).

Then go check out what these Killer Stand-up comedians were able to do and the time they were able to do it in.

After that, if you want to follow the “herd”, just keep writing those one dimensional, paper contrived “jokes” every single day. See if you can get an audience to howl with laughter from your efforts in less than a year.

Just know that if you have read this article and you do actually have natural comedy talent…

You don’t have to be “stuck” writing one joke at a time using “conventional” stand-up joke writing methods. There is a viable alternative available to you, if you dare to break away from the herd.

Bloodletting as an accepted medical treatment lasted for over 2000 years. Can you even imagine how many people croaked from that misinformation?

Hopefully, stand-up comedy joke writing as it is generally accepted and taught today won’t last that long. 🙂

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8 Replies to “How To Get Stuck In Stand-up Comedy Joke Writing Mode”

  1. Steve, you have done it again. I was stuck in this mode and then this article opened my eyes. I believe that the main reason why people get stuck writing is because they do not know any other alternative. When I started writing comedy the conventional way was the only idea I had. It was either that or you just free flow the comedy and hope for the best.

    Knowledge truly is incredible!

  2. I am hoping to become a comedian and I have high hopes because, I can make people laugh by turning everyday situations into funny jokes. This information was very helpful in reminding me that I need to perform to the crowd and that I need to not so much be stuck but to see that I need to go out and experience life to make into jokes. That is what I took from the writen information above.
    I will go out and talk to comedians and listen to them and study them. My personal favourite comedian is Russell Howard because of his ability to show people the laughs in life. I would very much one day like to meet him. Thank you for showing me. I also may add I am 12 almost 13 years old.
    But I also think that comedians are finding it hard to be heard and could you recomend ways to be seen? Thanks again, Rosie Dargue.

    • Rosie, you may have a difficult time getting stage time until you are older. Still, that doesn’t prevent you from developing a stand-up comedy act and performing it whenever you can (ie: local talent shows).

    • Best wishes there, Rosie. I’d encourage you to begin seeing every opportunity to make people laugh as another chance to practice your art and develop your talent. Audiences aren’t only found in clubs and auditoriums; any time you have someone willing to listen to you, you have an audience. You don’t need a crowd; even the comedy clubs sometimes may have less than 20 people in the audience! The important thing is to keep trying, and learn from the times your joke doesn’t make someone laugh. (It’s not always your fault that a joke doesn’t work, but it doesn’t help to check it out in case — I’ve learned that often IS me! Most important : have fun!! 🙂

      • Thank you very much, im 13 now and I will continue to develop my act. Thanks again, Rosie. 🙂

  3. I think I got too caught up in writing material instead of PERFORMING material. I have so much written down already, now I need to fine tune it and learn how to get maximum laughter out of it.

    I’m a little mad at myself too, because some of my stuff was on current topics that are no longer current. It’s time to go to the front lines instaed of drilling on the base!

    • Haha. Great analogy, John! Your comment certainly underscores the need to stay current and use our material as soon as possible; you certainly don’t hear laughter coming from notebooks and drawers stuffed with great material. (That’s a scary image — Hmmm, possibility for a bit??)

      That being said, some no-longer-current events may still be usable with the right intro/setup. Never throw anything away! Good luck reviewing and reworking your “outdated” stuff!! 🙂

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