I was going through some of my old emails when I ran across an interesting question:
“On your stand-up course website, you recommend that people try stand-up comedy books and other resources before considering your course. Can you be more specific about which books to use?”
First let me say that I currently do not endorse any of the so-called “how to” books on stand-up comedy (nor have I done so for decades – they tend to be variations of the same lame approach to producing stand-up comedy material).
But I do recommend that people try what the popular books on stand-up comedy have to offer first and here’s why:
Many individuals who are considering taking a shot at stand-up comedy are convinced that they already “know” what stand-up comedy is about and how a stand-up comedy routine is developed – even though they have never been on the stand-up comedy stage.
There’s this almost ubiquitous logic that since the comedians they have seen on TV just seem to talk about simple stuff they know about “off the top of their head”, then there just can’t be that much to putting together a stand-up comedy routine.
It’s only when the new comedian actually gets to the stage and can’t seem to generate anywhere near the laughs they want that they realize that they might want to do some research about how to put together a stand-up comedy act that will actually work.
And since all pro comedians talk about “writing” their stand-up comedy bits or routines, the most logical approach appears to be to find resources on how to “write” stand-up comedy material.
This is where the books on stand-up comedy come in — unfortunately to the detriment of the new comedian (I explain why in just a moment).
Still, I recommend that folks get their hands on ANY book on stand-up comedy that claims to provide the secrets for “writing” a great stand-up comedy routine because:
These sorts of books meet the expectation of the new comedian. The new comedian is convinced that they need to learn stand-up comedy “writing” techniques and these books show new comedians how to “write” a stand-up comedy routine.
But there are HUGE parts missing from these stand-up comedy books like:
1. Writing is a completely different form of communication than talking or speaking — yet there is no difference identified between the two, even though most of the laughter power a comedian has is NOT about the literal words and sentences they use on stage.
2. There is no mention of how long a joke should be, even though a comedian needs to be able to generate 4-6+ laughs per performing minute to make any real headway as a comedian.
Note: It usually takes 4-6+ audience laughs to accumulate the average of 18+ seconds of audience laughter every performing minute (headliner level comedy).
3. There is no mention on how to develop and deliver topic based stand-up comedy material (which is much easier than trying to produce and deliver one joke at a time).
4. There is no mention that attempting to work with just words alone in a “written word” format (without the consideration of the non-verbal aspects of spoken word communication) causes more words to be used before a punchline is delivered.
5. There is no mention of the natural expressive traits that make a person individually funny or how they are incorporated into a stand-up comedy routine.
6. And there is certainly no mention that what gives you the ability cause others to laugh in everyday life is EXACTLY what you need to use on stage stage to get the biggest laughs.
But the traditions books about developing a stand-up comedy act are inexpensive (you can usually get them used for cheap on Amazon).
Unfortunately, it’s not until the new comedian steps on stage with their “plucked from the air”, paper written jokes that flop big time that they realize that they went to the stage completely unarmed and unprepared to entertain an audience.
The mentality associated with becoming a comedian tends to be somewhat unique because…
No reasonable person believes that because a person can buy and eat food that they can automatically cook like a master chef.
No reasonable person believes that because someone can buy and drive a car that they can automatically repair the engine of a car.
But people who consider jumping into stand-up comedy do believe that they can easily entertain an audience as a comedian because they have a sense of humor that friends, family and co-workers remark positively about.
All they really need to know is a few stand-up comedy “writing” tips from a few popular books and they are good to go!
Once again, it’s only when the new comedian gets on stage and can’t seem to produce the laughs they want even after “writing” a stand-up comedy routine just like the books said they should do it that they seek out possible alternative approaches like my course – if they don’t just quit stand-up altogether.
Probably the most unfortunate aspect of this typical process is that many times at this juncture the new comedian is already stuck in the whole “joke writing” mentality, which is much like developing a dominate hand. Once a person is right handed or left handed, it is very difficult to use the non-dominate hand with the same proficiency as the dominate hand.
Still, I know of no other way to demonstrate how ineffective the conventional “joke writing” methods are than to tell folks to try these methods out for themselves.
What I can tell anyone who wants to try stand-up comedy is this:
In everyday life, it’s not just one thing that causes laughter to happen, even though it may happen without much thought.
When someone watches a professional comedian in action, they are witnessing the “finished” comedy entertainment product so to speak – one that gives the appearance that the comedian is simply talking “off the top of their head”.
What they don’t see is the number of variations of that comedy material – revisions, deletions, additions and adjustments – that were made before that stand-up comedy material became “finished”.
In stand-up comedy, it’s not just one thing (ie: writing) that will cause audience laughter to happen. It is symphony of things working in harmony that allows a comedian to perform the laughter magic that they are able to create.
But there’s nothing better than experience to demonstrate what I have presented in this article. That’s why I recommend that folks try anything else first when it comes to developing and delivering a stand-up comedy act.