How To Write Stand-up Comedy Material (Overview)
If someone were to ask me how to write stand-up comedy material...
You might be surprised to find out that I would give them this stand-up comedy tip…
I would not try to “write” anything — at least not the way most people think of writing (which is in the literal sense the way virtually all comedy books, workshops and courses say to do).
In this article I want to touch upon the most common issues associated with trying to "write" a stand-up comedy routine and provide an overview of a much more effective approach to producing stand-up comedy material that will actually generate laughs when delivered to an audience.
Writing Is Much Different Than Talking
Writing (the way we have been taught to do since childhood) is a formally learned means of communication that involves a number of grammatical rules (spelling, punctuation, noun, verb, adjective, adverb placement, etc.) in order to communicate with an individual reader.
Talking on the other hand does not necessarily abide by "grammatical rules", nor is it designed for a reader -- it is intended for consumption by a live, in-person audience of one or more people.
Talking that generates laughter does so as a result of incorporating much more than just words formed into sentences -- there is nuance, expressiveness, facial expressions and a host of other attributes that allow a person to use all their already developed comedy talent.
Writing has just words and sentences along with limited punctuation as a means of communication -- again, for an individual reader, not a live, in-person audience.
Note: For a much better understanding of the information I have just provided, you may want to review episode 2 in the Stand-up Comedy Secrets For Beginners bonus audio series in the Success Primer for New Comedians.
No matter how you slice it, "writing" tends to be a very difficult affair, subject to issues like writers block (which you shouldn't be having).
Talking on the other hand tends to be pretty darn easy and I have never heard of anyone experiencing talkers block.
The Big Disconnect
I would have to say that the single biggest disconnect when it comes to trying to figure out how to write stand-up comedy material is this:
There is a widespread (and false) assumption that writing and talking are not only the same means of communication but can be used interchangeably to get the laughter results a comedian wants.
Every single comedian, whether they have been doing it for a week or for years stands before an audience armed with the exact same thing:
The comedy talent they already have and the process they employ to use and amplify that comedy talent for an audience.
Unfortunately, trying to use a "traditional" writing skill set as a substitute for a talking skill set is much like trying to use a screwdriver to change a flat tire.
Just know this:
There is a massive difference between trying to "write jokes" from a blank piece of paper for consumption by a reader and writing down and structuring what you want to deliver to an audience to get 4-6+ solid laughs per minute.
Stand-up Comedy Tip: The reason why stand-up comedy material is written down is because you cannot physically see words or edit sentences as they are being spoken and expressed, nor can you visibly see how they are being expressed.
Words and sentences on paper merely provide a map, as opposed to being the sole means of creating a stand-up comedy act that will actually work on stage.
Producing Stand-up Comedy Material That Works
Here is a brief overview of a process that doesn't involve "writing" in the conventional sense and focuses on talking and using the comedy talent you use when talking:
1. You should have a process to identify and qualify those things you want to share with an audience that capitalizes on your "spoken word" comedy talent AND has the best chance of generating the laughter you want.
2. You should know what a punchline is as it relates to you and your already developed spoken word comedy talent.
3. You should be able to easily and easily produce an ample quantity of bulk stand-up comedy material to work with as the basis of a stand-up comedy act.
4. You should be able to quickly and easily structure, edit and hone your bulk stand-up comedy material with the intent of generating 4-6 laughs per minute.
5. You should know how to prepare to effectively deliver you stand-up comedy material in a way that capitalizes on ALL of your natural, already developed comedy talent.
6. You should have a post performance review process that allows you to easily adjust, enhance or eliminate your comedy material in order to tighten your act in the fewest number of performances.
Please note that the information above is an overview only and should not be confused with the detailed and comprehensive step-by-step instruction for creating a powerful stand-up comedy routine from scratch as provided in the Killer Stand-up Online Course.
Related Article: How To “Write” Stand-up Comedy Material The Hard Way
Words and sentences on paper alone will NEVER accurately represent all the critical aspects that must incorporated in order to develop and deliver a powerful stand-up comedy routine.
No matter what you decide to talk about on stage, your ultimate goal is to generate an average of 4-6 laughs per minute while you are standing before an audience.
Stand-up Comedy Tip: You DO NOT have to be a headlining comedian in order to generate headliner level laughter levels with your stand-up comedy material — provided you have real comedy talent and you actually know what you are doing when it comes to developing and delivering stand-up comedy material effectively.
Note: You won’t find even this most basic information in ANY of the popular books on “how to write stand-up comedy material" (#ad).
While what I have provided in this article is merely a basic overview of how to write stand-up comedy material using my system, know this above all else:
Creating quantities of stand-up comedy material that actually gets laughs is not difficult at all if you truly know what you are doing.
It is difficult at best to put everything you need to know about developing and delivering stand-up comedy that ACTUALLY works for you into a single article.
But let me just say this again: The process for developing and delivering stand-up comedy material is much, much easier than you could ever imagine — far easier, effective and faster than trying to “fabricate” or "write" funny from a blank piece of paper for sure.
And this process is also certainly much easier than trying to write one joke at a time, then trying to cobble them together in order to deliver a tight stand-up comedy routine.
Unfortunately, developing stand-up comedy material is often referred to as having been “written”, as if words and sentences on paper make up all the “magic” needed to entertain and audience.
So almost everyone sets out to “write” jokes, which is not only very difficult, but can literally take years to master because HUGE pieces of the puzzle are missing. That's because writing is a completely different and unique form of communication than talking and physically expressing oneself.
Honestly, do you really want to take YEARS to be able to develop and deliver solid headliner level stand-up comedy material?
Unfortunately people are so hell bent on “writing” their way to being funny on stage that I needed a reference point that people could relate to.
Just do this before you do anything: Go find a YouTube video of your favorite comedian and transcribe one minute of their act on paper. Verify the information that I have provided in this article for yourself.
So the big stand-up comedy tip for this article is this:
If you are trying to learn how to write stand-up comedy material, don’t try to write it in a literary fashion. Don’t try to pluck what may be funny out of thin air from a blank piece of paper.
Be yourself and learn how to effectively use, structure and harness the well developed comedy talent and sense of humor that you already have.
Learn how to identify, structure and edit what you want to say and express on stage (in the most compact and efficient way possible that is natural for you) and to ensure you have the punchline frequency you need to slay audiences when you perform.
That's by far the most "organic" way to produce stand-up comedy material that has the best possible chance of getting the laughs you want when you hit the stage.