It is not easy to write jokes. Good ones, I mean. You can write a joke every minute of the day but it doesn’t mean it’s going to hit on stage. That’s why we should write – ALL THE DAMN TIME. When you write a lot you create an arsenal of material to use on stage. This one [joke] doesn’t work let’s try this one. Both sucked? Cool I have 20 more. Joke writing is about averages. If you write one joke and it sucks, you have nothing. If you write 10 and two hit you got 2 new jokes. Write 100 – you may have 20 winners.
So WRITE, RECITE and WRITE some more.
When I first started out on my joke writing journey, I had one style, dirty…actually filthy. If it didn’t involve tits and ass or penetration, it wasn’t in my act. I was one dimensional and didn’t use much of my up top brain to write. I listened to the greats – Eddie and Richard and thought, “Oh, the dirtier I am the funnier I’ll be.” Of course that wasn’t the case. I tried the shock value route only to quickly alienated me with some crowds and prevented me from getting booked in some clubs.
I also thought I knew it all. When club bookers would tell me to clean it I simply felt like, “the headliner is dirtier as shit, why can’t I be?” I didn’t realize, at the time, that these guys had well structured jokes that accompanied the cursing and sex talk. Of course being the “wet behind the ears bastard” I was, I didn’t listen.
I learned that if was gonna get to where I wanted to in comedy I had to think outside the box. I had to write differently. I had to become a little more personal in my material. Up until then, I was simply trying to write what I thought the crowd wanted to hear. Not what I was feeling or what I was about.
I once auditioned for Last Comic Standing. I finished my 2-3 minute set and was met with pretty much a unanimous opinion…You were just trying to say funny stuff. You need to personalize your act. I again left there with a chip on my shoulder still thinking I was the shit. It finally hit me one night when I was opening for headliner, Rodney Laney. I got up on stage and was super dirty. Though I received a great response from the crowd, Rodney gave me some advice that I still stand by today. He told me that when I’m hosting and not sure of the style of the headliner, try to go LESS blue just in case he/she isn’t.
It was great advice. It was also the beginning of me, kinda, cleaning up my act.
The key is diversity. Able to be chameleon-like on stage. You wanted to be able to adapt to any crowd, any demographic. This is why I always tell anyone who asks me – WRITE FOR EVERYONE. Doesn’t mean you’ll get everyone. Just means you a wide open perspective that can emanate over a larger percent of the crowd. Until you have a style that fills rooms sometimes your going to have to be versatile.
Now I’m not the one to ever tell a comic to censor themselves but make sure every dick and pussy joke has a proper place within your set. Using excessively vulgar language can turn off your audience and in some cases, get pulled offstage during your set or never booked there again. It happens. More importantly, don’t get type cast as a filthy comic before you even learn your craft.
Spend time thinking outside the box is all I’m saying. I used to litter my set with sex talk. Every time I wanted to add jokes to my set, I was trapped into a mindset that was limited to dick, pussy and positions – not good. You may say to yourself, “Self, I don’t want to be a squeaky clean, I wanna speak my mind.” Not a problem. Invest your time, first and foremost, in writing jokes, preferably about anything other than where your mind initially wants to go. Believe me, your more creative than you think.
A few things to remember as you begin or continue your joke writing:
How much time do you spend writing?
You should be writing all the time. Jot down every funny thing you say and hear. You may not realize the amount of funny jokes you create at work! My co-worker and I come up with the funniest shit at work and you can best believe it’s either written down or already added to my set. Funny is everywhere so grab it. So write a lot and rewrite your jokes better. If I’m not writing jokes I’m rehearsing them in front of a mic at home or on stage. Use open mics, they’re our work out rooms or gyms if will. Flex that funny muscle. Corny…but do it anyway.
Be honest with yourself.
Everyone I talk to has an hour of material. Sometimes two. But when you see them on stage you hear the same jokes. Just because you have a million jokes doesn’t mean you have an hour of killer material. Be honest with yourself. Figure out how many winners you have and rework your other jokes until they also kill. Also be honest when getting booked. If you have 10 minutes of material, tell the booker 10. Stop stretching your set with BS banter unless you can do it effectively.
Figure out who you are on stage.
Have you developed a style yet? Are you comfortable on stage yet? Do you feel confident in any type of crowd? Think about these and figure your weaknesses. If you play basketball and have an incredible jump shot but your free throws suck, you know what you need to work on. If your uncomfortable with any type of crowd (black, Spanish, Jewish, old, young, gay, etc.), those are the rooms you need to be in and work on.
Don’t be afraid of silence.
Silence will definitely be part of your writing and reciting process. Embrace it. Once you get to the point that silence doesn’t break you, you truly become you on stage. There is a sort of power in silence. I don’t mean the silence where no one is paying attention. I mean the silence where they hang onto your every word even if your bit isn’t hilariously funny.
Write with others.
Nothing wrong with sharing ideas with fellow comics. Some comics are totally against it but some of the most well known comics in the game have either written with someone else or had help finishing bits. A fresh perspective can open your mind to take a joke in a direction you may never have. I have friends that I help write jokes and those that help me. It’s as simple as delivering a bit to a fellow comic and listening to the possible tags that can be