Comedy Pros Don’t Write Prose

Jokes are meant to be said, not read.

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Comedy Pros Have the Freedom

One of the major errors made by beginner joke writers is they have a tendency to write flowery literate dialogue. It may read great, but when it coming out of the mouth of a comic it’s stiff, pretentious, and inauthentic. People in real life just don’t talk that way, unless they’re a Literature professor from Cambridge sporting a tweed jacket and an uneven mustache.

To avoid this trap, here are two tips for creating realistic dialogue:

Comedy Prose Use Grammatically Incorrect Language

People don’t talk like they write, so you should write like they talk. Proper grammar and syntax have nothing to do with making a joke funny. In fact, correctly worded jokes seldom flow as well as jokes written with the flaws and rhythms of everyday speech.

Here’s part of a routine on sponge fishermen by Tom McTigue:

Old guys sit around in the twilight of their lives swapping sponge tales: ‘He was huge! Biggest sponge you ever seen! Son of a bitch damn near absorbed me! Huge! Had Comet all over him!’”

In these faulty, fractured, and incomplete sentences, Tom has captured the natural speech of an old unschooled fisherman. If your character would talk in terrible English, use it. Correcting the grammar would only detract from the joke.

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Comedy Pros Feel Free to Make Up Words

Comedic license permits comedians to muck around with language for the purpose of making jokes. As one of the comedy pros, Robin Williams did this take on divorce.

Divorce comes from the old Latin word “divorcium,” meaning “having your genitals torn out through your wallet.”

Of course, “divorcium” is not really a Latin word, but it sounds funny and fits the joke. For comedy pros that’s enough.

You should feel completely free to play around with language. Don’t worry about the rules you learned in school. Language is your comedic clay and you should mash and twist it any way you think will shape your joke into something truthful and funny. Make it fun to be one of the comedy pros.

What’s the most stilted joke you’ve written?

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