Greg Dean has been teaching stand up comedy longer than anyone in the world.
Some thirty plus years ago, in the midst of a very successful career (Saturday Night Live, Ringling Bros Circus clown and ringmaster, Comedy Store paid regular, his own improve troupe with Andy Garcia), he got the urge to be a stand up comedy teacher and teach others how to succeed in stand-up.
But there was one minor problem: Greg discovered that comedy had no basic technique. So he began to identify the principles, techniques, and skills used by comedy writers and funny people, out of which he created a comprehensive system for teaching stand up comedy.
Since then, the Greg Dean Comedy System has launched the careers of countless comedy greats, such as Whoopi Goldberg, Anthony Jeselnik, Sherri Sheppard, Sean Carrigan (Young and the Restless), as well as helping “normal people” find their “inner funny” and learn how better to express their sense of humor.
Not only has Greg been recognized as “Best Comedy Teacher” by his peers, but he’s also known as “the stand up comedy teacher’s teacher” – his techniques are used by nearly every other stand up comedy teacher in the field.
If you want to know more about my past, check out The Foot in the Door Podcast. It’s produced by several of my students who were interested in my past performing experience, so that ended up being the theme of this podcast. I tell stories about being in Ringling Bros circus, a street performer in San Francisco and Renaissance Fairs, as a paid regular at the Comedy Store where I performed with Robin Williams, Bill Hicks, San Kennison, Dice Clay, and the list goes on. My strangest job was as the opening act for the male strippers at Chippendales in the mid 80’s. And then how I transitioned from being a performer to teaching stand-up comedy ten years before anyone else had opened this sort of training. Enjoy. (Click on the Pic Below)
A note from Greg Dean about how he became a stand up comedy teacher.
When I became a stand up comedy teacher back in 1982, I had a curriculum even then. It was a short book with ideas I’d accumulated from other books on comedy, acting classes, and my own experiences of performing comedy.
When I became a stand up comedy teacher, I taught some techniques, but I was also giving my students my opinion of what was funny and wasn’t funny. I found myself in debates about whose sense of humor was better: mine or my student’s? Being a man of some intelligence, I shoved away my defensiveness and insecurities to ask myself, “Just because I’m a stand up comedy teacher, is my sense of humor really better than anyone else’s?” The answer I came up with was, “No it is not. It’s all personal taste. What’s funny for one can be offensive to another.” No one is right when it comes to personal preferences.
This sent me into a crisis. If I couldn’t espouse my opinion, then what was I to teach? So began my 30 plus year trek to uncover and document the fundamentals of joke writing and performing stand-up comedy. As a stand up comedy teacher, I knew how to write jokes, rewrite jokes, arrange routines, so I asked myself, “What how do I do in my mind with write a joke? How do I know how to rewrite a joke? What am I doing when I arrange a routine? To answer these questions I had to dig into my own creative processes to identify the actual techniques, write them out and then teach them to see if the student would apply each technique and get the results I had gotten. My real journey to become an actual stand up comedy teacher had begun.
As a stand up comedy teacher, I began with joke structure. I spent years reading and thinking about how information moved through the human mind to create jokes. I began with the model from Aristotle and Socrates that humor was based on expectation and surprise. As I thought about expectation, I realized that expectation was a result. What was my mind doing that caused me to expect something? Some months later, I realized that I was making assumptions and by accepting them as true, I had created my own expectations.
Jokes being based on assumptions were my first big breakthrough. The function of setups was to cause the audience to make bogus assumptions, so then the punch could contradict those expectations with a surprise. . From there I discovered the mechanisms for creating the ideas for punches, the reinterpretation. The surprise was created by having a different meaning of something from the setup.
As year or so later, I realized there was something between the setup’s assumptions and the punch’s surprise. This was the connector. It was one thing with at least two interpretations. This is how the twist in jokes is created: two interpretations of one thing. My model of joke structure was coming together.
As a stand up comedy teacher, I had these three mechanisms, and from this foundation, I developed an original joke writing system, The Joke Prospector. I was now a stand up comedy teacher who could teach joke writing by teaching my students to recognize the assumptions a setup created, find what in the setup caused them to make those assumptions. Once that thing was identified, then all they had to do was find or think up an unexpected interpretation to have the ideal for the punch.
This process became my foundation for being a stand up comedy teacher who was teaching and documenting that fundamental techniques of joke writing and performing stand-up comedy. For the next twenty-five years, technique after technique jumped out at me. Sometimes they came to me faster than I could completely understand them and write them down.
As a dedicated stand up comedy teacher, every breakthrough changed my curriculum. I could systematically teach these new techniques so anyone could learn and practice them. Over the years this continuous process helped me present the fundamentals of joke writing and performing stand-up comedy in my book, Step by Step to Stand-Up Comedy.
Thanks for listening, Greg Dean – Stand Up Comedy Teacher.