Tag Archives: how to be a comedian

How to Avoid Getting Groans with Puns

From punny to funny.

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Puns have been used since ancient times, in the Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and of course, Shakespeare. Clever use of language has always been a major source of entertainment and humor. Puns may be useful for annoying your friends, but in professional comedy will invariably produce groans. That’s probably because a good joke, like a good magic trick, is only effective if the audience doesn’t see how it’s done. No form of joke displays its inner workings more overtly than a pun. To make matters worse, someone doing a pun always seems to be saying, “Hey, look how clever I am with words.” This blog will focus on the use of puns in jokes, particularly one-liners, and how to avoid getting groans, instead of laughs. Here are a few pointers: • Put the Pun Word or Phrase in the



Sometimes a Sight Gag is Better

I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

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Sometimes seeing it is funnier than hearing it. This goes along with the adage, “Show don't tell.” Showing or acting out something is almost always stronger than telling them about it. For example, a student of mine, Alan Bockal, does this joke: “So look for me at your local freeway off-ramp. I’ll be the one holding the sign that says: Married a Jewish Girl - Will Work for Sex.” Alan could have just said that joke, but it works much better when he stands there holding the sign like a homeless person on a freeway off-ramp. Comedian and food fan Kevin James has an entire routine about how tiny a Geo Metro feels when he sits in it. He could, of course, just tell the audience that the car fits like a jacket, but instead he pretends to be in the car, holding a steering wheel that ap



Localize Your Material

Joke references that make the audience think you care.

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It’s important to have material that travels. The technique to localize can help you take jokes or bits and tailor them to different geographical areas and use known people to make them more relatable. It’s very simple and effective. First go through your material and make note of all the references to cities, landmarks, hotels, stores, bars, restaurants or politicians, crime bosses, and so forth. When you get to the club, get the local paper or ask someone at the club for ideas so you can fill these in with regional references. This can really improve the response you’ll receive. Here are several examples, if you have a joke that involves a restaurant, learn the name of a well-known local eatery. Then instead of saying, “I was at this restaurant the other day . . . ,” you can say, “I went to Ho



Write Short Jokes

I could have written Write Concise Jokes, but it was longer.

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In this blog, Write Short Jokes, I’ll discuss the importance of keeping jokes, especially one-liner, short and to the point. As Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Nothing kills a good joke more certainly than smothering it with an avalanche of unnecessary words and information. I talked a little about this subject when you were first learning to write a punch. Here is an excellent example from my own experience as a teacher of joke writing. A student of mine, Terry R. Jackson, brought a very funny but overwritten joke into class. “I just went through a long and messy separation, which ended in a divorce from my wife. So, after all that, I went on a vacation to Denmark because I was having a sex change. The sex change was from not very often to nothing at all.” T



Handling Hecklers – Part 5

Sometimes Less is More

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  In my previous blogs Handling Hecklers Parts 1- 4, I’ve given some fairly well known tips for crushing hecklers like the cockroaches they are. In this blog, Handling Hecklers Part 5, I’ll offer a couple of more gentle approaches for helping overzealous audience members to shut up.    Sincerely Ask Them to Stop Commenting I know this seems too simple to be true, but it really works. Since most hecklers think they’re helping your show, sometimes just nicely asking them to, “Please stop commenting,” can be enough. I’ve even gone so far as to admit that I’m not as good as they are and to please give me a chance. It’s so disarming to have the performer pleasantly request to stop commenting that most people will agree. After all,



Handling Hecklers – Part 1

Tips to cure an audience disease.

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Being mercilessly heckled is the third most common fear associated with doing stand-up comedy. Just the prospect of being heckled deters some beginners from getting on stage because they don’t know if they’ll be able to cope with it. But, as with all things, the reality isn’t nearly as frightening as our fantasy. When handling a heckler, your goal is to remain in charge of yourself and your show. Handling hecklers effectively is a skill that is only acquired through a great deal of stage experience. In the meantime, here are some helpful hints to stave off the scourge: Most Hecklers Think They’re Helping Most hecklers are misguided, not malicious. They like you and want to help, so they yell out comments they think make the show funnier. They’re not familiar with concepts



The 10 Problems of Memorizing Words – Part 2

First, read Part 1.

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In my last article, The 10 Problems of Memorizing Words - Part 1, I discussed five of the problems. Here in The 10 Problems of Memorizing Words - Part 2, I’ll explain five more problems associated with memorizing the words of speeches, presentations, or routines. Memorizing Words - Problem 6 Even if speakers remember the words correctly, they still aren’t a very effective means of communicating. The following is the work of University of California at Los Angeles professor Dr. Albert Mehrabian, in the book (Silent Messages published by Wadsworth 1971), and it demonstrates the relative effectiveness of the three ways



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 f



The Silence of the Bombs

Whoever said “Silence is golden,” wasn’t a comedian.

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Bombing is the number one fear associated with doing stand-up comedy. When your show isn’t getting any laughs, life stops being a movie and you’re thrust into the awareness that you’re really here in front of people. A flush of tingly heat spreads over your face, all you can hear is a deafening roar of silence. Then your internal self-talk starts screaming, “Why am I doing this to myself!” Your mouth feels as if it’s stuffed with cotton, your heart is thumping in your chest, and beads of perspiration snake down your face. You’re experiencing what comedians call flop sweat. If this description is enough to scare you away from wanting to be a comic, quit now because bombing is an inevitable aspect of being a funny person. Accept it and prepare yourself to deal with it resourcefully.



Steal Comedy Techniques, Not Jokes

Where are the fundamentals of comedy?

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When I first got into teaching stand-up comedy, I quickly realized there were no organized fundamentals of comedy for teaching joke writing and being funny. Every other field had established fundamentals and even different schools of thought about them. For instance, sports, acting, cooking, writing, dancing, art, and music could be learned through mastering the fundamental skills of its corresponding field. Where were the fundamentals of comedy for joke writing and being funny in front of an audience? At the time, there were several books which offered some help. They gave advice or examples of what the author did to be funny, but nothing was presenting a clear unified series of the fundamentals for comedy. I wondered if they even existed.  Yet, I’d watch comedians get funnier year afte



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