Doing Dark Material

by Greg Dean, the Professor of Stand Up Comedy


In today’s stand-up comedy scene, the tone has turned toward darker material. In a never-ending search for topics that haven’t been talked about stand-up comedians are pushing that line between comedy and drama. The closer they ride the line that could fall into the range of drama the bigger the chance that audience my turn on them.

Here’s a Few Tips to Help:

stand up comedian, Anthony Jeselnik


If dark material expresses your real sense of humor, and it’s really what you want to say, have the confidence to say it. Never pander to an audience. Do your sense of humor.

My student, Anthony Jeselnik, pushed through this issue. His stuff is dark, and not everybody likes it, but he has succeeded with it. So, you need to be a grownup and realize that some people are going to like you and some people aren’t going to like you. But if you commit, you will find your audience.

When I used to do the Westwood Comedy Store with Sam Kinison, people would say to him, “Don’t yell at the audience,” but he didn’t listen. He continued doing what he wanted to do because that was his sense of humor, and eventually he found his audience… found a huge audience!

So, remember: This is your show. This is your art. Have the confidence to do it, and keep doing it and you will find your audience over time.

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Go After Yourself First

If you’re only hitting other people with your mean-spirited jokes, then it looks like you’re just picking on everyone else.

So, start your show by turning that mean sense of humor on yourself. Do some self-deprecating jokes and make them as cruel as the jokes you make about anybody else.  Then, it’s fair play!

Your stand-up comedy routine will become much more palatable to the audience when you’re willing to take yourself apart before turning that wicked sense of humor on other people or institutions.

If you find yourself on the tightrope between comedy and drama, commit fully so the audience knows this is your style and you’re not going to back down. And be willing to take the first shot at yourself to let them know this is your sense of humor, no matter who it’s aimed at.

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About Greg Dean, the Professor of Stand Up Comedy

Forty years ago, Greg realized that nobody was teaching comedy. Greg took it upon himself to be a stand-up comedy teacher and teach others how to succeed.


All fields have fundamentals and basic techniques. Greg surmised that stand up comedy must have these building blocks too, they just hadn’t been codified. Greg’s early mission became to fix that problem.

He identified the principles, techniques, and skills used by comedy writers, stand up comedians and funny people, and he broke them down. From this research and codification, he created a comprehensive system for teaching stand up comedy.

Stand Up Comedians who have used his system have been able to master or perfect their natural talents.

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