When I first got into teaching stand-up comedy, I quickly realized there were no organized comedy fundamentals for teaching joke writing and performing. 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.
Where were the fundamentals of comedy for joke writing and performing 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 comedy fundamentals.
I wondered if they even existed. Yet, I’d watch comedians get funnier year after year. Therefore, they must be learning new techniques and perfecting the ones they already knew. It was bewildering.
What I did know is that I was constantly stealing techniques from other funny people. For instance, Steve Martin’s character, the Jerk, he performed in his stand-up comedy. The character thought he was cool and popular, but the audience perceived him as a jerk. I took that technique and created a character named Bob Hormone. I did him in my shows when I was the opening comedy act for the male strippers at Chippendales in the early to mid 80s.
Bob Hormone wasn’t an impersonation of Martin’s character, but rather patterned after the sleazebags who came in after the show to score a turned on babe. Bob Hormone was more self conscious, so everything he said and did was pretentious and inappropriate. For instance, Bob would stride up to a pretty lady and say, “Why don’t you,” he’d point to himself, “and me,” he’d point at her. Poor Bob never got any further because the ladies laughed at him.
By using Martin’s technique for comedic character construction, I was able to capitalize on it without lifting any jokes. The jokes were different because the character was different, but based on the same character technique.
I did this with every comedian I watched. Even if the comedians who I borrowed from saw my shows, they’d never recognize their technique I was using. You can own a joke, but not a technique.
This meant there were fundamentals of comedy that could be learned and applied to being funny. It’s just that no one had bothered to identify and chronicle them. So for the past 35 years, I’ve made it my life’s mission to identify, understand, and teach the comedy fundamentals of joke writing and performing. So began my journey to develop a curriculum of learnable and practicable comedy fundamentals.
Have you uncovered any comedy techniques?