The genesis of everything funny seems, at times, rather complex. I have been watching comedy from a very young age and I still have doubts over what is and isn't funny. Many great comedians never know if a joke will work. They suspect it might but until they actually try it in front of an audience, how do they know? There are so many factors at stake for a joke to work, such as the way it is delivered or the type of audience you're telling it to.
Comedy can be learned in many different ways. I have assimilated a lot about process from comedy writing books and have listened to advice from some of the comedians I admire. However, I still find it quite difficult to find an effective method for writing stand-up material. I always found this particularly strange, that filmmakers, painters and writers share their secrets but comedians, somehow, don't. So with this collection of posts I will try to share what methods and inspiration I've emulated from others.
For me personally, the very first step is always the subject. It can be anything but I personally prefer it to be something I am passionate about. My starting point - before I start writing anything - is to remember the advice of the great George Carlin:
This is key to me. I have to care about my subjects. I mean, you don't have to and you can probably still come up with plenty of funny stuff but if you want to be different, your view of the world matters. Of course you can make jokes about anything. Carlin had observational routines more focused on everyday things (the little world) like the brilliant "Stuff" to his most political material he did in his later years. It really doesn't matter what you're talking about, if it drives you crazy, make it funny!
From the books on comedy I've had the chance to read, there are two that I've found particularly useful. Sally Holloway's 'The Serious Guide to Joke Writing' is a great one to have always around when you're writing. My second favourite is Oliver Double's 'Getting the Joke', as it comes full of advice and quotations from other comics.
There are several useful tools in Sally Holloway's book but I'd start with the joke webs. Many comedians have these in other formats, such as Jerry Corley from Stand-Up Comedy Clinic who produces lists of words related to the main subject. Either way, a joke web is basically a web of subjects, being that you start with your main subject and make connections to other subjects that are, even remotely, connected to the main one. A bit like this one I did on religion:
So after you find your subject, do a joke web on it. Think about as many things connected to that subject as possible and we're on our way to make some jokes.
More on the next chapter.