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DAN FRENCH has an M.A. in Rhetoric, and a Ph.D. in Media Studies, but don't let that fool you. And he still hasn't mailed us an 8 X 10.

Vist Dan's site,!
Dan French

The original "What Works"
"Tom Kenney"

"Inside the Box, Pt. II"
TV Development

"Whose Line is it Anyway?"
French's gag in a Quote-A-Crostic!

"Inside the Box, Pt. I"
TV Programming

"Your Showcase Set"
How to craft an L.A.-ready set

"The Clogged Drain of Comedy"
Who belongs on the stage? Comedy in L.A.

Why move to L.A.?

"Good Side/Bad Side"
What does comedy mean to a culture, post-911?

What should a manager do?

"Standup on TV"
What does TV want?

"Cash for Words"
Writing for dollars

"Stoking the Joke Machine"
Writing for a living

"Screenwriting for Standup Comics"
Just what it says

"Random Realizations"
Wisdom born of experience

Casting Season in L.A.

"Ladies & Gentlemen: A Job"
Working at Best Damn Sports Show Period

"LA Freefall for All"
It happens to everyone: Freefall!

"Hollywood or Bust"
How to change to succeed in L.A.

"How Edgy"
Column #2

"How Hip"
Column #3

"Who Writes Your Stuff?"
Why don't comics ask for help?

"The Art of Standup"
What would we gain by "turning up the art"

"Christmas Wish List"
Holiday column

"Getting Exercised"
A writing exercise

"High Octane"
Road vs. L.A., Monologist vs. Performer

"Inside the Box, Pt. I"
Television Programmers

"Inside the Box, Pt. II"
Television Production and Development

"Castle Breached"
Working at Late Late Show, Network television gig!

"I Like LA"
The third of five columns on writing comedy for money

"Hollywod Carousel"
Between BDSSP and Late Late Show, what I learned


Getting Exercised

On a personal note, I would just like to say that I recently got out of LA and did a road gig for the first time in a year and a half. It makes me proud as an American with an illegitimate president to say that Beaumont, Texas, hasnít changed since last I was there. And now for something youíll really like:

I started teaching comedy classes about five years into my own comedy "maturation." It was a good time to start, because I knew some things, but hadnít been doing it so long that I had gotten into that comicsí jaded glaze where we delude ourselves that we know it all, and that none of it is much worth knowing.

Iíve taught maybe twenty classes across the years, and I know the refrain --"You canít teach comedy, man, youíre ripping people off" --and I know my response --"you can teach comedy, man, but you have to be a really good teacher." Or, more fully, you canít teach someone how to be funny, but if you know what youíre doing you can teach people who are somewhat funny how to be funnier, and you can teach people who are really funny to be killer funny. Especially when so much of standup is performance technique, writing technique, audience technique, etc.

Because I do believe that standups benefit from teaching at every step of their careers, I thought maybe it would be useful from time to time in this column to throw out some of the tips Iíve developed for classes, something that might have a use for those who are still working on our acts when we get tired of free HBO or just canít go to another matinee movie.

And so, Mr. Tipster, starts out with a Writing Tip: When youíre trying to generate new material, focus on one very familiar, very particular thing.

Donít sit around and wrack your brain with Whatís happened to me lately that was funny? Look around your room, pick one single item, and think What is funny about that thing?

Pick any one thing and try to write as much as you can possible generate about it. When you run dry of your own personal experience or knowledge, add in research. Go on line, type in your subject, see what you find. Look it up in the encyclopedia. Go to Barnes and Noble and scam some free reading on it. Do anything to expand your knowledge of that thing.

As you brainstorm/write, if you start to chain off onto something else (i.e., similar things or different meanings for the thing), fine. But only sketch down allied ideas. Donít spend your energy over there. Just get quick notes, then come back to your main area, which is this particular thing. I donít know why this works, but it does. Thereís something about the brain that functions better on specific tasks instead of a huge domain of tasks. Too often we donít give our brains enough specific direction, enough focus, so they wander. Focusing on a single thing trains your brain to work hard in short bursts for specific yields.

As an example, I had a class write a weekís worth of ideas about "celery." Half came back and hadnít done it, of course ("I was too busy, man"). Not a good omen for their writing futures.

Half of the other half came back with lots of lame jokes, some from joke books. Again a bad sign, gathering the old instead of generating the new.

But one or two actually did the exercise full bore and came back with fragments, premises, concepts, even jokes. Maybe most of this stuff never got to stage quality, but they were way closer with this than anything else they had written in the class.

Like always, I also do the exercises I assign. And I wrote about two pages on celery, and actually got a stage-ready 45-second bit out of it, with five punchlines, that I still use it in my act.

So Writing Tip #1: write about something small.

Enough small things put together and you suddenly have a new five. Or a new TV-ready bit. Or a new act.

See you next month. HOME Back to the Top