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
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
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.