Have You Been Bamboozled By These Stand-up Comedy Writing “Enhancement” Tactics?
There is a saying that goes like this:
You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.
To put “lipstick on a pig” means making superficial or cosmetic changes to a product in a futile effort to disguise its fundamental failings.
As I search for educational offerings for new comedians from time to time, I have noticed something interesting that’s happening:
There appears to be a growing trend of trying to make “writing” based programs more appealing to those interested in becoming comedians by telling you that it is much easier to develop stand-up comedy material without techniques or formulas…
But once you get past the “lipstick”, what they are actually offering is same old and ineffective techniques and formulas that have been cleverly disguised as a “natural or more organic” sort of process — like when you are talking to your friends for example.
Just to be clear, there are two primary approaches to producing stand-up comedy material:
The true testament to just how awful and ineffective the Writing Approach is can be observed at ANY stand-up comedy open mic ANYWHERE in the world.
The Talking Approach tends to be largely hidden or overlooked because of the overwhelming number and variety of Writing Approach resources available for an already preconditioned consumer base who has been indoctrinated by the media to believe that stand-up comedy is a “writing” focused performing art form.
There are three important points that I want to make here:
- There is only ONE original source for the Talking Approach (me) and it is made available on my websites.
- It does not matter which approach a person uses as long as it actually helps them generate the audience laughter they want and the recognition of their comedy talent that they desire.
- If the Writing Approach worked for most people, then most new comedians would be funny and getting funnier with each subsequent performance — THIS IS NOT THE CASE and the opposite is true and observable.
For the remainder of this special report, I am going to focus on 3 observations that you can make to tell if you are being “sold” a Writing Approach for developing a stand-up comedy routine that has been covered with “lipstick” to make it more appealing.
Please note that if the Writing Approach was all that great and actually worked to help new comedians quickly develop a stand-up routine that generated frequent laughs…
Well, there would be no need to “cloak” it or otherwise misrepresent it to appear to be something that it is clearly not.
From both a personal and professional viewpoint, I want funny people to have the path of least resistance when it comes to developing powerful stand-up comedy routine that showcases their true comedy talent.
In order to have a better understanding of the Talking Approach, please review this special report:
Special Report: The Stand-up Secret That No One Else Will Tell You
Once you review that special report, you should also have a pretty good idea why some “experts” would want to put “lipstick” on the writing process they try to peddle using aspects of the Talking Approach.
You can ALWAYS spot a Writing Approach no matter how much “lipstick” has been applied because the core information always defaults to “writing” in a conventional fashion.
The boondoggle that I want to point out here is this — while the instructional guidelines of a Writing Approach may be presented as capturing the “natural” way you talk and express yourself to people you talk with…
There is absolutely nothing natural about “writing” anything in order to somehow to get laughs when you are communicating verbally to anyone — either off stage or on stage.
You learned to “write” in a formal setting, using only words and sentences designed for consumption by an individual reader.
When you sit in front of a word processor, you automatically default to using the writing methodologies for an individual reader that you were trained over many years to do.
You learned to talk and develop your sense of humor in an informal and organic process involving countless live and in-person interactions with other people over decades
Writing is NOT talking. Talking is NOT writing. There are literally millions of web pages online that examine the differences in detail.
So the notion that you are going to talk better or be funnier as a result of writing ANYTHING is much akin to saying that you can make a lemon pie using pumpkins.
However, with an “enhanced” version of the Writing Approach you can see things like “you need to express yourself the way you do when you talk with friends” which is great UNLESS…
You are using a “writing” foundation for all this “natural” self-expression that you are supposed to be doing.
Your comedy talent — the same comedy talent that led you to stand-up comedy in the first place WAS NOT developed as a function of writing.
Related Lesson: A Closer Look At Your Comedy Talent
There is NO WAY to accurately portray or express your comedy talent using only words and sentences on paper or using a word processor.
That’s because MOST of your verbal communication with others is NOT from the words alone.
But writing down (or transcribing) what you want to say and express to an audience is NOT trying to write stuff out of thin air using only your imagination and guesswork.
Writing anything can and does result in writer’s block. There is no such thing as talker’s block.
We don’t “write” notes to pass to friends, family, coworkers, etc. to get laughs — we TALK and express ourselves to do that.
Not only that, as you will see in Observation #3, “writing” puts you at a distinct and serious disadvantage when it comes to producing stand-up comedy material that demands frequent laughter each performing minute.
If you want to be a great blogger, write everyday. If you want to be a comedian who slays an audience with laughter…
Recognize, capture and structure your actual sense of humor the way that you actually use it.
You need to study, be able to recognize and “select” what “natural” technique or tactic to use for anything that you write.
Another boondoggle associated with the “cloaked” Writing Approach is to convince you that the easiest way to produce comedy material and generate laughs is to:
- Study laughter generating processes and
- Be able to recognize these processes in order “pick” an approach, tactic or technique to use when developing your stand-up material.
It doesn’t seem to matter that you didn’t need to know or study anything in order to make others laugh when you talk (this is discussed in detail towards the end of this report).
Well, if you are truly using your natural sense of humor and expressing it in a way that is organic to you, then the only thing that you should be “selecting” are those things that you want to talk about — ideas, experiences, observations, opinions, etc. — that readily and easily trigger your sense of humor.
As a matter of fact, if you reviewed the lesson about your comedy talent, then you know that you already have a lot of potential stand-up comedy material to select from already — and you continue to produce it every time you say something that causes people to laugh.
Here are just some examples of the type of things that are purported to make developing stand-up comedy material easier:
- Using “tried and tested” joke formulas
- Recognizing and selecting the “right” point of view for a comedy bit or joke
- Understanding and applying comedic conflict
- Any other tactic or technique that involves AFTER-THE-FACT identification
While knowing these sorts of things may make for interesting conversation at cocktail parties, the reality is this:
Knowing detailed descriptive attributes of ANY laughter generation process is ALWAYS representative of an after-the-fact observation, analysis and categorization of some sort of “technique” or “tactic” that someone used to generate laughter.
I should also mention that these after-the-fact tactics and techniques can be based on observations made as result of a formal academic study such as the Benign Violation Theory (which is about as helpful as trying to mow your lawn with a pair of toenail clippers).
These sorts of academic studies are also used as a means to provide validity to whatever Writing Approach is being promoted.
And from a purely practical stand point of helping someone produce a stand-up comedy routine that actually works to get laughs, these types of formal studies almost have the same value as one-size-fits-all high heel shoe.
Keep in mind that these sorts of after-the-fact “techniques” are almost always accompanied by numerous examples as a means to justify how well they are supposed to work.
Related Article: Looking For Stand-up Comedy Material Examples?
There is NEVER any mention that these examples are generated from another comedian’s point of view and sense of humor and have no actual bearing on any comedy material that you are trying to develop BEFORE you have taken it to the stage.
Think of it this way — anyone who sees a car pass by can tell you what color it is AFTER THEY HAVE ALREADY SEEEN THE CAR.
No one can tell you what color the next car that passes by will be BEFORE it comes into view.
But what the stand-up comedy “experts” want you to believe is this:
If you study, understand and apply all these after-the-fact descriptions of the “techniques” that other comedians use, you too will be able to produce stand-up material that gets the big laughs.
Once again, I will refer you to ANY comedy open mic night to observe for yourself just how false that really is.
My professional perspective is this:
You DID NOT need to know or study ANY sort of “techniques” to cause others to laugh when you are engaged in casual conversations. That’s because…
You already use powerful, tailor made, organic but mostly nameless “techniques” that fit you like a glove and reflect your sense of humor and how you naturally express that sense of humor.
When you cause people to laugh in everyday conversations, you don’t stop to “pick” which joke formula, point of view, the proper comedic conflict or any other technique that you are going to use in advance.
What does happen is that you respond to information that triggers your sense of humor in a natural and virtually automatic way using nameless techniques and tactics that are specific to you.
And that is exactly what the people you talk with do when they say something that generates laughter
So tell me EXACTLY why you can’t do the same thing when it comes to creating a stand-up comedy routine?
All I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is this:
You don’t have to spend a single minute learning about the engine, fuel system, ignition system, electrical system, etc. in order to drive a car with skill and confidence.
So you tell me — why EXACTLY do you need to learn “special” tactics and techniques when you have been able to make other people laugh your whole life WITHOUT having to understand, study and apply ANY of those things to get laughs when you talk with others in casual conversations?
No matter how much “lipstick” has been applied to any Writing Approach to make it appear more “natural”, it will not address the important facts regarding the average laughs per minute that you must be able to generate with your stand-up comedy material to move forward as a professional comedian.
- It doesn’t matter how much emotion you put into your “writing”.
- It doesn’t matter if you communicate in your “writing” like you are talking to friends.
- It doesn’t matter how many times your comedy material is “re-written”.
- It doesn’t matter what joke formula, point of view, or comedic conflict or other technique that you incorporate into your stand-up comedy material.
Before I go any further, know this:
You can easily verify what I have just told you by simply reviewing any online video of your favorite comedian and counting the number of audience laughs generated each performing minute.
So using any Writing Approach, no matter how “organic” or “natural” it is touted to be…
It is very difficult to “write” stand-up comedy material that will generate an average of 4-6+ laughs per minute because the process of “writing” only involves the use of words as the means for the communication being produced.
Because “writing” does not include the visual and audible aspects of spoken word communication (aka body language), many more words are needed in a conventional “writing” process to convey the ideas, opinions, observations, experiences, etc. that you want to share with an audience.
But let’s look at this another way…
When I am talking about 4-6+ laughs per minute, I am talking specifically about BOTH setting up and delivering an average of 4-6+ punchlines every performing minute.
If you do a search online you will find that a person’s conversational speech rate is usually somewhere between 120-150 words per minute.
Using a 150 words per minute speech rate as a guide (which is uncommonly fast by the way, but I want to illustrate a point)…
A person would be speaking 2.5 words per second.
Let’s say that the audience laughter generated is 3 seconds per punchline, which means 4 audience laughs would generate 12 seconds of audience laughter per minute.
So if you subtract the time for 4 audience laughs (12 seconds) from each performing minute (60 seconds) and consider that the comedian spoke naturally and conversationally at 150 words per minute on average, that would mean that:
Using these guidelines, a comedian would have 48 seconds (120 words) to deliver the set-up information and 4 punchlines each performing minute.
Here’s what 120 words looks like, keeping in mind that generating an average of just 12 seconds of audience laughter may only get you to opening/feature act performances if you are lucky:
Since most people don’t talk at 150 words per minute they would actually have less words at their disposal in order to generate just 4 decent laughs each performing minute.
I need to point out that the number of words illustrated above is quite a bit more than you would actually have at your disposal for a headline level stand-up comedy performance that generates an average of 18+ seconds of audience laughter each performing minute.
Again, DO NOT take my word for this. YouTube provides a timed stamped transcript of comedian videos uploaded after 2014.
Just click on the 3 dots below the lower right corner of the video to open the transcript for the video.
Go find your favorite comedians and see for yourself how many words they use in any given minute of a performance to get the audience laughs that they generate.
I can assure you that in most cases it will be more like 60-80 words per minute — NOT 120.
So am I saying that you need to be a math wiz in order to produce a stand-up comedy routine that generates the laughter frequency that you need to entertain audiences and be recognized by those who can have a major impact on your career as a comedian?
Absolutely NOT. But what I am saying is this:
- Talking is EASIER than writing.
- Talking about things that easily activate your sense of humor is far easier than writing anything.
- Talking doesn’t require you to learn or study any sort of “tactics” or “techniques” that you don’t already know and use.
- Talking about things that easily activate your sense of humor doesn’t require the need to try to guess what “tactic” or “technique” you need to use in order to generate laughs with you stand-up comedy material.
- There doesn’t ever seem to be any talker’s block like there is writer’s block. Odd, huh?
And, if your talking is written down (NOT written from imagination for a reader to read) and you know what a punchline is relative to you, your sense of humor and they way you express yourself…
You can easily learn to structure your stand-up material to make sure that you deliver as many punchlines as possible in any given performing minute.
But none of this sort of information is made available with ANY approach to stand-up comedy that involves “writing”, whether it is covered with “lipstick” as being some sort of “natural” or “expressive” process or not because…
The authors of Writing Approaches would lose credibility fast, if not embarrass themselves completely because…
They can’t offer students a viable means for generating generating 4-6+ laughs per performing minute from a “writing” perspective unless they start teaching how to write old school, non-connected, set-up/punchline jokes like most comedians delivered when Bugs Bunny and Yogi Bear were new cartoons.
So it is simply better not to mention this important aspect of developing a stand-up routine at all.
An Important Question
At this point you should be asking yourself at least one important question like this:
All comedians talk about “writing” comedy material. If most comedians start out using the Writing Approach that you have been talking about, how are they able to become headliners and generate an average of 4-6+ audience laughs per performing minute that you are referring to?
The answer to that is actually simple…
For those comedians who are willing to suck for years and are finally able to get the laughs they need to move forward in stand-up comedy…
They did so as a result of YEARS of trial and error and finally “learning” to align their natural sense of humor and the way they use it off stage with whatever “writing” process that they use to produce the stand-up comedy material that they deliver.
This is one of the reasons that popular resources say that it takes 5-10 years to get good at stand-up comedy. The reality is that it is the result of starting out using a crappy writing process to begin with.
And most comedians who are at the highest levels in entertainment also hire professional writers to help them to produce new comedy material because the “writing” process is still a difficult affair — because they initially started out “writing” instead of transcribing and structuring talking.
People tend to do what they know to do best, even if it is not the fastest or most effective way to do it. Call it human nature I suppose.
So I am going to go out on a limb and say that most accomplished pro comedians DO NOT use the writing “techniques” and “tactics” that are promoted and sold by moist stand-up comedy teachers.
Because if they did, they would continually suck on stage just like the vast majority of open mic comedians tend to do.
Decide For Yourself
The idea of trying to present a Writing Approach for producing stand-up comedy material as some sort of “natural and organic process” truly is much like putting lipstick on a pig.
But there is a much bigger and unspoken problem at play with the Writing Approach, whether it be covered in “lipstick” so to speak or not which is this:
That’s right — the sense of humor and comedy talent that you are able to use effortlessly to get laughs from people you know and people that you meet AND that took you decades to develop doesn’t really count much at all for when it comes to developing a stand-up comedy routine using any Writing Approach.
If it did, the stand-up “experts” and teachers would be teaching you about what your natural comedy talent is and how to use it to produce a stand-up routine based on techniques and methodologies that YOU ALREADY USE organically, automatically and without knowing a name or a label and are specific to you.
And you wouldn’t need to be “writing” everyday in order to develop funny stand-up material that is actually generated from TALKING and expressing yourself.
Did you have to “write” everyday to become a funny person at work, at home or at play?
Another reason for the unnecessary complication in the educational materials provided by most stand-up “experts” is this:
They are now desperately attempting to correlate the function of writing DIRECTLY to actual verbal communication because of the growing popularity of the Talking Approach..
In my professional opinion, what can be a relatively simple affair when it comes to developing a solid stand-up comedy routine ends up being turned into a complicated, Rube Goldberg type of process that has the opposite effect of being simple or easy when the “expert” information provided has little if any actionable value, yet is peddled as “critical, must know info” as a prerequisite for success.
This is NO different than me saying this:
If you want to be able to easily drive a car with great skill, don’t spend any time studying the difficult-to-understand workings of the engine or transmission — you simply need to study and understand the digital fuel injection system and the electrical system — and that is the easier way to become a better driver (insert sarcasm here).
The reality is this — you don’t even need to know how to change a tire to be a very skilled and proficient automobile driver.
In a nutshell, here’s my approach (the Talking Approach) to developing a stand-up comedy routine that works to get the frequent laughs that you want if you can get past the programming that the comedy talent that you use offstage everyday is not good enough or that you need to become a skilled “writer”:
- The comedy talent that you have RIGHT NOW not only matters, it’s all you will ever have because of the lengthy and complicated process that is involved with developing that comedy talent. You cannot “learn” to have more.
- You are engaged in producing stand-up comedy material in a spontaneous fashion every time that you say something and express your sense of humor.
- You literally produce hours of potential stand-up comedy material EVERY YEAR (cumulative), a good portion of which is more than suitable for use in a stand-up comedy routine (if you don’t believe that, just make a list of what the popular comedians talk about).
- Unlike guessing what kind of “comedic conflict” will work, you spontaneously produce stand-up material that has already PROVEN to have laughter generation value because people laughed when you spoke.
- You most likely hang around people who also produce HOURS of stand-up comedy material every year, some of which you could most definitely structure and use for a stand-up routine since they are most like not interested in becoming a comedian themselves.
- You don’t have to know or have a label for ANY particular “technique” that you use naturally that generates laughs in order to create a stand-up comedy routine that is focused on things that activates your sense of humor and that you like talking about.
- A stand-up comedy routine is a premeditated version of what you already do in everyday life to generate laughs when you talk, but it is structured to get more laughs per minute for an extended period of time.
I don’t want you to get the wrong idea — stand-up comedy is a challenging performing art form with much to learn about and do in order to deliver a routine that kills consistently from audience to audience.
But there is absolutely NO need to make it MORE difficult which is exactly what trying to memorize, use and apply “writing techniques” does.
I don’t deal with theory in my training. Audiences don’t care about what “theory” you use or don’t use — they simply want to be entertained at a high level.
But don’t take my word for anything.
That’s how you can determine if the pig you have been reviewing has lipstick on it or not.