Words I dislike hearing in a stand-up comedy routine

Last week and this week I wrote a few sentences breaking down some jokes, just to see what aspects of the jokes make them funny (are you bored yet? nothing says snooze like talking about what makes something funny).

One thing that I think might help a new stand-up comic is to avoid certain words. I am by no means an expert so take with a grain of sea salt. The few examples outlined below aren’t gospel and certainly words and phrases used depend on the comic’s persona, goal, intonation (delivery), etc.. I’m just writing here, not judging. Not yet, that is, you unfunny person.

Words or phrases I recommend you avoid if only to be funnier:

1.  “I hate” said seriously while setting up a joke, along with negative adjectives.  Or even just stating an opinion while on stage. You lose the opportunity to be sarcastic which means you may be missing out on laughs. I suppose if you’re the type of joker who isn’t sarcastic this may not apply. But even in a social, non-stand-up comedy setting, trying to be funny with “I hate” may not be as effective as being overly sarcastic with “I love.”   Or describing anybody you really despise (ex- or current Presidents/Governors,/celebutards) with negative words aren’t as effective as overly positive praise. “I hate George Bush” (or “Obama”)  big whoop – you and a million commenters on Yahoo news have said the same thing. But “I just looooove George Bush [or Obama]- I can’t get enough of his brilliance and courage…” gets the same point across. You are performing comedy and so statements like this are easily understood as sarcasm.

What might be funnier in a typical set-up for airplane/airport jokes (let’s say the joke is about someone at a ticket counter but the person sets the place by bringing up airports/travel).

“I hate airports…stupid security, lame baggage handlers” – okay, you’ve described something we all hate. Thank you, Stand-up Describer.

Try this:

“I just love airports….brilliant, super-sharp security guards, the incredibly honest baggage handlers…”

Be sarcastically positive and you may get more laughs. The crowd should know you are being sarcastic get your point.  Just “I hate…” is too short, not funny in most cases. I suppose there are times to use this, perhaps a punctuation to an already delivered.

Perhaps some exceptions to the ‘I hate’:

If you say “I hate terrorism” while doing stand-up comedy, that is as funny as saying “I just love terrorism” – Terrorism, unlike voluntary air travel or cab rides, is so awful that it is absurd for a comic to have state the obvious – nobody really seriously enjoys terrorism. Same goes for hating Nazis – a pretty easy stand to take, tough guy.

I think can apply to other verbs or adjectives. Whatever you are introducing before the joke, set it up my either using sarcasm or exaggeration, not straight reportage.

2. “My ______ are funny” or “c’mon, that’s funny, guys!”– setting up a joke with “My friends are funny” or “my dad is funny” is like saying “I think” in a personal essay. It’s lazy (wait, I should say “It’s lazy, I think”!!). Think of a better introduction to whatever joke you’re going to tell about your funny friend/relative.

I would rather hear “My dad is just amazing, like in a Forest Gump kinda way.  The other day he let the neighbor borrow our toaster…..” than “my dad is funny. the other day he let the neighbor borrow our toaster” (this is just some type of joke set up – I don’t have a punchline, okay). The takeaway is that most anything that you are saying or describing SHOULD be funny if you are performing a set so you don’t have to tell us it’s funny.

Related to this: If you have tell the audience that what you just said is funny, then you delivered it wrong or it’s not funny.  You can communicate your displeasure in a better way than just stating that what you said was funny. Say something like “okay, then, we’ll have to agree to disagree on that last one” or something. I hate hearing (new) comic complain, while on stage, that the audience isn’t laughing. You can complain if they aren’t listening, but if they are listening and not laughing, you better find a better way to communicate.

3. “Last week” or “the other day” – this I am guilty of and I’m not sure there is a fix. For the working comedian (which I am not), I imagine they have enough to remember than to trying to pick specific days of the week to set up a joke, and they are performing longer sets so it’s not as noticeable.  It may also not be that important – more like filler that goes unnoticed by the audience.  However, I noticed the other day when I had three jokes in a row where I started  by saying “last week” – it was noticeable enough that I called myself out on it (got a laugh) but still. I think trying to deliver a joke where something “happened to me last week” is common enough that it’s okay. But avoid setting up so many jokes that ‘happened last weeks’ or ‘just the other day’.  Even if it’s “On Saturday I ran into my ex.” as opposed to “Last week I ran into my ex”

4.  “Is this thing on?” (tap mic a couple of times) – this is so goddamn old…I can’t wait until something different comes along to indicate that the mic may not be working.  Unless you are in a David Lynch movie, and are in the Great Northern trying to hold a town meeting, stop saying this.

That’s it. See, that wasn’t so tough. Just a few words/phrases to think about when performing comedy. Tighten up the writing/ideas by eliminating these lame words/phrases. Obviously one may use these and any other word but try to be original with your set-up.  We all hate airports so you don’t have to say it. I will not say I hate people who say “I hate airports” but will say “aren’t people who say ‘I hate airports’ so very clever?”.

 

 

 

Stand-up Comedy – when something is funny and you don’t know why

In the past week or so, I’ve written about two jokes that I perform (here about a dead dog, and here about dead cats). It may be boring as hell or, hopefully, interesting to someone out there. One thing that I brought up is that it’s important to know why a joke works but it’s also important to know that sometimes funny can’t be analyzed or answered.

By the way – as I said before, these blog posts about my stand-up comedy is more for me than anyone – a circle jerk to analyze my jokes since nobody else will, right? So, if you don’t think it’s useful or funny, no worries. Go to tmz or whatever.

I think books or interviews of comedians about what is funny, etc. can be boring. Here I’m just breaking down a joke for my own purpose and for others – you don’t have to be a stand-up comedian to know how a joke may work or doesn’t work. There are plenty of funny people who don’t write/perform stand-up comedy. There are too many people who don’t have a sense of humor and might believe they will never have one. I think some people are naturally funny and some aren’t. But just because you are not  naturally funny, doesn’t mean you can’t learn some structure of a joke or see how others think in terms of what they believe to be funny (geez, that’s an awful sentence – I apologize).

When I began doing stand-up comedy a few months ago (after a break) I had one set that had such a ‘joke’ or statement by me that got a much bigger laugh than I anticipated.

The set-up. I was invited to tell some jokes at a small bar in the small town I live in. The bar is in an odd location in town (right by some railroad tracks, next to some other odd businesses, but nearby is the town post office). So before I am introduced, I decide I have to somehow mention that the post office is nearby – as if I’m only there to a) tell jokes and b) drop off my mail (aka, “get shit done” like a real adult).

So, my words were something “when Mike asked if I wanted to come down here to tell some jokes, I asked him where the bar was. He said “down by the post office” I said “I’m in.”

That’s all I said and it got a big laugh. Again, a large part of it was my delivery and persona because I am pretty calm on stage and so it looks like going to a place ‘near the post office’ is something that would intrigue me.

In the line “I’m in” there was humor in that because it I said it as if I was agreeing to rob a bank with a team of hardened criminals or agreeing that doing comedy next to a post office was a no-brainer and obviously going to be a great venue (turns out it was).

But it’s not really a joke, right? I can’t tell it again (maybe I can) but the way I said it was more spontaneous (the idea wasn’t as I had decide about 30 minutes before to mention it somehow).

That kinda gets into when a comedian says something that seems off-the-cuff or inspired by something that happened in the bar/club that evening. They may have ready-to-go one-liners or they may actually think of something fresh and new and funny in response to something.

If you are going to do stand-up comedy, and your act is the kind that can break away into ‘observation’ about your surroundings, getting there a little early, looking around at then neighborhood, etc, is helpful. I guess I would call that ‘localizing’ your set, something the best comics do but the more you do it, the better you’ll get and you can have fresher ‘observations’/funny lines compared to other comics (example – I’m sure every comic visiting San Francisco is going to joke about the steep hills – may be funny but not exactly original. Look for something more local that that if you’re visiting!)

Anyway, I’ve strayed from the topic that sometimes a comedian will say something (planned or unplanned) that is not structured in a usual ‘joke’ format but still is funny – mostly due to timing/personality of the comic and….magic.

Previous analysis on some jokes here and here. I may continue this series, perhaps organize it better later.

 

stand-up comedy – a joke by me, analyzed by me.

I’m back doing stand-up comedy here and there on the California central coast. Great group of people involved. Various bars mostly – nothing too exciting but working up to a 30 minutes set.

Lately have been telling dark jokes, involving pets. not sure why. I like cats and dogs. I thought I’d present the joke and talk about it a little.  If it helps someone write their own joke or think of something funny, great.  I thought of this joke in July and have used it the past few sets.

As with all jokes, it’s better in person but I write this here.

JOKE:

I called in sick the other day because my dog died. My boss said ‘how long are you going to be out?’ and I said ‘well, when my mom died, I took 10 days off. But this is my dog, so just multiply that times 7.’

Hilarious!

One thing I’ve noticed in performing recently is that some people are funny but they do not word their jokes correctly. If you want to do stand-up comedy, wording is extremely important for most comedic styles.  For the joke above, the word ‘7’ is the last word on purpose. (or the phrase “multiple that times seven” – whatever) – if I say “multiply the time off by 7 because it’s a dog” – it’s kinda funny, I think, but not as funny as the original ‘correct’ way. It’s also a matter of how I present the joke. I am unassuming, quiet and I tell this as if it happened (usually early in the set with the other pet jokes.).

This jokes does two things which I like:

1. Brings up a topic that happens to most of us – dealing with the death of a beloved pet. Oh, and also, a parent.  Yeah, that too.  So many people can relate to either dead pet or dead parent/family member. It’s not a fun topic, so you get to think about it through the scenario I have set up (calling in sick).  This brings the crowd (all 4 of them, usually) in and on my side because I’m a guy discussing the death of my pet dog and name dropping the dead parent.  Hard to heckle a guy talking about loss.

2. The other thing it has is math! It’s not the smartest joke in the world, not by a long shot, but it’s got a little joke about how the age of dogs in relation to ‘human years’ is multiple of 7s. Most everyone’s heard this factoid. So, instead of taking two weeks off for my dead dog, I’m asking to take 14 weeks off! See ya later bossman! Sucker!

I think a lot of people who enjoy stand-up comedy are pretty sharp and they want to laugh and think and be challenged in some ways (i.e., exercise the mind during your set a little whether it’s a historical reference, or math or puns). My joke has a simple, elementary calculation which helps in presenting the punchline; everyone does it quickly and hopefully gets the joke (that I’m looking to take about 2+ months off – 10 x 7).  If you didn’t know that fact/theory about dogs lifespan being 7 years to 1 human year, then the joke really doesn’t work.  The joke is also absurd as factoring in “dog years” into bereavement time is extremely silly.

I think the joke is funny, but it’s also sad because in reality, who wouldn’t want 3 months off after the death of a loved one (parent or dog). But, as the hard-luck comedian tells this story, it’s funny in a sad-funny way. And what do we all say about comedy – tragedy+time = comedy – and in this joke it’s about all three.

It’s a fun joke.  In the small town that I live in, I can’t tell it forever, as many of our local ‘live comedy’ supporters have heard it. Eventually, they will say “yeah, yeah, we get it! death is hilarious! do you have any airplane jokes!?”

Later, I may analyze some other jokes of mine – it helps me think of others, reminds of the format/structure of a joke.

I haven’t used my blog in 1+ year (or should I say in 7 dog years?) but perhaps that will change.  I’m not going to leave comments open because of spam but if you are a real person and want to message me a question, I think you can from the blog or thru Facebook.

The code is cracked: Ice Bucket Challenge, ISIS, Frozen, L.A. Kings, ICE, etc – read if you dare

once again, I have cracked the code. Follow me around the room: 1. The film Frozen comes out in 2014 – a story abut a ‘King’dom trapped in ice. 2. Terrorist group ISIS makes it’s move in middle east (ISIS sounds like “ICE US”!), and 3. meanwhile L.A. “Kings” when the Cup in ICE hockey. 4. Immigration big issue this year (who enforces this?: ICE, immigration and customs enforcement) 5. ICE bucket challenge goes viral. 6. What do you say when someone dumps ice water on you? “Jesus Christ that’s cold!!”. 7. How many letters are in ICE ?Three. As in Trinity (and who is part of that – Jesus (King, Kingdom). So, mind blown, yet? The mothership will be here soon, probably covered in ice. Get your purple Nikes and meet me outside. And bring some ice! 

icy cold stare…..

 

This. This. This. Enough already. Retire “This.”!

Hi Internet citizens,

If you read a comment or article that you appreciate and agree with, whether it’s on reddit.com or Facebook or cnn.com,  or your local pay-site newspaper, you do not need to start your comment posting with the very short sentence “This.”

THIS.

I define the usage of the “This.” sentence as implying that you agree wholeheartedly with the article/comment you’ve just read, so much so that you say “This.” as though what was written was precisely what you would have written if you weren’t so dumb or chicken. Kinda like a version of “ditto” meaning exact copy – you agree exactly with whatever idea/sentiment is being expressed.

Why avoid the “This” sentence? Several reasons:

1. “This.” Whoa, slow down there, Tom Clancy. Don’t write too much. So, what gives, wordsmith?  This what? If what was written was precisely what you think should have been expressed, then why clutter up the comments with a one word response. Stay off the comments, you one-word ogre.  Save the space for the real psychos who turn every message board into a referendum on politics.

2. “This.” followed by your own ideas, tells me that while you think the original poster/commenter has written so perfectly you had to write “this”, you still felt the need to add your own thoughts. So, really, the writer didn’t cover all pertinent facts or opinions, huh? Just had to keep typing, didn’t you?  So, next time, don’t write “This.” Just write your own thoughts, even if they are similar or more poorly phrased.

3. Sometimes when I read a “This.” I think “oh man, I wonder if they’ve been murdered while at their keyboard. Or maybe they had a heart attack just as they started typing. Maybe they were going to write “This man is in my house with a chainsaw” but the unexpectedly jean shorts wearing chainsaw guy got to them sooner than they expected. “This.” could be a cry for help.

4. “This.” will eventually lead to “That.” And nobody wants that to lead to this happening. Some smartass is going to start it, I just know it.

So, lesson learned, internet? Knock it off with the “This.” sentence.