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.
“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?”.