I remember when I first started doing comedy, that I went to the local library and picked up a book that talked all about comedy. As soon as I opened it I realized that the part that I didn’t even want to read was the section on how to write jokes. Personally, I’ve always felt it was weird for someone to tell other people how to write jokes. If you make people laugh, there you go, you are half the way there. Now, that may seem like a very simple solution to something that seems daunting, but I will try to explain why I think writing jokes is something you can not teach.
The entire purpose of writing material is so you can be unique. I feel when someone is teaching you how to construct a joke it’s like building a bunch of houses that look the same. If you are using someone else’s structure and methods, how are you able to find what works for you. I can tell you how I write jokes, but that is only as helpful as a piece of information about my methods. Not something you should be trying to follow.
When you are writing with stand up in mind, really the only things that someone can teach you is to write toward your voice. Your voice is something they use in comedy to describe what makes you unique. Your voice is usually carried through the material that you write. You can see it in comedy specials. The comic will have a specific style they are going with and a different way of going about a joke. This can change as well. When you first start out you may write a bunch of jokes about vaginas, but after a couple of years you may find that you are writing and performing a lot more political stuff.
People get inspiration differently so telling people how to write may strangle the ways that someone can creatively express themselves. For instance, when I first started, I used to go to this coffee shop with a buddy and we would “write” jokes. He would write jokes. I would just stared at the baristas. I can not just sit down and force myself to write funny stuff. Most of the jokes I write down are just sparks of inspiration. I have a note pad on my phone that I can write the jokes down and I will either edit it at a later time or I will go on stage and work it out more naturally. I think that is another reason I am not that good at writing material anymore. Some people don’t write the way they talk. I’m from the south so I throw slang and stuff in my stage material that is sometimes not in the written material and when I am working on a new bit, it may not sound as good when I am reading it.
Now, I am not saying those books and classes that teach you how to write a joke is not a benefit to people. If you want to know how a joke works on a building block level then read up to that part and then don’t read anymore about joke writing. What you want to do is write how you tell jokes to your friends and family. That is what made you think you could do comedy in the first place! If what you say to people make them laugh then try to get it on paper. The most important things to remember about writing a joke is that if you are going to tell an amusing story that unnecessary information needs to be cut out of it. This is hard for a lot of first tim comics because you want to flesh out the story. Don’t worry about telling them about the cross streets unless something funny happened at the cross streets. Don’t worry about the lube brand unless it is part of the funny.
Now, I can get into premises and punchlines, but I never really worry about that when I am writing. I just write what I think is funny (key word is think) and I do it. Trust yourself and your writing and you will have success without even having to ask a hobo where the nearest library is.