Writing Jokes In The Stream Of Consciousness Style

Stream of consciousness, or free writing, is a style in which you are more or less trying to apply thoughts and ideas to a more concrete form.  This can be a useful tool for those that feel as though they are not writing enough in that it separates the need to come up with material there on the spot and handles all ideas as equal. Stream of consciousness can be really good in that distractions like word correction and punctuation is not important.

When talking about this subject, I want you to take into consideration that this will be slightly modified from what authors like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce did.  Mainly because the purpose of joke writing is to get a joke.  Thoughts and feelings can be taking into account, but the entire idea is to create something that is funny.  The purpose of using this writing style is to get the idea out, not to recite the finished product immediately after writing it.  So lets go into the steps, and remember, modify these to your liking.

In order to get the most of this style, you will likely have to set aside a time (and probably a place) in which you can sit down and focus on writing for a set period of time.  When I am looking to do this, I sit down for about 20-30 minutes a day for say, a week.  Then the first thing that comes to mind you start writing.  This can be hard because most of us write in a way that we close out parts that are either too weird or not in our usual style of joke telling.  It will take some getting used to, but once you get over that mental obstacle, you can then freely write.

The next part is taking this funny ore, if you will, and turn it into funny gold (and yes, I am proud of that turn there).  After you are done writing, it is time to start going through and seeing if there is anything you can turn into a joke.  This sounds hard, but after the first few times, you will get good and seeing where you brain popped out something funny.  Once you have found that thing, you can now try to shape it into a joke.  It may be best to try it out on stage.  That way you can see the extra you can shave off of the material to get a stronger joke.  I like to read it a couple of times and then cut pieces that may not be all that important to getting the joke.  I will then get on a stage and try it a few times.  This is to see if it is consistently funny or something that is very situational.

Before ending, I want to say that this isn’t to replace other ways you go about writing material.  This is a tool that should be used when you feel stuck, or haven’t written in awhile.  There will also be times when even this may not help generate jokes.  That is natural, but your job as a joke writer is to write.  So get to it, and I hope you come up with your next great joke!


How Your Comfort Zone Is Hurting Your Comedy

I have heard comics that haven’t been doing it that long, talk about how they will only go to certain places because the reception is better.  I will tell you why that is a terrible idea.

Most of the time, you hear this from comedians that haven’t been doing it that long and obviously haven’t been getting paid much to perform comedy.  The reasons these comedians want to only perform in front of favorable crowds are many.  Confidence is the biggest reason.  It builds up your confidence to be in front of only audiences that like you before you uttered a word.  The problem with that is you have no real idea if what you are saying is really funny, or the result of an “easy” crowd.  If the demographic of the audience swings in your favor, you could be allowed to do things on stage that other audiences may not accept.  If you tell a lot of jokes about weed in front of a crowd of weed lovers, they may love the material no matter how much it really sucks. This may be great for your ego, but not for your growth as a comedian.

If it isn’t confidence that drives younger comics to certain rooms, then its content.  A lot of younger comics are into certain material that may not ring true in certain places. So they go to the places where they can say what they want.  Here is the issue with that:  How do you grow?  If you are a young comedian, you haven’t figured out what you really want to do on stage.  If you are already pigeon holing yourself into “shock comedian” then it could be hard to get out of that when you ultimately decide that wasn’t working for you.  I know a comedian that was as profane as he could be on stage.  He was so bad he had to put on his own shows because no one would hire him.  After about 4 years of that, his material started to change.  I asked him if it was an attempt to get more work and he told me that it was just a natural progression, that the older he got, the way he saw the world changed.  He was still not getting the work he should though because he spent so long clinging to what he thought was his “stuff”.  Don’t limit yourself before you get a chance to grow.

One of the laziest reasons I have seen for why a comedian won’t do a certain room is because the room in question is “harder”.  In Spokane we have a couple of stages like that.  We have the Checkerboard, which is sparse on some nights, and we have Chan’s that has an older, more rowdy, audience.  Comics will avoid these rooms like the plague.  The reason is they are not willing to try to work for that laugh.  Every town has rooms that are great and some that are a little rougher.  The thing is, the rougher rooms help make the easy rooms even easier.  It helps you navigate a crowd and figure out what works most of the time and what doesn’t.  It helps you develop a backbone.  If you bomb in a bad room it brings to light what needs work in your act.  Is it too wordy?  Are you too profane?  Do you need to act out some bits more?  Tough rooms help you see that.

When young comedians ask me what I think they should be doing, I tell them they should be writing what they think is funny at that time and to get to as many stages as possible.  That way you can speed up your growth as a comedian, and you can learn how to tackle many different environments.  If you want to only perform in front of an “alt” crowd, or a “redneck” crowd then I guess go for that.  The thing is that if you are looking to comedy as a career you will not be given your choice of venue very often.  You will have to do a cleaner show and you will have to do a bar and you will have to do a theater.  Do you want to cut out potential money because you wanted to keep your ego in check?

Trying To Survive As A Road Comic

Road comics are the blue collar guys of the comedian totem pole.  The idea of traveling around the country, making people laugh is a romantic one.  The reality of the situation though is a little different.

The biggest issue I think I run into when I am on the road is the driving.  In the past week I will have driven 2800 miles.  A lot of it through the snowiest areas of the country, so you can’t just put it on cruise control and relax. You have to have lots of things to keep your mind off the clock.  Podcast, audiobooks, terrible radio stations, you will need something. I also like to have a lot of snacks so I don’t have to stop all the time to eat.

Then there are the hotels.  Most of the time, you will get a hotel as part of the gig, and you really don’t know what you are getting.  This week I have gone from great to sad.  Whenever I get a hotel that looks a little sketchy, I will usually just take all of my valuables with me when I leave to go somewhere.  When you are on the road for 10 hours, you want to catch up on your emails and stuff, but for some reason hotels have not gotten the message that a decent wifi connection is important.  If I had to give it a number, I would say that about 60% of hotels have crappy internet access.  I think they just want to have a bullet point.

The least concerning thing about being a road comic is the actual show.  I know that sounds weird, but after all of that travel and everything, an audience is an audience.  People want to laugh, you have to be aware of the uniqueness of a new region (the midwest may not laugh at the same stuff a group in Seattle will).  The thing is if you are this far in your career that you are on the road that you should know this.

Sometimes the time doesn’t add up.  You travel 20 hours for 3 hours of actual work.  You try to eat as cheaply as possible which means a lot of the time you eat trash, and sometimes you perform in front of a group that are just there to get away from their kids.  It is not for everyone.  If you imagine yourself only playing in front of adoring fans then being on the road is not for you.  If you can’t budget your finances or wake up on time to hit the road then the road is not for you.  If you like seeing new people and performing in the basements of pizza parlors…Then go get a Honda Civic and book some shows.



The Exposure Myth

If you have dealt in anything artistic, you have had someone come to you for services and in exchange, they have offered “exposure” in return.  Let’s talk about it and why it isn’t a good idea to take them up on this offer most of the time.

When someone comes to you and ask you to do a show for them and they offer you exposure, or the promise of more things down the road, most of the time they will say, “We don’t have anything to pay you, but there will be a lot of people there.” or “I can’t give you anything now, but in the future we can hook you up.”  Think about that.  If they are a business or organization, they are paying people. Staff, vendors, coke dealers, even non-profits pay people to run the non-profit.  What they actually mean is, “Hey, we see you are a gullible comedian so we will make money off you while we can.”

Exposure is a myth.  It is a thing that people say to not have to pay everyone involved.  I have seen it from both sides and have experienced it myself.  I have had people come to me, wanting me to do a show and they were not willing to give me anything even though they were making money off of the endeavor. They wouldn’t be able to get away with that with the beer vendors.  They couldn’t ask the electrician to wire up the place and they will tell everyone who did it.  So why do they use this exposure thing on performing artists?  The reason is simple:  we are dreamers, and dreamers can be suckered easily.  We dream of walking into a show and getting discovered and then being whisked away to hollywood to star in a buddy cop movie opposite John Cusack.  What will more likely happen is they will put on the show, not pay you, and then either never call you again, or try to do the same thing to you in the future.

Another reason why we get hit with exposure instead of money is because a lot of people just do not value the arts.  When they see a band, they do not see the hours it took to learn the instrument and the hours that was put into practicing those songs.  When a comic steps on stage they only see a guy up there telling dick and fart jokes.  They don’t see the open mics and writing and all the damn driving.  They think it is easy, or that since you are local you are not really worth it.  Well, you are.

With anything there are exceptions.  I perform at a couple of charities a year. I don’t expect to get paid a nickel. There are also shows like showcases that many clubs hold so they can see what talent they may bring in. Those are really the only exceptions I see, and honestly I wouldn’t do a showcase unless I knew the details beforehand. You may think that a club that is offering you to do time in front of a big time comic is awesome because you think that something will happen that will lead to more work, but in all honesty it won’t, so get what you are worth now instead of hoping that you will get work from all that extra exposure you are getting.

When I first started out, I would do shows where the booker or whatever would say I would get seen by a lot of people and that will lead to a lot of work. It didn’t happen, and they made money and the other comics, who were smarter, made money, but I didn’t get anything and they never called to book me for that paid show they promised.  I had to learn quickly to ask people what it was paying up front, and if they told me it wasn’t then I just told them I couldn’t do it.  Now, if you are just starting out, you will feel like you have to do it because that is how you get in the door.  That might be true, but then a booker or promoter knows that is messed up and would ask you to do a five minute quest set, not do your entire show for nothing.

With all of these articles about comedy, I try to give it to you from my perspective, which may not be a good perspective for those that are working consitently in comedy.  I am speaking from the view point of a comic that gets work, but not enough to get a new car or buy a plane ticket a week before I am suppose to go somewhere (damn they get expensive).  I hope these things help, and if you need a comic, and are gonna pay more than in exposure…get at ya boy.