Joke Punch Up: The Tag

We have gone over cadence, and cutting down material. This week, we will be discussing a way to enhance your material by adding tags.

What is a Tag?

A tag is another punchline attached to the end of a joke. The usual structure of a joke goes setup > punchline. With tags, the structure is now setup > punchline > tag.

Tags are Important

One thing I see with a lot of first time comedians is that they will have a great premise, but after the punchline they move on to another joke. There is nothing wrong with that, but if it is a great premise, like say a crazy news story, you can make that joke even better by adding tags to it. That means writing less material to get the same amount of laughs.

Some of the greatest comedians on the planet use this to take even an ok premise and turn it into something golden. Tags can be used to build up the funniness of the joke. Take this example: You are writing a joke and the first punchline you thought of was alright, but after looking at the joke a couple more times, you see that you came up with a couple even better punchlines. You can stash those punchlines away and switch it up depending on the situation, or you can build upon the original punchline by tagging it with the other punchlines you created. It ramps up the material and you got to use all the punchlines you thought of and made a joke even better.

Tags can Lengthen a Joke

By adding tags to your material, you can also make a joke longer. If you came up with a premise for a joke and have a punchline for it, but like the joke enough to add on to it, just tag onto the premise. Add questions and answer with punchlines. You are still talking about the same premise, but you have made the joke longer by attaching more to the original joke.

Pitfalls of Tags

Some fall into the trap of tagging with less funny punchlines. If you are not sure of the other punchlines you wrote for a joke then it would be better to leave that joke to one punchline and moving on then to make a joke worse by adding tags. It is better to leave a premise with more to pull from later than to kill it with a bunch of tags that aren’t funny.

Conclusion

I don’t consider myself a very good tagger of jokes. I will write a punchline and not really have anything else to add to it. There are times when I will have a question about a situation I discussed in the premise and so I will just answer it myself either ridiculously or seriously. Either way I can pull a bit of laughter from that.

Tagging isn’t a substitute to good joke writing. If the premise is not connecting with people then no matter how many times you tag the joke, it won’t make it magically funny. This is like a steroid. It enhances a joke that already works. I can’t recall ever seeing a bad joke become good by adding more to it.

Next week should be the final article on this subject with act outs. Thanks for reading!

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Joke Punch Up: YOU NEED TO CUT IT!!

This is the second of several articles that I am writing about ways to “punch up” your material. Last week, I wrote about using cadence as a way to easily punch up a joke. This week, we will discuss trimming of material.

Here is one of the biggest faults I see in material written by new comedians, the jokes are TOO DAMN LONG! See the thing is, school has trained us to write at length about stuff. When you have a report you need to turn in, and it has to be four pages long, we will write and add a whole bunch of details to get that word count up.

The thing with writing jokes is that less is usually better (we will talk about when it isn’t later). Some people can write a joke and immediately tell that a parts need to be cut in order to get to the funny sooner. Some of us can not do that.

What Needs To Be Cut?

Sometimes too much detail will spoil the punchline you are about to deliver. When you are looking at a joke to rewrite, ask yourself these questions: Did I hint at the punchline too soon? Did I explain the premise of my joke so thoroughly that it weakens the punchline? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then you need to CUT IT!!

Another thing I see in a lot of material is when the comedian writing it hasn’t slimmed down the premise to a precise point and has to spend a lot of words just to explain what they are going to “turn on”. If you have to spend more than ten seconds trying to explain what you are talking about, then the joke may not be any good. You should write the material in a way that when you are setting it up, everyone should understand what you are saying (or almost everyone, not everyone will get every reference you are trying to go after).

Look at your material for any pieces that are just dangling there with no purpose. If you mention someone’s shirt, it should either pertain to the joke in some way or be a way to get laughs (like if you are telling a story). In a book, authors love to go into detail about things so they can paint the picture more vividly. In Stand-up comedy, you want to obscure enough detail so that the punchline paints most of the image in. If you are talking about how incompetent your boss is and that is the punchline to the joke, more detail about his incompetence dilutes the punchline to the point that it can just be seen as the end of a funny statement.

You should think of your material how a magician thinks of their tricks. You should only show the audience what you want them to see in order for them to understand what you are doing, but not know how it is going to end.

When To Not Cut

I said earlier that there is a time when more is better and that is when you are telling a story. Now, trimming of your stories should still be sought after, but not to the degree that normal jokes are. You want to paint more of a picture because the parts of the story that will be considered punchlines need context. You can’t tell a story about a gun going off accidentally if you never talked about the gun. I would suggest you not pull a Moby Dick and talk for five minutes about the seat fabric during your first make out session, but you should let the audience know (if it will help the punchline of course) that the fabric sucked.

Conclusion

There is a saying in writing: “Kill your darlings”. In stand-up, you don’t necessarily have to kill them, but you may have to amputate a couple limbs. Trimming material can make it more precise, can add more spice to the punchline, and help you get in more material. I think a lot of comedians are so hung up on just being able to stay on stage for a certain amount of time that they do not consider that they are up there with a lot of “hollow” jokes. You don’t want to tell a show booker that you can do 15 minutes if most of that is filled with hot air.

A lot of veteran comedians and my creative writing teacher got me to a point where I take a joke and sometimes I will perform it, and then realize that it is too long and complicated. Comedy competitions are a great way to cut material out of necessity. Sometimes when a joke works out of the gate, we never really look back and see if there is any correcting that needs to be done. It’s not until you see great joke writers with material so razor sharp that you realize that you have to cut stuff to hit the punchline sooner or you just wasted five minutes of time to tell three jokes.

When we talked about cadence last week, I feel as though that is more of an elective way of punching up a joke. Cutting material down is something every comedian should be trying to do to make their jokes more effective. I hope I helped you with that. I will be back next week with part 3 of the Joke Punch up series.


Joke Punch Up: Cadence

This is the first of a series of posts about ways to punch up material. When I say “punch up” I mean taking material and making it funnier or making it funny in the first place. These won’t be terribly long posts, but I hope they help the novice be able to sharpen their jokes.

Cadence

When I mean cadence I am talking about how the joke is actually coming out of your mouth. How are you saying the words that you wrote. A lot of comedians starting out will emulate a comedian that they admire and copy their cadence. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but at some point you should want to sound like something else.

Some comedians will write the way they will tell the material on stage and never really change it much after that. When the material doesn’t “hit” as hard as they expect or doesn’t work at all they will ditch it for stuff that does work when it was the way the jokes is being said that is at fault. When you are telling this joke, look for instances where the problem isn’t the writing itself, but how you are saying it. Should the joke be told with a more mellow inflection in your voice? Should the premise sound hopeful? These are things that can help a joke without touching another word in it.

Timing is Everything

I see a lot of young comedians step on stage with their three minutes and rush through it with no feeling: like they are reading a book report. Putting feeling into material will help it more than trimming ever can! I would say timing is a component of cadence and is a skill that if mastered, can make a ok joke pretty good. Pause for a second before you deliver the punchline. Give complicated setups time to be understood. Don’t step on laughter by moving on with material. These are great ways to make a joke better without rewriting.

Conclusion

So, cadence is an easy way to make a joke better. Changing the speed at which you are saying the material and learning when and where to pause can add more suspense to material. It can also hide flaws in your stage persona. Go to your next open mic with these things in mind and try all the material that you have been having trouble with and see if this doesn’t help. If it doesn’t then stay tuned for next week’s post on punching up your material.

Gift Ideas for the Comedian in Your Life (2018 edition)

We have done this three times now, so why not do it again!  These are just some of the top gifts a comedian would love to get.  I have these broken down by level of comedian, but that doesn’t mean if someone is just starting out they wouldn’t like a new phone.  It’s based on price mainly.  So let’s get into this!

Open Micer:

Comedians love pens, man!  Get them these and they will thank you all year round.  They need pens to sign up for open mics and most importantly, for writing the material that will one day get them out of the basement of a hotel and onto the stage of a fancy comedy club.

Hook em up with some notebooks.  Comedians go through tons of these damn things.  So you might as well get them some nice ones so they can look back at all the dick jokes they wrote.

If the comedian in your life is serious about their performance, then they should be recording it to see if the laughs are coming when they want them and to pick up on any bad habits they have on stage.  This is a cheap option if you are not going to use an app on your phone.

Get em a lyft gift card.  I don’t have a link, so you will just have to type it into your pocket computer.  Driving to all these spots will waste a lot of gas.  Hook em up with an adult (that is usually not drunk) that will drive them around.

 

Feature:

Update the sound coming out of your phone, so you can hear yourself even better than a voice recorder that will get all the noise in the room (really bad if you are doing a show in a bar).  Grab this mic from Rode that will enhance your sound as well as video if you want to record video with your smartphone.

I am always looking for ways to record myself performing.  I can see my mannerisms and check on act outs and adjust them if I am going to crazy.   You can also use a good recording to send to bookers if you are in a pinch (I would use a camera and not my smartphone).  That is why getting a tripod for you smartphone is great! This one is a good option.  It comes with a remote so you can start the recording as soon as your name is called.

Get your love one the gift of spotify!  I rock Apple Music, but I know not everyone is into Apple Music as much as they are into Spotify.  This will help them calm down before a set, or help them not loose their mind while driving to a gig, or set the mood while they are getting some action after a show.  I don’t know what they are into, but the gift of music is normally a great one.

Headliner:

Wanna blow a comedian’s mind? Get them this!  This is one of the best laptops you can get and the only way they wouldn’t like this is if they like Macs (like me). This laptop will have enough power to help them make up posters, record and edit podcast and play all those sexual documentaries comedians love.

If you know me in real life (and not just from my crappy writing) then you know I love my iPad.  Well, I personally now have an iPad Pro and it is one of the best tablets available.  You can get a surface, but I feel the speed and portability of the iPad can not be beat.  I edit photos and videos on this bad boy.  I write my jokes into it, and I watch netflix on it when I am in a hotel room far from home.  My electronic companion.

Comedians need a good phone so they can take all those calls from people wanting them on their shows.  Now you can grab an iPhone, but they are pricey (especially the new XS ones).  How about the baddest Samsung has to offer.  The S9 has great big screen and a nice camera so you can get selfies with all those stars they are hanging out with.

 

If you want a dedicated camera to record sets for submission or even just to look at get this bad boy! This is a great camera, and I have seen the video from this camera with my own eyes and several comedians have this.

 

There you have it.  Some gift ideas for that comedian in your life.  Give the gift of consumer electronics to fill that hole in their life.  I am sure that any of these gift would be great to give to almost anyone, but comedians will find extra use from them.

Keeping Yourself Motivated

When you are first starting your comedy career, there will be a lot of ups and downs.  You will be working one week and may not work again for another two weeks or so.  This can have a negative effect on comedians, especially those that suffer from other mental health issues.  Let’s go over some ways to keep you motivated when the downs happen.

Be around comedy  What happens with comedians sometimes is they will only come out to perform when they are getting compensated.  This may work for the upper levels of comedians that are booked virtually all year, but if you are just starting or beginning to get paid, coming out to comedy shows and the like can be a great boon for your career and your mind!  When you are seen out at open mics and shows, it lets the people in the local area know that you are still pursuing comedy, and that increases your chances of getting booked.  If you have a local club and you are always going in to check out the shows, the management there will know that you are around and that opens the door for being put on shows.

Let them know you are looking for work  Look at the months coming up.  If you don’t have anything lined up, then start contacting those you know to see if you can be apart of a show.  This doesn’t mean just the normal format of show.  There are all kinds of special shows going on where you may smoke weed after your set and get back up, or drink and argue with other comedians.  These shows have the benefit of having a lot of other comedians there and networking with them can benefit you when you have another dry stretch.  If you have worked at clubs or know of bookers that are booking rooms, make sure you send them those dates that you are open.  Keep it up and that can help close a lot of those holes in your schedule.

Networking  This is kind of a combination of the first two steps above.  Go to your local club and rub elbows or butts or whatever with the other comedians.  Comedy is a very small community.  Knowing enough people can keep you busy!  You don’t have to kiss ass or anything either.  You can just approach comedians after the show and introduce yourself.  It helps even more if you are on a show together.  That way they can vouch for you.

Keep writing  I see this so much.  A comedian will start getting a little bit of work and then they stop really writing material and then the work dries up and they are left scratching their head as to why that may be the case.  Your one weapon to keep you relevant is your material.  If you only have twenty minutes and you have performed at your local club they can’t really use you as much as the person that has a bucket full of jokes to pull from.  I think one of the worst things someone can say about a comedian is, “I heard all that last time they were here.”.  If you keep working you will keep working.

Engage in other creative endeavors   The worst thing to do when the shows slow down is to stop being creative.  Just maintaining yourself in creative task can jolt you out of a slump and keep your mind on task.  I like to write and take photographs so I will write a couple of sketches or go out and photograph some stuff, anything to keep my mind working and that usually keeps jokes coming to me and keeps me out and about.

Don’t let it define your worth  This is an important one.  When I first started out, if I had a couple weeks of no work I would let it get to me big time.  My mind would just go nuts and I would assume that it meant I wasn’t funny if I wasn’t getting work.  That is usually not the case for most comedians.  Sometimes it is just a matter of the ones that are better at networking will get the work.  It took me many years to realize that having jokes and sitting in your house are not how you get work as a comedian.  I still have a ways to go, but I am not so down in the dumps because I haven’t had a working weekend in three weeks.  I see that and I hit the pavement.  When you are feeling down about your comedy is when you should strive to fix it.

I hope this helps.  Being motivated is one of the ways to turn comedy from a part time job into a career.

Lets Just Talk

When I started this blog, the goal was simple:  Give people that are just starting out a guide so that they can be as successful as possible.  I can not tell you how to get on Conan or pitch a TV show because I have never done that.  I have spent over a decade in shady bars all over the country and I have dealt with the ups and downs of climbing the comedy ladder.  When I was starting out, there wasn’t anything online to help you.  You just walked on stage and made mistakes until you learned it.  This may seem like a good method, but what it does is make it extremely hard for some to even attempt comedy.  Not all of us can just collect ourselves and get up on stage.  Some need that confidence that something like this blog can provide.

I will never charge people to access what I have written.  I like to make money, but I want these tips available to those that are actually trying to find something to help them get to that next step.  One thing that has to be remembered though when reading this is that these are my observations and experiences.  Yours may differ.  With any amount of advice, you can take all, some, or none.  It wasn’t until I was doing it for a while that I had people that actually steered me in a direction that helped me get better and get more work.  Not everyone will have access to important mentors like this, so hopefully this will help at least a little.

Comedy has to be entered into with a passion and a persistence that is not like many things in this world.  Comedy is a long, painful, embarrassing, journey that many will just simply give up.  For those of us that continue to grind and persist, and struggle, it may seem at times to not even be worth it. That is where the passion comes in.  There are plenty of funny people out there, but there are not that many that can get on stage and articulate that humor to the masses.  It is also a business and if there is one thing I have learned its that many human don’t like to take chances when it comes to their money.  It is hard to get up on stage night after night to sculpt a joke that will work most of the time, but it is even harder to then go to someone and tell them to give you money for those well-crafted jokes.  A lot of people just can’t do it.  I have had to get part time jobs in between dry spells.  I have had to pawn almost everything in my house at one point to keep this alive.  The thing is, some people don’t want to go through that.  Does that mean they were not passionate about comedy?  No.  It means that comedy is a great way to see how far you are willing to go for something.  Before comedy rewards you, it will ask: What are you willing to give up?  Some give up their friends.  Some give up their marriages.  Some give up great jobs.  It will ask how hard are you willing to work.  Will you go to every mic in your town?  Will you spend three hours in a bar for three minutes on stage?  Will you drive across the state for dinner and gas money?  It will ask for more and more, and when you have given all you have to it, it may give you what you sought out.  You may be a working comedian, or a get commercial work, or appear in shows and movies, or you won’t.  Comedy will ask so much from you and still there is the chance that you will end up at the end of the road empty handed and broke.  Most passions are cruel that way.  Not every painter gets to live on just the sale of their paintings and not every singer gets paid for their songs, but we all pursued the thing that makes us feel alive and whole.  These things that we pursue are what gives this human experience meaning.  It makes a life worth living.

I knew when I was getting out of the military and pursuing comedy, that it may end up with me at the end broken and alone.  The thing is, I had nothing else to lose.  I was getting medically discharged from something that I was planning on making my career.  I was already spat out of something, and had no fear.  Would I have gone after comedy the way I had if under better circumstances?  I don’t think so.  I think I was looking for something to make me feel as though I wasn’t as broken as they told me I was.   I wanted to care about more than a paycheck.

I would not call myself a successful comedian, but I can call myself a working comedian.  It takes work and luck to make comedy something more than just pocket money, and I hope this blog does that at least a little bit.  I hope that even though I am not a successful comedian, you will look at what I have been through and help it guide you so you can achieve what it is you are looking for in comedy.  Comedy is hard, and that is why you need as much help as you can get along the way.

Pushing Through No

People are always trying to find out what the difference is between them and their favorite comedians.  I hear it a lot when talking to comedians and they wonder why they have been doing it for five years and still hosting, but some guy they saw on TV has been doing it just as long and…well, they are on TV.  I have written before about the ways these guys are different.  Today I am going to write about one way that stops many people, including me at times, and that is “no”.

See, what separates us from most of the comedians, actors, and singers you see is that they don’t take no as a final answer.  No is more of a stop gap than anything.  If you are a comedian reading this, think of the times you have been told no (in one way or another).  The local booker doesn’t reply to your emails.  Clubs don’t want you for anything other than hosting.  Your family thinks its a phase.  Instead of just letting that get to them and keep them from progressing, these people are pushing.  Why?  Because they know that no isn’t the end all be all!  That is just one person, controlling a small bubble of the comedy landscape.  So instead of letting it eat them alive, they push on past that person and go to another, and another, and another, until they get to the next step in their career.

It is not easy to do this.  If it was, I wouldn’t be at an open mic right now writing this.  When I first started trying to branch out, hearing no from someone would obliterate my self-esteem.  Now, it is just part of the process.  This is the way this industry runs.  Is it fair?  No, but the way I see it is like this:  Everyone is trying to either maintain or make more money and gain prestige.  If they just allowed anyone in that could hurt that without making absolutely sure they could at least keep the status quo, then that means loosing a room, or a valuable client.

Ok.  So you’ve read all that and you think that you are one yes from being Tom Segura.  Wait.  Not letting “no” stop you is just one part of a whole.  You still have to write you ass off and get on stages and maintain relationships with people.  Every comedian out there has another comedian or booker or someone believe in them and help them and you need that as well, just don’t let disappointments get you down.