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Humor Writing Process: Getting in the Flow
Humor Writing Process: Getting in the Flow

It is essential that you commence your joke/skit/sketches topic list ASAP! Adding to it continually as you go along. An easy to follow list of topics which extend to cover sub-topics and so on. Keep the list in front of you all the time, not only whilst you are plotting and writing your jokes, one-liners and scripts, but all the time. You never know when a creative thought may arise and any points or thoughts at all should be added to your list immediately (not later, as you'll most likely forget at least part of it.)

There is no need to categorize the material in any particular order, the important thing is to keep adding to your list so that you have a continual flow of fresh ideas coming in. And don't limit yourself in any way – the idea is to stimulate your mind to write more and more, better and more creative material as you go along. The formula then is to roll the ideas through your mind, picking out one, two or three as you go with the intention being to combine them into your joke and humor material for presentation.

Once you get into the habit of opening your mind up and allowing it to just process (without pre-judgment), you will be absolutely amazed at the quantity and quality of humor material that arises. Some will be nonsensical and seemingly unworkable but jot them down anyway. You'll find your mind will keep dispensing ideas continuously, then mysteriously just stop – don't let this concern you, it happens to everyone! Simply oil the wheels of your imagination a little by visualizing, listening or reading. Your imagination will do the rest and have those wheels spinning smoothly again.
How to ask the right questions

Any question is the right question to ask if it gets you started thinking about your humor writing possibilities but you need to start! You need to start with at least a basic topic, an idea or angle of some kind. Of course, if you have a particular niche market in mind, it's obviously better if you are familiar to some degree with that market. Otherwise, you can't be sure of the correct questions to ask!

Once you have an idea or concept in mind, you need to tease out all likely (and unlikely) possibilities, or angles, that you can possibly draw from it.

Ask any question that comes to your mind in relation to your chosen topic, keeping in mind that often it's the small questions that open up all sorts of possibilities or new angles on a subject.
The advantages of keeping count

There are a number of reasons why you should keep track of your material.

To start with, if you develop the habit (from the very beginning of your humor writing) of knowing exactly how many jokes, lines and scripts you have ready and finished (in your repertoire) ready to run, and additionally how many are still in the preparation stage and need to be polished up, you will be in a position to know how ready you are to perform. Alternatively, know how far from being ready you are and what other work you will need to do in preparing.

Keep adding to your humor material and continually refreshing existing content on a constant and continual basis – that way you are always up to date and appealing to your prospective audiences.

After all you don't want to do anything as embarrassing as sending the same material out to someone twice do you? I know of a number of comics who have done so, believe it or not. It can oh so easily happen if you are in a rush. It looks so unprofessional when it does occur. Start your own system to keep track of how much material you have, who you have sent it to and when (possibly a small card system).
Start how you intend to proceed – professional.
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Having something to say

All material, whether it be 'jokes', 'one-liners', or 'skits' and so on, has to have something to say, i.e. a "point of view" you might call it. Everything has a starting point.

In other words whatever you are writing has to start from somewhere, even the zaniest, most bizarre, overly exaggerated and thoroughly distorted joke, story or concept has a take off point.

For instance you could start with a normal everyday quote and give it that ludicrous twist or a twist within a twist. Ask yourself this question; "What do I want this gag/line/script to say"? It's not very likely that the actual answer to the question will be funny but the humor you create, by asking the question, will be.

Think back to times when you have made people laugh -- do you recall, was it what you said or the way you said it?
A starting point.

Your starting point depends somewhat on what brand of humor you are going to write.

Are you going to write jokes? Will you be writing skits or sketches? Whatever it is there is a starting point! In the case of joke writing your starting point is actually having something to say -- whereas the starting point for skit/sketch writing is having a story to tell!

'Obviously when you are writing a sketch you have a story to tell' (you are thinking or saying). Not necessarily – believe it or not a lot of writers (including some long term good ones) forget the fact that there must be a story to tell (behind their premise). A number of sketch ideas have been pitched over the years which have no real story line behind them at all. Make that mistake and you could end up with a lot of egg on your face. Sketches always need a foundation to build from. Just like a house or factory needs a foundation to start with and build on.
Exercises to generate the right comedy material for you

What I suggest that you start doing, if you're not doing it already, is to be much more aware of collecting humor until the habit of doing so becomes part of you. Stuff as much humor (of all kinds) into your mind as you possibly can -- trust me your brain will sort it out (i.e. the good from the bad).

You can't amass too much, so never stop. I bet you've never heard any comedian say that he or she is too funny, or has too much material - have you? The more reading, listening and watching you do the better – trust me you can never ever do too much.

Exercise 1 -- Let's start with ourselves – after all that is the safest target to begin with. Situations are just as funny whoever they happen to; it's only that when they happen to us we are the ones who are most embarrassed. Don't be – regard the amusing event as an opportunity to train your humor writing skills. Consider the fun (not the embarrassment) of sharing the story with others. There is another plus to it as well – people take a liking to those who can laugh at themselves, it makes them appear much more human.

A personal example; years ago my mother and I were attending the funeral of an old friends of hers. We went to the chapel, passed the greeters and took our seats. It wasn't until nearly the end when we walked to the front of the church and looked into the open casket that we realized we were at the wrong funeral! Whereupon Mum announced in her famous stage whisper "I have a feeling we're at the wrong funeral. Mavis wasn't a man!" Strangely enough at the time, it brought the house down!

Exercise 2 -- Make sure you are a humor collector – start with cartoons, jokes and funny books. You'll be stunned at what you turn up once you get going, especially if you keep an eye out for the more bizarre, ludicrous, old fashioned, forgotten, odd, impossible or brilliant items.

Exercise 3 -- Listen to (and watch) comedy on CDs, tapes and DVDs. Your current career may involve you in traveling in your car a lot, so use that time creatively listening to a comedy CD or tape. Alternatively, put a CD in your walkman to listen to during your morning jog.

Exercise 4 -- Scroll the Internet – there are a massive number of web sites dedicated to humor for you to choose and learn from (even if in some cases it's what not to do).

Honing your topics and material

You must be the ultimate judge of the writing that flows from your desk. It's not enough that you love it, although its important that you do. You must have gone over it a number of times with your pen – rewriting, improving and redrafting.

While composing jokes and other comedy material takes real effort you need to be sure that what you produce is not just comedy 'work' but as near to a comedy masterpiece as you can get.

A few things to watch for: Jokes and scripts that are too vague, jokes that are too long-winded and rambling, and jokes that are just too precise.
The "Go's"and "Whoa's" of Shortcuts to Humor


It never fails to amaze any professional writer how ignorant some people are when it comes to the creative writing process -- whatever the particular genre may be. It's never as easy, simple or quick (to write) as some people infer. Usually it's damn hard work.

Any person who infers the process of writing (comedy in particular) is easy, shows themselves to be completely out of the ball-park as far as knowledge of the writing process is concerned.

Now that I've got a few things off my chest, let's have a look at a few of the 'short-cuts' to humor writing that are open to you to smooth the way a little. They include such things as: (i) how to relax those tensions, (ii) laughs guaranteed, (iii) the power of shock value, and (iv) attacking authority.
How to relax those tensions

Laughter is the biggest tension reliever of anything that I know of and often enough the loudest laughter doesn't even come from the jokes or the skit but the accidental things that happen along the way.

How many times has a speaker or performer been approaching the lectern or the stage, tripped and stumbled, and the audience has laughed uncontrollably (probably thinking it was part of the act). The audience didn't mean to be unkind (in most cases anyway); it's just that the event presented humor. The ice is broken and the show can start!

The brilliant, Emmy Award winning, comedy writer Gene Perret (who wrote for such notables as Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett and a large host of other greats) stated in one of his books, that in his view, "nothing eases tension with an audience so effectively and easily as comedy and that a tense situation can give you some of the greatest straight lines".

The great news for all humor writers is that it is easy to create your own tension and lead to your very own punch line that relieves that tension. Unfortunately, it is something you must learn to do yourself, as only you know your own situation and circumstances.

Laughs guaranteed

Although you can be guaranteed to get laughs by relieving tension, one of the greatest misconceptions is that you absolutely must commence with a funny idea to be guaranteed laughs. If we all waited for that eventuality before writing our material we would get very little humor writing done.

If you are always feeling you have to be, or feel, funny first (before you write) it won't be long before you are feeling extremely stifled or depressed and ready for the funny farm! The much more productive and creative way (and easiest by far) is to start with something unfunny and turn it into something funny.

And I'll let you in on a secret as to one place where you'll find a ready source of hot topics, i.e. things on people's mind and things they are talking about --the Internet. There's a myriad of chat rooms and sites that you can access for fresh ideas and topics.

Now here's a challenge for you. Go to the Internet and by using one or more of the search engines locate three serious topics and turn them into short skits. I dare you to try it. It's not homework, you don't need to show them to anyone if you don't want to but DO IT ANYWAY!
The power of shock value

Shock humor is a style of comedy intended to entertain the audience by appalling or startling them. It is normally effected through extreme blue or foul humor, mocking of solemn themes (black comedy) or complete tactlessness.

'Shocks' jolt people don't they, and shock tactics used as part of humor don't just nudge them into laughing but literally jolt them into a form of surprised laughter (not always a pleasant surprise though).

Black humor is something that I often enjoy, having an appreciation of the slightly quirky side of things. Its practice seems to be employed more by the British than the US but this rule doesn't always apply.

There have been some very entertaining movies over the years that would be labeled as black comedies. Two that come readily to mind areHarold & Maude and Keeping Mum (the first is American and the second British). I would particularly recommend the more recent, Keeping Mum.It contains some brilliant comedic performances from Maggie Smith and Rowan Atkinson.

The point where shock humor truly loses credibility as a genuine comedy niche is that all you have to do to be funny is be offensive enough! There are much better ways for a humor writer to practice his or her craft than trying to be funny by being offensive.

The point to always remember is that a comedian can get away with saying and doing things that ordinary every day people can't. That is part of his or her entertainment value.

Attacking authority

Attacking authority is actually a derivative of shock humor, but it is normally a trifle gentler. Some call it 'insult humor'. Comics are on safer grounds with this type of humor as audiences tend to admire those who take pot shots or side-swipes at authority figures.

This type of humor is more popular in some parts of the world (such as Australia) where the populations have even less of a tendency to place authority figures on pedestals.

'Roasts' were very popular for a while a number of years back but not so much these days – a number of the subjects were not appreciate of several comedians who went a little too far after becoming somewhat over enthusiastic.

You will find with this particular comedy niche that you will get a much better affect if you make your audience feel part of the show. You can do this very simply by substituting the names used in the original content with the names of a few of the audience. Or, alternatively, by localizing place names contained in the original joke or skit.

Absolutely anything you can do to involve your audience in your monologue will add to the comedic impact.
Does 'How far too far' depend on your audience?

The answer is "Yes" and "No' -- a statement that doesn't help you much does it? What I mean to say is that it doesn't depend entirely upon your audience; to ever infer it did would definitely be misleading.

It is easy to still do 'roast' or 'insult' humor material without alienating or provoking anyone as all you need to do is follow a few basic guidelines such as; (a) only joke about things that are untrue, (b) only make fun of things about people that people make fun of themselves about and (c) limit the topics to points of little, or no, consequence.

By using these pointers and a modicum of common sense you can be reasonably confident that you will not go to far. But I agree with Gene Perret's advice – when in doubt about a joke, drop it – and write another one.
Get performance reviews

If you wish to improve, you definitely need to perform your material -- even if you have no intention at all of getting onto a stage yourself as a general rule but writing only for others.

Performing your material isn't always easy to do, one reason being that it won't always be received well. Sometimes the worst times can hand you the best reward though via valuable feedback – if you are prepared to receive and accept it. Frankly, there is just no substitute at all for going through the actual experience of performing.

What we mean by this is that how are you going to have any idea how the person using, and delivering your material is going to feel and react, unless you have had a go at some stage delivering the material yourself? You need to understand how it actually feels to deliver a real killer of a joke or line and you also need to know how it feels to deliver a stinker!

So the bottom line is that you should perform and get feedback via some unbiased performance reviews.
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