I love it when a new joke comes together.
Sometimes a joke just forms perfectly, striking you while you’re driving, or in the shower, or while jogging. Usually someplace where your notebook is out of reach.
No writer can tell you where the great ideas come from. It’s usually two completely separate thoughts crashing together, and it’s electric when that happens.
It’s also rare.
Most of the time, the great joke that survived editing has many deleted or red-pen-slashed unfunny brothers. For me, on average, I’d say one in 10 jokes make it from my notebook or computer to the stage. From there, after letting the new joke spread its witty little wings and – usually crash to the ground — it’s cut down by another one in 10 or so.
That’s an average. I’ll go through prolific periods where I come up with a lot of funny stuff. Other times – well, ask anyone who goes to the open mic I run Thursdays at the Harrisburg Comedy Zone. Some of it seems so funny on paper, but on stage, the crickets tell you otherwise. That’s why open mics exist. An audience is your best editor.
Even when the jokes aren’t coming, you still have to keep writing to keep whatever it is that makes you a comic alive. There are plenty of books on writing and performing — some are good, some aren’t. The best thing to do is to read them, and use what works for you.
When it comes down to it, you learned all the writing techniques you need in elementary school. Simple stuff, like outlining and brainstorming.
Outlining may have sucked in Sister Mary Margaret’s fifth-grade English class, but you’re a comic now. Take whatever topic is on your mind, and do a basic outline of what you want to talk about. You’ll be surprised at what pops up.
Brainstorming works, too. Gene Perret, who was one of Bob Hope’s writers, has a very useful trick where you pick your topic, and brainstorm a list. Try to list people, places, things, events, words, phrases and cliches.
Look down your list, and see if there are any connections between the words and phrases you listed that spark a joke. A joke is simply two unrelated ideas that come together in a funny, surprising way.
When you’re done with that list, make another list, this one of opposites for your topic. Let your mind wander and daydream as you run a list, and have fun with it. It’s not a fast process, but with time, the funny comes.
Don’t censor yourself. Just write.
Author Stephen King once suggested writing with the door closed, shutting out the world so that it’s only you and your story (or screenplay or new material).
But when you’re first draft is done, and you’re editing or rewriting, open the door, because it now belongs to the world.