(HOW A NEWS ARTICLE BECOMES A JOKE WHICH BECOMES A BIT)
I was asked to guest write today because someone has too much to do to keep in touch with you, her loyal fans. I was given a few ideas on what to write, but I figured that I would use this time with you to give you an insight into some of the strange ways a stand-up comedian (me) finds inspiration, sometimes in the most mundane of places, and hopefully you will all find some way to use this info in your writing.
What I am aiming to do is to take you on a brief journey into how I came up with a 72 second bit (yes I timed it) from a news article headline, without using any part of the headline. You will all see a little window into my head, which I want to apologize in advance for the clutter. I wasn’t expecting company today, so haven’t cleaned in a while.
First though a quick introduction of the method and where I got it from:
I am currently attempting to be a stand-up comedian and taking classes at ImprovBoston to help facilitate the dream. It is amazingly difficult to be an effective stand-up comedian, not just from the performance standpoint, but joke writing in itself is a daunting task as well. My instructor, the incredibly funny Dana Jay Bein (he would want the plug, trust me) has a different approach to the art of performing and writing for stand-up that many comedians don’t necessarily subscribe to. The biggest takeaway from his teaching from a comedy writing standpoint is that inspiration can be found anywhere, but if you don’t take the time to search for it, you will never be truly successful. In other words, set some time aside to write, even if it is just random thoughts or trying to make one-liners from news headlines and seeing what comes from there. That is the process I will show you below.
THE HEADLINE (duhn, duhn, duhn):
Now to be 100% fair, there is so much there that is funny. I mean the Segway itself is ripe for comedy and has been used in many comedians’ bits. But the fact that the owner of Segway died while riding a Segway opens up so many humorous thoughts (at least in my head). Also note that he died in a “cliff plunge” while riding a Segway. We all know what a Segway is, my first thought was who paved a road that ended in a cliff, Shel Silverstein?
(Brief Segway) Interestingly, my initial joke that I had thought up was that it was kind of like a Dr. Frankenstein situation, the creation rising to kill the creator. But I did read the article a little further and found out that it wasn’t the creator of Segway but the man who had bought it, so my joke had to change
Than my second thought was that if this was the man who had bought Segway, then he really loved the scooters. So he died doing what he loved, riding a Segway. This isn’t really necessarily funny, but my thoughts took me another way.
THE INITIAL JOKE (ha, ha, ha):
The owner of Segway died when he drove a Segway off of a cliff on his estate. This struck me as such an appropriately poetic way to die. He died doing exactly what he loved to do, impacting the bottom of a steep cliff face at a high rate of speed. It’s somewhat magical in that respect.
I thought this was a very funny way to restate the headline. One of the main problems with the joke is the same reason that bad comedians scramble for material every time a new president is elected (especially when W’s two terms were up), the timeliness of the material. When crafting a joke, I feel that you shouldn’t lock yourself into a particular time period or cultural reference; you want to try to open the joke up so that someone who wasn’t around can still find it funny. Also some people may not get the reference you are trying to make. Truly successful comedians appeal to all audiences and don’t necessarily carve out a specific niche. That being said, it is okay to allow yourself to make cultural references, as long as that is not the key punchline in the joke (you will see what I mean later).
So from this headline I realized that the interesting and funny thought is “dying doing what you love.” And is that ever true? After some research to see if any comedian publicly had a bit based on that thought (another pain in the ass thing every comedian has to do). I began crafting my thoughts towards that end.
THE BIT (Now this is publicly mine, Bitches):
This may contain some slightly offensive material, and also gives some insight into my pathetic life. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK. And please don’t judge me*:
You hear a lot about these people who died “doing what they loved.” Does this ever happen, do you think that a skydiver whose parachute doesn’t open actually died doing what he loved. No, he failed at doing what he loved. Let’s just get it straight here. I’m all for sentiment, but a racecar driver who dies in a high-speed race did not love crashing into a wall at a high rate of speed and having his body so mangled that it had to be a closed casket funeral. You never hear anyone say “At least he died doing what he hated.” Like, “Well Uncle Jimmy hated getting hit by a bus while walking to work, at least he died doing what he hated.”
Also, I don’t ever want to die doing what I love, it would just be the most pathetic death scene to walk into. It would be me, sitting on the couch, one hand on my crotch, the other clutching a video game controller, a half-eaten Table Talk chocolate pudding pie on the table, next to a copy of the Watchmen comic spread open to the part where Sally Jupiter and Night-Owl have sex. I would just want to die doing something I hate at that point, like getting hit by a bus or walking…
As you can see, the inspiration behind that bit came from the initial headline in a very roundabout way. Maybe it is just the way that my mind works, but I feel that as a writer (not just comedy), what inspires you doesn’t necessarily come from where you think it would and the end result doesn’t have to refer to the initial inspiration at all.
I built a larger premise out from the initial joke as well, the fact of “Dying doing what you hate.” This I feel is the real meat of the joke, and the truly original portion. Taking something common and expounding on it is a great way for your comedy to stay relevant.
I do have a few cultural references in the bit, but they are not necessarily the crux of the joke, they are really flavor text to build a bigger picture of how pathetically geeky I am.
I hope you enjoyed this brief look into the head of a struggling, awful, hack (oh my god, I can’t believe I wrote this) comedian, and that it will help your writing, even in a slight way. Also, if anyone steals my bit, I will cut you….with a knife. Just kidding…with a straight razor, because I keep it old school.
Anyone in the Boston area who wants to come and laugh at, with, or because of me, I will be performing at the ImprovBoston’s annual Pre-Thanksgiving showcase on November 23rd. Show starts at 8 PM.
Thanks for your time, and if you want more, let Alicia know.
To all the writers (and potential funny people) in the Lurkdom, how do you draw inspiration?
* Alicia here: please don't judge me either._______
Last.fm hit of the day: Crash Crash by Snog