There’s nothing like a great joke to break the ice… unless the ice doesn’t break. Comedy may be one part talent, but it is also one part skill. You’ve got to keep working on this skill in order for it to improve. That’s what these comedy writing exercises are intended to help you do. Comedy writing, in general, is a top skill for book writing.
A word of caution: you can’t make everyone laugh all of the time. Not every joke will be successful. Let that be okay so you can move onto the next joke.
Exercise #1: Incongruity
Some things just don’t belong together, like a leprechaun living on an oscillating fan. When you put two strange things together, you immediately set the stage for comedy because the reader recognizes that it’s a scene that doesn’t make sense. This is because comedy is about the unexpected. Figure out two things that really don’t belong together, create a scene involving that combination, and you will be able to summon your inner humor goddess.
Exercise #2: Misdirection
Jokes are like a fork in the road. You show people the path they’re going to take and then give them the punch line which shows they were wrong. To learn the art of the misdirection, consider writing something that could be unusual and funny that starts with every letter of the alphabet. Here are some examples to get you started – but use your own, okay?
- Zero cans on the wall – what happens then?
- Yoga pants accidents.
- X-ray machine malfunction.
- Waterskiing in the nude.
Exercise #3: Familiarity
This is what makes stand-up comics great. When they can build familiarity with their audience, then they can create comedy about some of the most mundane things in life. You do this by asking people some common questions to establish that relationship. Who has kids? Who is married? Who keeps a closet full of puppets in their home that no one knows about?
From there, talk about funny experiences that have happened to you and everyone else will be able to relate to those circumstances. Write about the crazy things your kids have done. Write about much your spouse frustrates you with their random ear-scraping habits. Talk about that night when your puppets rebelled and tried to smother you with a pillow.
Comedy often lives in these moments. Create familiarity and you’ll create laughs.
Exercise #4: Commitment Issues
Ultimately comedy comes down to a great one-liner. It might have minutes of setup to get to that point, but eventually you’re reliant on that single punch. This is why comedy writing is great for those who have commitment issues. One line and you’re done. You don’t have to be there all week.
So work on that one line. Find humor wherever it might be lurking. It might be a cheap laugh, but so what? When you tell a bad joke and you’re the only one laughing at it, that laughter is still contagious. In fact, the hallmark of a writer with commitment issues is to laugh loudest at their own bad jokes.
Now here’s why it works: you’ve got to get through the bad jokes to get the good ones ready for distribution.
Exercise #5: Repetition
Did you know the average person only hears about 5% of what you actually say to them? That means only 5% of your comedy is going to register. Maybe that’s a good thing.
But if you want people to actually remember your joke, don’t be afraid to put a little repetition into your writing. Repetition can be a good thing. It’s why radio commercials repeat their phone number a billion times in 30 seconds. It’s also why many comedians repeat some of their primary setup lines. It allows your humor to be remembered.
So work on this good thing. Make your repetition become a natural part of your comedy writing. It’s easier to do than you might think.
Exercise #6: Get Uncomfortable
What makes comedy so great is a willingness to push boundaries. If you have a little voice whispering to you that says, “This joke is inappropriate,” then that’s the joke you need to tell. Sure – there are consequences involved when you offend people. It happens. Yet the best comedy is made from stuff that is fearless.
So decide to go there. Decide to make the points you need to make about life, love, and happiness. Some people will think you’re a jerk – or use a more graphic expletive. That’s okay. You’ll have other people laughing so hard that they’ll need to see their doctor the next day because their ab muscles finally got a workout for once.
So look – humor isn’t rocket science. It’s comedy science that comes from you practicing your humor skills. Sometimes you just need to write something and expose yourself – but don’t take your clothes off while doing it unless that’s your thing. At other times, you just need to take people on a journey and then pull the rug out from underneath them.
When you do it right, everyone will have a good laugh.