Eddie Izzard, Lee Mack, Bill Hicks, Sarah Millican, Victoria Wood, Chris Rock, Billy Connolly….the list could go on. Male or female, young or old and no matter what decade they performed in all, all of the great stand-up comedians have one thing in common; material.
Sure, there are naturally gifted performers and those that can deliver a good line or two but, essentially, even the funniest comedians would die on their backsides without good quality writing behind their acts. So before you submit your stand up to The Talent Bank have a look at these tips.
So what’s the secret to writing good stand up comedy?
1) Remember that good stand-up is more about the character of the comedian than just delivering funny jokes. Audiences like to be taken on a journey and if you’re inviting them along to join you then they will want to be interested in your character. Knowing your stage persona before you start to write will allow you to be consistent with your act. If you are channelling a morose or grumpy character (think Jo Brand or Jack Dee) then you may find some comic element in the juxtaposition of upbeat material. Have a point of view that’s unique to you and stick with it.
2) Study what works and what doesn’t but never steal material. The internet is awash with clips of famous stand-ups, amateur performances and transcripts of routines so you have no excuse not to widely research the art, and what a great way to spend some time! When something works, try and work out how the writing has been crafted to get the laugh. Break it down and analyse the structure before applying it to your own writing.
3) American comedy writer, Robert Orben famously stated that “The secret of writing comedy is to know where it’s all going, then get ahead of it” and this is an essential component to some very successful stand-up routines. Taking the audience on a journey with you means they become invested in you and foreshadowing your jokes taps into the basic comic element of dramatic irony; when your audience can see something coming that you didn’t.
4) Simmer your ideas and never be afraid to re-work them. It is often said that the difference between comedy and great comedy is that the first is written but the latter is re-written. Just because you’ve had a good idea doesn’t mean to say that, with some extra work, it couldn’t be comedy gold. Once you’ve written your piece, allow it to settle before trying it out on an audience. Even if it works well don’t be afraid to tweak it before settling on the final format. Never be content with just a laugh; that great joke could become the perfect one with just a little extra work.
5) Be unique. It sounds like simple advice but if you want to make a name for yourself then it is an essential part of the writing journey. Whilst you can learn a lot from others you should always try to make your writing reflect your own individual personality. Failing to do so may not hamper your chances of getting a laugh but it will undoubtedly stop the audience from remembering you. Make sure that when you are writing a stand-up routine that you find your own voice.
6) Know your audience. There are markets for edgy or lewd comedy and many stand-ups make a great living performing in this genre but always make sure that your writing is true to yourself whilst also being true to the audience; not every audience (or comedy club) will welcome material like Roy Chubby Brown or Frankie Boyles.
7) Whether you are writing for stand-up or writing a novel it is essential to always be on the look out for material. It can happen anytime, anyplace, anywhere so having a notepad or something else in which to jot down your ideas is highly recommended.
And finally, remember that being funny and being a great stand-up comedian aren’t the same things. Great stand-up comedy is all about great writing so make sure that you learn and hone your craft before getting up on that stage.