My short answer is I don’t know.  And I think that anyone who has seen my show will back that up.  Actually jokes are very individual things and what is funny to one person may not be to another.   However, there are a few simple guidelines that may help you if you are trying to write a joke.

Tragedy plus time equals comedy”  this saying is similar to the “one day we will look back on this and laugh” .  Think back to some of the funny moments in your life.  Were they funny at the time?  The awkward dates that you had in high school or the embarrassing things that happened to you in public are funny stories now but, at the time I am sure you were mortified.   The nice thing is that awkwardness is universal, everyone has felt that way at one time or another.  When you tell stories about yourself being awkward in an amusing manner it can remind people of their own awkwardness and how they can laugh at it now.  This can help to make a personal connection to members of your audience and in turn helps them like you more and laugh with you more.  You are telling them with your stories that its okay to laugh at these things now.

Misdirection.  People enjoy being tricked.  It’s why we will watch prank shows and why babies will play with a jack-in-the-box for hours.  As a comic you can entertain people by setting up something unexpected.  You can start off with a rather simple story and let the audience think that they know how you will end it.  Then if you have a surprise ending or unexpected twist people will enjoy the ending and also enjoy the fact that you “fooled” them.  Think about a lot of the jokes that you like, what is the funniest part of it?  I’ll guess its the ending, and I’ll also guess that the ending is not what you expect at the beginning. 

The rule of 3.  People like patterns.  3 examples of something is generally enough for people to make an educated guess.   “these things come in 3’s” is an old adage and it is true that people do tend to look for things to come in 3’s.  You can use this to your advantage to craft a joke.  The goal here is to make a statement and give 2 examples and then your last example should be your joke.  We will normally use exaggeration for the last example or we can borrow from the rule above and use misdirection for the last example.     

Now,  these are some guidelines that some comics use but the fun part about comedy is that there are no rules.  There are no guarantees that just because I used these guidelines I will make a good joke.  Creating a funny joke is as personal as creating a good song.  I am sure there are some helpful hints to making a song but there is no magic formula that will create a song that everyone likes.

Comedy should be like a magic trick.  If I discover the secret to the trick I don’t like it as much, and if I dissect how to craft the perfect joke I am sure I wouldn’t like telling it anymore.  Comedy should be personal and messy and awkward and  very human that is when it is rewarding to perform and to see.  The jokes that I enjoy the most are the ones I just thought of on stage and try without a thought.  There is a second of fear that hopefully passes when you hear the crowd respond.  You feel connected and in the moment and proud.  Hopefully, jokes you tell will resonate with people and they enjoy your stories.  And the funny stories you tell about your life will remind people of  the funny things that happen in their own life.


Sometimes you will see a comic tell jokes on stage that just suck.  And you have to think to yourself wow did that guy really think that people will laugh at that?  The answer is yes, most comics are vain enough to belief that the things that they find funny will be funny to everyone.   One of the problems with comedy is you just don’t know how a new joke will play out until you say it out loud to a large crowd of people.   If you are the one who thought up a joke, then you are obviously going to think its funny.   The problem arises because sometimes the jokes that you personally find funniest are the jokes that do the worst in real life.  There have been many times where I have either heard a joke or told a joke and only gotten a mild response and thought “really!” I thought that was much funnier.  And there are times where I will try out the dumbest thing possible on a whim thinking no one will laugh at this and people will go wild. 

Thats probably the greatest thing about open mic nights at comedy clubs.  Yes, most of the time open mic nights are just some random guy on stage for the first or second time and yes, sometimes those folks can be painfully unfunny.  But sometimes, it is an established comedian who just wants to try out their jokes for the first time and that can be a real treat. 

You see a good joke doesn’t just arise fully formed sometimes.  It can start off as a funny idea or just a punchline and then it takes some polishing to turn into a great joke or even a full routine.  That is what open mic nights allow us to do, take a new idea or a new joke throw it out there and see the response.  If it does well then we can work it into our regular act and if it doesn’t then we can try to polish it one more time or just say damn maybe that joke just isn’t funny.  For example, most people know of Larry the Cable Guy.  He was a stand-up comic with a regular routine and one day dreamed up the Cable Guy character.  He tried it out on a few call in shows and other small outlets and saw the huge response he got from it and eventually it became his whole act.

Personally, I have a few established routines but I always want to be trying new stuff.  However, if you are paying to see me in a show I only want to perform things that I have tried and that I know other people will enjoy.  I am not going to risk me trying out new jokes, having them fail, and people feel that I let them down.  So I hardly ever use new material in a paying gig.  If you only do paying gigs this will lead to your material stagnating and will hinder your growth as a comic.  This is where open mics come back into the picture. 

 Obviously, no one wants to bomb, telling a joke that fails on stage makes you feel like the most embarrassed, lonely guy in the room.  People don’t even want to acknowledge that you exist afterwards or you get a few condescending comments about “getting them next time”.  However, without these failures you can never grow as a comic, and sometimes your failures can tell you a lot more than your successes.   Sometimes your ideas bomb and you feel like you’ll never be funny again but sometimes they hit and you’re king of the world.  The problem is you will never know which one is which until you try it out some night on some poor unsuspecting audience at an open mic.


People often ask me why did I start doing comedy?  Was it because you enjoyed making people laugh or were you always funny?  The answer of course is simple, I did it to impress a girl.  I had been bragging to a girl I know about how funny I was and how I could do comedy one day and she basically told me to put up or shut up, and as a sweetener she offered to reward me if I ever did.  Well I needed no other encouragement than that.  To be honest I am not an extrovert or even a supremely confident guy but I do know that I am fairly smart and even funny at times besides how hard could it be.  So I started to prepare.  I set myself a goal of doing an open mic night in about a month and to have original jokes to perform when I did.  I grabbed a notebook to write random funny thoughts into when they occurred and went to the local comedy bar Snickerz to ask about open mic nights.  It turns out that they have them about every other Thursday and after a few minutes talking to the manager he said that I seemed funny enough to try. 

I ended up writing about 15 jokes or so and then made my friends Jeremy Poulson and Dan Rowe sit through them time and time again as I figured out the funny ones and the correct wordings.  Finally I had a set list and said it aloud time and time again until I memorized it. 

The big day came and I had about 20 family and friends in the audience and Dan was video taping it for YouTube so it was obviously important that I did not embarrass myself.  I took one quick shot for courage with a friend and then it was almost time.  Right before the show the manager came over and gave me a final briefing that consisted of telling me that I would be up first and that I would perform for about 3 minutes.  He said don’t go longer than that and if the audience didn’t laugh after a minute or so he would cut the power to the mic and ask me to get off the stage!   The instructions of course failed to  filled me up with confidence as I seriously considered running away in fear.  Literally,  up until the moment they announced my name I was not sure if I was going to go up on stage or if I was going to flee.

My name is called, my family and friends are there, I know I have to go up and I do.  I remember being blinded by the stage lights and not being able to see the crowd.  I remember finishing my first joke which was fitting because it was a short story about being nervous in front of strangers and thank god everybody laughed.  I remember feeling a huge wave of relief as I heard that laughter and then I honestly do not remember anything else.

I do not know if adrenaline kicked in or what but I to this day can’t recall the next sequence of events.  I had everything pre-memorized and went on with the rest of my jokes and everything went great but I can’t remember doing any of it.  I’ve seen the videos of the event and pictures of me afterwards so I know that I was a walking, talking, functional, human being but honestly it was similar to being blackout drunk. 

Thankfully, I didn’t embarrass myself and the manager was actually impressed.  He said that I was one of the better first timers he has seen since most of them don’t get any laughs and I had people laughing at all the jokes I said.  The manager said that I should come back in two weeks and I kept asking him if he was sure.

So an interesting side career was found that night.  Since then I have been able to go on stage with less and less fear each time and more and more laughs.  While I am still super nervous until I get that first laugh I now know that I can do it.  I went on to perform pretty regularly since even moving from amateur status to getting paid as a low-level professional.  Thanks to that first time I earned money, respect, approval of my peers, and most importantly, a date from that hot chick. 

Thanks for reading,

Zach


Okay First of all to any people reading this let me warn you know.  This blog will suck.  I have never blogged before and I do my best to live a very uninteresting life.  However, I am doing something new in my life that is interesting.  I have started on the path to becoming a professional comedian.  I started doing open mic comedy in March of 2009 and a few months later I started getting paid to work at clubs and colleges.  I am now starting to travel a bit around the Indiana and Ohio areas and it’s been a lot of fun.  I plan on blogging weekly, generally Sunday or Monday, after the shows to let people know what its like.  This isn’t a promotional thing, I’m not selling cd’s or dvd’s.  I am just giving you all a normal guys hopefully humorous look on the decidedly abnormal world of stand-up comedy.   Thank you for reading and I hope you will enjoy.