Creativity vs Dependability

Sometimes life’s confusing.

The world wants you to be as reliable as an assembly line worker, but with the flair of an artist.

Best I can offer today – Ernest Hemingway*:

“Write drunk, edit sober.”

*(Shhh. Let’s just enjoy the quote before we start worrying that Hemingway never actually said this.

There seems to be a debate about where the exact line came from. I’m not seeing a solid conclusion.

Maybe the moral is: “Write drunk, edit drunk, do your tags sober.”)


The Other Way To Get A Laugh

Yesterday, I mentioned my old improv teacher told us there were only two ways to get a laugh. The first one was covered yesterday.

The second way to get a laugh (I was told) is reincorporation.

That could be as simple as a comedian harking back to a thing she introduced earlier in her routine. The second time she brings it up, the context has changed and this change makes us see the original thing in a new light, inducing laughter.

It doesn’t have to be a thing brought up in the routine. It could be a thing already in the consciousness of the audience.

If I parody a famous singer, as well as dropping the status of the famous person (satisfying, as mentioned yesterday) it’s also a type of reincorporation. You’ve heard it before, now I’m using it in a different way.

I’d say observational comedy falls into the reincorporation category. The comedian is making you see a thing that you’ve seen a million times before, but making you realise you hadn’t truly seen it until you saw it the way the comedian saw it.

I guess some musical comedy is a type of observational comedy. “Have you noticed (x) sounds like (y)?”

Maybe if you’re having trouble with a joke, it could be that you’re not lowering the status of someone or something (your target might not be one your audience can build hostility towards), or you’re not reincorporating, because you’re making an observation about a thing that’s not in your audience’s consciousness at the moment that it needs to be.

If you’ve been doing stand-up, this might be stuff you’ve already worked out, but hopefully I’m saying it in a way you may not have heard before.

Reincorporation without the laughs!

PS If anyone has anything to add to this, I would love to hear from you.


Jeremy Clarkson – Why The Laughs?

There only two ways to get a laugh, my old improv teacher said to us.

One is status drop*.

Imagine the scene. Jeeves (a valet) and Wooster (his boss) are in a room. Jeeves acts deferentially (verbally and non-verbally), tidying up after Wooster, hanging on his every word.

Wooster acts regally. Fluid, deliberate movements. He doesn’t even make eye-contact with Jeeves, to signal how in control of his own space he is, as he holds forth on some Society enemy.

Jeeves (respectfully, in an effort to please) breaks into Wooster’s monologue and offers some valuable information about Wooster’s enemy, and hints there is more.

Wooster now changes his physical behaviour. His movements and speech patterns are less fluid, he makes eye contact, maybe deigns to touch Jeeves on the arm. His confidence is gone. Wooster has something he wants.

I was taught this is called “status”. We were taught to think of the two players in the scene as being on a see-saw. One’s up, the other’s down.

When the arrangement is reversed, and the see-saw tips, there’s a laugh to be had. The high-status person has dropped and the low-status person is elevated.

Famous people are high-status. If they make themselves humble or contribute in way people like, it’s harder to drop their status.

If they bang on about “eco-mentalists”, or suggest we should shoot striking public-sector workers in front of their families, or put nuclear waste on the Rainbow Warrior, some people are going to enjoy a laugh at their expense.

This might be why people are enjoying the occasional Jeremy Clarkson joke today.

*I’ll talk about the other one tomorrow


Change For The Change-Resistant

I was on a train once and it went past a piece of graffiti.

It said, “Routine is the enemy of creativity.”

I thought, “That sounds great and true. I must endeavour to take it on board.”

Then I got off the train and went and did my stand-up routine.

I’m just not having a wall tell me what to do.

But seriously… If you’re feeling stuck in a rut, it’s all very well people (and walls) advising you to make a change, but the rut always comes at a time when you’re feeling least energetic and adventurous.

The low-energy quick fix for me is to change the inputs. Maybe listen to some music or spoken word you haven’t heard in ages, reconnect with who you were when you first loved it.

I prefer audio, because it puts pictures in your head. Just that little bit of work from your mind can get things going. There are some great podcasts out there, ask someone who knows you for a recommendation.

Other than that, take the pressure off, be nice to yourself and ride it out. Sorry to state the obvious, but you can’t plan spontaneity.

Lastly, if you’ve made a commitment to publish every day, the rut is just something you ride over.


Selling Hot Air

Like a lot of industries, the comedy industry goes through tough times during a recession.

When this happens, comedy is not going through a tough time – people still want a laugh, but fewer are buying tickets and taking chances on lesser-known comics or club nights.

I reckon those of us who are committed to creating stuff and putting on a show will prevail, one way or another.

Just so you know I’m not wearing rose-tinted specs, I’ll say it – survival is the new doing well.

When the going gets tough, remember:

When you started, you had to be really resourceful to get gigs, fail at them, keep getting more, keep turning the material over, wrestling with negativity every day. There were no “how-to”s, degrees, or “Dummies” guides.

You are so resourceful, the hot air that comes out of your mouth now translates into food on the table. That’s quite something.

Maybe you’re newer at selling hot air, and haven’t made a sale yet. You’re facing down all of the above, just in the hope that it will lead somewhere*. That takes some rare and valuable qualities. I hope you recognise that you have them.

My point is: If we can slay these dragons, we can slay other ones.

When the going gets tough, just look at how resourceful you’ve been.

If we didn’t all have dad issues, we’d be quite dangerous!

*If you don’t quit, it will.


Joke Stealing: The Upside

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”

…So wrote Upton Sinclair. What a great line. It’s witty and insightful. Steal it. Use it. Everybody does. That’s why it’s so famous.

I used to sell clothes to people who had shops for a friend of mine. I sold T-shirts and fleeces with designs on them, drawn by my friend, who was a talented and funny artist.

Her designs got ripped off a few times by greetings card companies, but there was one design that was just un-stealable.

It was so her style, you’d have to rip the whole thing off, which would mean becoming her. Which was impossible.

I’ve noticed if I want to tell a Johnny Vegas joke, or a Dom Irrera joke, or a Mike Wilmot joke, or a Rich Hall* joke to someone, I pretty much have to mimic the comedian in question.

It’s like an anti-piracy device built in to the material. You have to add the persona (and thereby crediting the creator).

I don’t quite know what it all means, but if you make a thing that’s as utterly nickable and costless to steal as a great joke, you may as well get something out of it. Like Upton Sinclair. You might read some of his other stuff now.

Couple of thoughts:

1) Is there any way you can inject a bit more you into your more spreadable stuff?

2) And which of your lines only work when you’re behind it? Maybe that’s a signpost to your next joke**.

People used to tell me there was a guy on the circuit doing one of my jokes (good luck with that!). He’s probably in another line of work now.

I reckon if the joke was so steal-able, my mission should be to make the next thing I come up with more unique to me. It’s about the only thing I can control.

Don’t get me wrong, I would definitely try and sue if I thought I could get some dosh out of it, and I’m sure there’d be lawyer out there willing to take my money to try, even if it was futile.

It’s difficult to get a person to see the futility of a thing when their income depends on them not seeing it.

*There he is again! Sorry, regular readers!

**This is just my home-spun rubbish. Remember the Golden Rule – don’t listen to anyone!


How Do We Do It? Volume! Jokes Are A Numbers Game

It took 100 million hours to build Wikipedia*. Phew. But that’s a drop in the ocean compared to the 200 billion hours people spend watching TV annually.

This is according to Clay Shirky in Cognitive Surplus. He says since the 1940s, in our free time, we’ve been steadily moving from a consuming posture to a creating (and sharing) one.

I was at a comedian’s conference (I know!) once, and a promoter described a new act whose work ethic he liked (me too!). This new comedian had a day job. On the ride to and and from work (I’m guessing 30 minutes each way), this person made it their mission to write ten jokes. That’s do-able. Five on the way in, five on the way out.

Fifty jokes a week, two hundred jokes a month. An hour a day. Your leisure time is still your own when you walk through the door.

In the old days, you could write all you want, but you’d still have to wait for a gig somewhere to see what flew. Now there’s Twitter and a whole bunch of other stuff I don’t know about (I’m assuming!).

Two hundred jokes a month. Tweet your best, what, twenty? Fifty? Do the lot! It’s your life. You can interact with an audience and learn something.

Baby steps. See what works. Five jokes on the way in, five on the way out.

Also, a great thing about the internet: If you do something a bit rubbish, no-one looks. No-one’s got the time. There’s 200 billion hours of telly to catch up on!

*That’s what it took to build Wikipedia to its 2009 extent.