From Jokes To Storytelling

There’s a big difference

There aren’t many natural comedians on the radio today. For that matter, there’s not that many real comedians on TV today either.

I’m talking about people funny enough to do standup comedy for a living.

The reason I can’t watch most network SitComs is because they’re a seemingly endless barrage of one-liners and weak jokes followed by canned laughter. They’re not funny.

I still hear the same needy effort to draw a laugh on too many radio shows, even after PPM. If anything, PPM has increased the number of jokes and decreased the art of storytelling.

One of the funniest guys on TV today is John Oliver (NSFW: Avoid if bad language offends you). He doesn’t tell jokes as often as he puts in funny payoffs as he tells true stories so absurd they would be unbelievable if we didn’t actually know they were true.

In fact, comedy is evolving towards these storytellers. Louis CK is another example of a very funny guy who sprinkles payoffs throughout his short stories.

If part of what you do, or aspire to do, is make listeners laugh, you could learn a lot by really studying these funny people.

Hannibal Burress, another great comedian, hit the nail on the head when he said, “Performing, traveling, meeting people and having these things happen that couldn’t be told in two-line jokes. It was real stories, and it became fun tyring to figure out how to make them work in the same way as jokes. The challenge really became, could you tell the story but also make it real punchy, with lots of jokes in it and a good ending. Because if you don’t have a good ending, it’s rough.”

When I’m working out these stories, telling them the first couple times, they’ve got these funny parts in the beginning and middle and then you kinda get to the end and it’s like, ‘Well, that’s the end of the story.’ It’s taking something that really happened and punching it up.”

That focus on the ending reminds me of my great friend, the late Jay Trachman. He taught the skill of writing your ending first, of taking the time to think about what you want your listener to feel and then constructing the payoff that would produce that feeling — and only then working backwards, to find the best, shortest, funniest, most emotional way to that end.

It takes work and discipline, but if you want to make people laugh, you need to learn this, to practice it and be ruthless in your own self-editing.

Either it’s funny or it’s not, and if it’s not and you’re trying to make it funny, you’re the SitCom I’m clicking through.