Funny Business – Find Your Truth

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (mostly because I don’t have many fresh ideas, so am prone to repetition) – all comedy is born from truth.

When you laugh at a comedian talking about aeroplane food, it’s because you’ve been there, done that and dribbled the sauce down your T-Shirt.

When you see a stand up on stage, acting out a warm up, preparing for the vigorous exercise that is packing the shopping bags at Aldi, you can relate to the hellish nightmare he’s about to endure.

(If you haven’t shopped at Aldi, let me explain. Bag packing at Aldi is like bag packing at any other supermarket…only on 3x speed! It’s like packing to the theme of Benny Hill).

I’m going to use Seinfeld as an example. I’ve used Seinfeld as an example before, but I don’t want you thinking that I’m some kind of weird stalker/fanboy.

I’m only using him for this example because I have a copy of his book, “Seinlanguage”, to hand, which has transcripts of his routines.

He is great, but, let’s be clear – I’m being a bloody lazy sod and saving myself the time it would take to search other comics on YouTube, sift through the material and then type it all out.

Let’s have a look at a few truths/premises behind some Seinfeld jokes:

“Women need to know the job of the guy they’re dating…” – a routine where he examines the difference between men and women (men don’t really care what women do for a living).

“What are lawyers really? To me, they’re just people who know the rules of the country…”

“I’ve just painted my apartment. Every time I paint it, I get a little down. I think, ‘Well, it’s a little bit smaller now…'”

“Sunday papers are the worst. it’s the weekend, you want to relax…’oh by the way, here are 1,000 pages of information you don’t care about..'”

I’ve not included the full scripts for these bits so, annoyingly, you’ll have to guess the punchlines (I’m hinting at a future exercise here…), but you can see the truth behind the jokes.

Women care more than men about the jobs of their partners…
Lawyers are just people who know the rules…
Adding a layer of paint to each wall technically makes your room smaller.
WHY THE HELL ARE SUNDAY PAPERS SO DAMN THICK???

It all starts with truth.

It’s the same when you’re looking to funny up your website, make your email hilarious, or add some laughs to your presentation.

You’re no different from Seinfeld (apart from not being a gazillionaire and not having Obama on speed-dial)

It all starts from a truth, and that’s where we’ll start today.

What is a truth about YOUR business?

Don’t try to be funny.

Just tell me some truths about your work.

There’s a famous example of this from Jeff Bezos (I think he’s a greengrocer in Shoreditch or something). He’s quoted as saying, “it’s not what is going to change that is important, but what is going to stay the same. In 50 years, people will still want goods as cheaply and quickly as possible – that will always be true”.

And he’s right. Some things about your business will always be the same.

What are the truths about YOUR business? If you need any prompts, think about your:

  • work
  • clients
  • product
  • market
  • competition

Don’t make the leap to thinking about truths that are also funny.

Don’t worry, we’ll get there, but not yet.

Focus on the truths.

Are you a software company that needs to be easy to reach, quick to respond and able to integrate with other services and systems?

Is your bookkeeping firm always flooded with enquiries in January, from self-assessment wary freelancers, who all think it just takes 26 minutes to complete a tax return?

You know, what? Balls to hypothetical examples! Let’s use one I’m familiar with – me.

As a magician, there are several truths I know:

  1. I know that clients aren’t paying for tricks – they’re paying me to give their guests an awesome experience, so THEY look good.
  2. Corporate clients want the process to be as easy and painless as possible, as they have 1,287 other jobs on their to-do list (you can see the beginnings of a bit of humour here – once you started doing this, you can’t help yourself!).
  3. Unless you’ve booked a magician before, you probably have no idea what to ask/expect.
  4. All magicians look pretty much the same.

That’s enough to get started with, and I’m sure you can already see the potential angles for some humour. That’s good, but don’t get ahead of yourself.

Just like a stand up comic needs a rock-solid truth as the basis of a joke, you need a rock-solid truth to form the basis of your humour.

Spend some time with this; think about your work from the angles listed above and see how many truths you can come up with. Later on, we’ll use these are avenues for humour.

The Truth Behind Comedy

“I know you think people are going to be interested in this…but they’re not.”

That’s how the video of Jerry Seinfeld, talking about how to write a joke, begins.

Joke writing is not sexy. it’s not fun.

It’s exactly the opposite of what you think it would be.

I won’t waffle on too much because the video explains the idea better than I ever could, especially since it’s one of the greatest comedians on the planet doing the explaining.

There are some things I want to point out though:

COMEDY STARTS WITH TRUTH.

Did you spot the truths in Jerry’s jokes?

“The snack is as nutritious as the box”

“It’s not fresh, because it was never fresh”.

Notice how he takes the truth about Pop Tarts and makes it funny.

it all starts with truth.

SONGWRITING

He talks about shaving syllables and words out of jokes, to get it to flow better, as it’s more like songwriting.

Comedy is spoken, not written. But even written words are read aloud in the heads of the audience.

(That sounds deep and meaningful, but it’s not. It’s just true.)

If you take nothing else from the video, it should reinforce the idea that writing comedy is a craft – it takes work (2 years of work in the case of the Pop-Tart joke!)

The First Rule of Comedy Writing is…

The first rule of comedy is…

… don’t forget your notebook.

In the old days, if a comedian got an idea for a gag, they’d make sure to carve it into a cave wall…

… before testing it out on stage at “Thag’s Comedy And Jazz Night” (Line Dancing every other Thursday).

Even prehistoric comedians knew that ideas are fickle and fleeting beasts.

You need to get used to writing ideas down as soon as you get them.

If you’re not blessed with access to a fresh cave wall and a stone, feel free to use your phone because ideas come at the weirdest times.

You could be sat at a desk for 8 hours, headphones on, incense stick burning… nothing.

Yet, the moment you step out of the room to peg out the washing…

WHAM!

THAT’S when that killer idea you’ve been working so hard to find lands in your brain.

Just as you’re hanging out your wife’s pants (on the washing line), the idea you’ve been working so hard for becomes crystal clear.

“I don’t need to write it down…I’m sure I’ll remember it”.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Oh no, you won’t.

Even if you’re only two minutes away from a pen, that perfect, fully formed idea will be long gone before you get there.

So… before you do anything else, have a system for getting your ideas down.

Use a notepad, your phone or shave the idea into your partners back – just make sure you get into the habit of recording your ideas because there’s nothing more frustrating than struggling to remember that million-dollar idea you had while you were deworming your neighbour’s cat!

(apart from discovering that your neighbour doesn’t actually have a cat…)

When inspiration hits, make sure you’re ready.

How to write funny blog posts – VIDEO #3 – The Curious Piano Teacher blog

Another video, this one featuring a post from the very cooly named “The Curious Piano Teachers” blog.

Here’s a direct link to the post I used in the video, where they explore the idea of perfect pitch, while I explore the idea of making perfect pitch slightly comical.

Here’s a video with what I did:

As ever, all blogs/words featured in the videos have been chosen entirely at random. I’m not picking blogs because they are good/bad/indifferent. I’m just picking random blogs I find randomly scouring the internet.

Hope you enjoy the video. If you did, let me know. You can email me at johnholtwriter@gmail.com or tell Freda, the lady that lives next door to you and she’ll happily pass on the message.

If you’d like me to feature your blog in a video, feel free to get in touch. The details are in the previous paragraph. I can’t make any promises that I’ll be able to do a video of your stuff, but I do promise that I will at least read your email. 🙂

How to make blog posts funny – VIDEO#2 – Adding gags to a personal training website

Since no one died after I made the first video, I thought I’d have another bash, this time, looking at personal training.

During a quick search on the net, I discovered this blog post, written by Beth Trueman and thought I’d use it in a video. If you’ve ever met me, you’ll know that I’m not the type for personal training, so the Google algorithm is probably having a field day wondering what I’m up to…

Anywa, here’s the video of me taking someone else’s words and trying to add a splash of humour to them.

As always, me featuring a blog post doesn’t mean I don’t like it. I just hunt round for posts and copy that don’t presently use humour, so that I can add some in. I pick them entirely by chance, so please don’t infer anything from my choices.

Just don’t. As ever, if you want to get in touch, you can email me at johnholtwriter@gmail.com, or hang around at your local McDonald’s until I show up…

…and I WILL show up, sooner or later.