Funny Business

Funny Business – Mixing Things Up

Alright! We’re into the final furlong…

…the home stretch…

…the, er…I wish I knew more about sports.

We have our truths about our work, we’ve added some attitude and created some insightful and original premises and we’ve acted them out a bit, just to see if there’s any gag material there…

…now what?

Now, we add the final element – mixing things up a bit.

This is a fun part of the joke writing process. It’s the bit where you look at the idea behind your premise and ask:

  • Can you imagine if __ did this?

Let me show you with an example, selfishly chosen from my own work.

In fact, let’s use the specific example I used in my last post.

I know you remember, but I’m going to copy and paste it anyway!

[Premise] “What’s scary about a customer thinking all magicians are the same is that they will probably choose one based on an insignificant factor.”

[Act out – of a bride, sat at a computer, choosing a wedding magician]
“…Brian, this is the most important day of our lives, we need to get this right…[acting out scrolling past websites]…”Times new roman…nope!
Arial…Ew!
Comic Sans…BLOCK!
GARAMOND! Yes! We’ve found our magician!”

Not a perfect joke, and, if I’m being honest, I’m not entirely happy about using “font” for the insignificant factor, but it’s good enough to work with for now.

Now we need to squeeze some more laughs out of it by adding in a mix.

Let’s take the idea and apply it to something else.

What would be a really silly example of this (i.e. of choosing something/someone based on an insignificant factor)?

“Imagine if…”

Imagine if…you chose a husband/career/doctor with the same level of thought…?

There are LOTS of directions you can go with this, so don’t expect this to come right away.

It’ll take some time and ideas will come at you at weird and unexpected mom…BOMB DISPOSAL!

Sorry.

“What if a bomb disposal expert employed a similar technique for choosing between things; in her case, between a red and green wire…”

“Red wire….green wire…red wire…green wire. How am I meant to know which?…wait a minute…this shade of green is EMERALD green…my wife loves emeralds and it’s her birthday soon. It’s a sign…THANK YOU UNIVERSE. I’ll cut the green wire and everything will be just fi…”.

(Her funeral will be held on Monday…)

Workable.

Look at your premise and ask yourself, “what if someone else did this?”

The ask it again…and again. Look at your premise from every single angle that you can possibly imagine.

Careers/animals/famous people/politicians/TV shows/characters/groups – see your premise through the eyes of them all and play it out.

Get really specific when you do this. Don’t just imagine a politician, for example, choose A SPECIFIC POLITICIAN (contrary to popular belief, they are not all the same).

Look at your premise and ask:

“How can we exaggerate this idea to the point of almost being ridiculous?”
“What is the most extreme example I can imagine for this idea?”

Have fun. Play. Try things.

Funny Business – Acting Out Your Premises

(NOTE: I had hoped that this would be the final part of the basic “Funny Business” series, however, after doing extensive calculations (i.e. actually giving this a bit of thought), it’s going to be a bit longer than I expected – with a few extra parts).


We’ve come up with some truths about our work and we’ve created some weird, scary. hard, and stupid premises from them. Now what?

Now? We make them funny.

YAY!

You may have heard there are lots of joke formulas and templates you can use, but, to keep things simple, we’re just going to focus on a few simple exercises to get you up and running.

To complete these, you’ll need to have your HARD/SCARY/WEIRD/STUPID premises to hand so, if you haven’t already, go and retrieve them from that laser guarded, high-security safe in your shed…

…because now, we’re going to act them out.

“ACT? Holy shit! I can’t act… I don’t even own any tights!”

Don’t worry, it’s not “acting” acting – we’re just going to play out the premises you created and bring them to life.

Here are a few examples from the comedy world:

[Premise] “It’s embarrassing buying some medical products…

[Actout] “…Price check on Vagiclean, aisle five. I repeat, price check on Vagiclean, aisle five. That’s Vagiclean. We’ve got a customer down here with a full-on fallopian fungus. She’s baking a loaf of bread and I think it’s sourdough.” – Jim Carrey

[Premise] “…I think it’s weird when you give someone you like flowers… Really saying here you go, now watch these die…

[Act out] “I feel like you should give someone flowers if you want to threaten them… ‘here you’re next. Better put your feet in water ’cause I’m coming for you.'” – Demetri Martin.

You can see how both jokes have a true and insightful premise and the act out is really just an extension of that idea.

They just run with it and see where it goes.

In Jim Carrey’s case, he acts out the embarrassment of buying the product, as it would happen, in the store…in the most embarrassing way.

In Demitri Martins case, he takes his idea of dying flowers and explores when this WOULD be a suitable gift.

In both cases, the gag results from progressing and experimenting with the premise.

“OK, I get that, but how do we apply this to OUR premises?”

This is going to be a little bit frustrating, but this is one of those “there is no best way to do this” ideas.

“AAAAARRRRGGGHHHH!”

Don’t worry because, while there isn’t a perfect template for this, there are some pretty reliable exercises and approaches.

Let’s look at a few…

  1. Actually ACT it out. Don’t describe it – show it.

For Jim Carrey, this could mean tapping into some of his crazy voices and antics. You can imagine him asking for a price check on Vagiclean, pretending to hold the store mic, putting on a voice and yelling the embarrassing parts REALLY LOUDLY.

Most of all, you can imagine it being hilarious.

If you’re running a babysitting service, don’t tell me that parents are scared of leaving their child with a new babysitter, SHOW me:

“We had to pull over three times on the way to the restaurant…’It’s been two rings and she’s not picked up… OH MY GOD! SHE’S KILLED THEM!!!'”

Don’t concern yourself with the fact that your joke is unlikely to be told on a stand-up comedy stage, or that you’re more of a “word gal” who writes, rather than performs.

For now, just follow the process.

So, the first rule is “don’t DESCRIBE it to me, SHOW ME!”

Before we get bogged down in technique, let’s have a look at an example from one of my premises, just to get you off on the right foot:

“What’s scary about thinking all magicians are the same is that they will probably choose one based on an insignificant factor.”

Let’s act this out…

What do we have in this premise?

We have:

  • the scary thought that all magicians are the same,
  • the process of choosing a magician, and
  • the insignificant factor.

The insignificant factor is going to be where the comedy comes from in this act out (it’s my “Vagiclean”), so let’s have a play.

Let’s act out someone choosing a magician based on an insignificant factor as if it were a stand-up comedy routine…

[Premise] “What’s scary about a customer thinking all magicians are the same is that they will probably choose one based on an insignificant factor.”

[Act out of a bride, sat at a computer choosing a wedding magician] “…Brian, this is the most important day of our lives, we need to get this right…[acting out scrolling past websites]…”Times new roman…nope!
Arial…Ew!
Comic Sans…BLOCK!
GARAMOND! Yes! We’ve found our magician!”

In this case, I’ve chosen a website font to be the insignificant factor in choosing a magician, but it could be anything clearly trivial (starsign, hair colour, football team affiliation).

This isn’t a finished joke, just the first idea that popped into my head (just before you judge me!).

There are no hard and fast rules about act outs – something which is both creatively freeing and bloody annoying at the same time.

There is nothing to get ‘right’.

You just have to keep experimenting until you’re happy.

Here are some more tips on creating act outs:

  1. DON’T DESCRIBE IT, SHOW ME!

I know I’ve mentioned this already, but I thought it was worth repeating (plus, it means that all the main points are together in this post!)

  1. MAKE SURE YOUR ACT OUT INCLUDES ELEMENTS MENTIONED IN YOUR PREMISE

In the Jim Carrey joke, he mentions medical products in the premise, but if he acted out being embarrassed about buying a Hannah Montana DVD, there’s going to be a disconnect, as it’s not a medical product (Hannah Montana actually causes people to be violently ill!).

Stay true to your premise!

DON’T INCLUDE ANYTHING IN YOUR ACT OUT THAT ISN’T INCLUDED IN THE PREMISE!

  1. GET SPECIFIC!

While your premise can be general (“insignificant factor”, “medical products”), your act out should be SPECIFIC.

What SPECIFIC insignificant factor?
What SPECIFIC medical product?

The act out is the part of the joke where you really create a vivid image and experience in your target’s mind and, to do that, you need to be specific.

IN YOUR ACT OUTS, BE SPECIFIC – LET YOUR TARGET EXPERIENCE IT!

  1. DON’T WRITE, ACT!

You can come up with premises for jokes by writing down ideas but, for act outs, you are far better moving away from your desk and walking around the room/neighbourhood, talking – out loud – – about your premises.

Even if your idea is eventually going to end up being read and not “performed”, you STILL need to do this.

If you plonk yourself at your desk, you’ll spend too much time editing jokes and ideas so that they READ funny. You’ll cut them off before you’ve had the chance to get the most comedy potential out of them.

We’re still in the brainstorming phase of joke writing, so no editing is allowed.

Stand up, walk around and riff off your premise.

WARNING: If you’re expecting this riffing to result in a near perfect stand up comedy routine right off the bat, you’re in for a whole world of disappointment.

Walking around the room talking about your premises will be weird, mostly unfunny and definitely uncomfortable.

Get used to it because it is required, and it will create some funny moments…if only for your neighbours watching you through your window!

  1. “BE” FUNNY, DON’T “THINK” FUNNY

This sounds very zen, but it’s not.

Something can BE funny, but not look funny when written down.

Think of some visual comedians. If you saw a transcript of their act, you probably wouldn’t laugh as much as you would if you SAW their act.

That’s what we’re tapping into here. Standing up, walking around, you can just BE funny. You can use facial expressions, mannerisms and voices to accentuate the humour (don’t worry, you don’t have to be that guy off Police Academy or be able to do 1,001 celebrity impressions to make use of silly voices).

When you act out, you have more tools to be funny.

So stand up, walk around and riff off your premises. Act them out, exaggerate them, play with them.

Actually acting out your premises also gives you the chance to use any natural ad-lib talents you may have, as you respond to your own words and ideas.


That’s your homework for today – take your premises and, using the ideas above, talk out loud about them and act them out – see if you come up with anything funny (don’t worry if you don’t, we’ve got more to come).

In your act out:

  • SHOW ME WHAT’S GOING ON
  • ACT IT OUT
  • MAKE SURE YOU INCLUDE WHAT’S IN YOUR PREMISE
  • BE SPECIFIC
  • DON’T “THINK” FUNNY, JUST BE FUNNY!

Really let your imagination and creativity go wild with this!

I realise that this may be a difficult concept to grasp, so you can click here to see a video of me talking about it, and actually DOING it, in the hope that it’ll make it a bit clearer!

More About Funny Premises and Attitude

If you’re following along and thinking about what’s SCARY, WEIRD, HARD or STUPID about your business/market, I hope you’re enjoying it.

I want you to spend a bit of time on this because, even though it’s not the most fun part, it is the most important.

By far.

Every joke needs a crystal clear premise and your “It’s hard when…” type answers are that premise.

I know what you’re thinking…

‘WAIT A MINUTE! I saw Roy Chubby Brown at Southend pier three years ago and hardly any of his jokes began with, “It’s hard being a fat pensioner in a multi-coloured suit…”‘

You’re right, and I was getting to that.

After we’ve added the punchline to the premise (don’t worry, it’s coming!), we’re going to edit the jokes into the best form for you, your audience and the media you’re using.

Eventually, when you’re used to the process, you’ll be able to skip some these steps but, for now, please do follow along, as the consequences of not doing so could be disastrous*.

Asking, and answering, the “What’s SCARY, STUPID, WEIRD, or HARD about…?” forces us to looks for truths and issues, rather than empty and vague ideas or just venting.

I’ll put the finishing touches** to the punchline post over the weekend and post it on Monday, just to give you some extra time to really nail these premises and maybe create some more.

Have a great weekend and, if you have any questions, just ask. 🙂

*Disastrous – experiencing unsatisfactory jokes (usually the result of skipping a step in a comedic writing formula you saw on a blog).

** I haven’t started it yet. You guessed that already, didn’t you?

Funny Business – Add Some Attitude

If you saw the previous post, about finding the truths in your business, you’re ready for the next step.

If you didn’t, you’re not, but don’t worry, we’ll wait…

We’ve seen how comedy comes from truth.

Truth isn’t always funny – we need to add something to make it funny.

We need to add some attitude.

Attitude isn’t always communicated via words. It can be, but most comedians communicate attitude with their tone and delivery.

I’m struggling to come up with a better example of this than Gary Coleman delivering, “What ya talkin’ about Willis?”

When you watch a good comedian, you can tell whether they’re angry, suspicious or scared by how they act.

“So, what attitude do we need to add to our truths, and how do we go about it?”

Good question.

First off, there are many attitudes you can add to truths, but the main ones to focus on are:

HARD
WEIRD
SCARY
STUPID

(These are the main attitudes Judy Carter mentions in her book, “The Stand-Up Comedy Bible”.)

No one wants to see a happy comedian, boasting about their awesome life. Comedy is found in weird, hard, scary and stupid things.

Here’s a Bill Burr gag to highlight this point:

“Let’s go to Brunch. What a great idea! Why would you want to sleep in on a Sunday when you can go pay $18 for eggs? Now, you’re thinking.”

Even written down, you can just smell the underlying stench of, “Brunch is stupid…”, can’t you?

Now the Burr gag is a fully written, edited and audience tested joke, so before we start today’s exercise, don’t get ahead of yourself or expect comedy club quality.

We’re just adding attitude here…

The Burr gag may have started off, “Brunch is stupid. It’s just a way for someone to overcharge you for more eggs.”

So, pick one of the truths you highlighted in the previous post and ask yourself:

“Why is this STUPID?”
“What about this is SCARY?”
“This is WEIRD because”
“What is HARD about this?

Some truths won’t tick all of the SCARY, WEIRD, HARD or STUPID boxes, so don’t worry.

Let’s take an example of being a magician (I might as well help myself while I’m here!).

Truth – most people think magicians are all the same.

Let’s see what attitude we can add to this.

What’s weird about thinking that all magicians are the same is that, if we said this about race or gender, we’d be committing a crime.

What’s weird is that people think that all magicians are the same, even though we have never booked one, or likely seen one before.

It’s hard to convince people that you’re not the same as everyone else when they can’t actually see the secrets and techniques you do for a living.

What’s stupid is that magicians often use the exact same words and phrases as other magicians, in order to convince people that they are unique (with “unique” being one of those words!)

What’s scary about thinking all magicians are the same is that they will probably choose one based on an insignificant factor.

Your turn. Pick one of your truths and work it through the “What is SCARY/HARD/STUPID/WEIRD about this…?” questions above.

Go easy on yourself, sometimes these can take a while to come up to the service. If you’re struggling, stop and do something else. Let your subconscious take some of the load.

Post some of your answers, or any questions, in the comments below

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.