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!