The problem with writing jokes is that there is a high percentage chance someone has written them before. There are modern stand up techniques that go back as far as Aristophanes.
I used to wrote jokes for other people, then I got bored. I still enjoy sitting around with stand ups, and even healthy people too, and working out how to sharpen routines or where to take ideas that means they’ll go beyond cliche or hack first response.
When I am putting together new shows (which I am attempting now, hence being attracted to the displacement activity of writing a blog post), I do most of the comedy work actually on stage. I have my notebooks and my scribbled postcards and much at the back of my mind, but it is the act of being scrutinised that leads to eventual show. Sometimes you come up with an idea and you are cock-a-hoop at its quality. A few days later, someone tells you it is an idea that a multitude of comedians are doing on stage and thus, must die.
As Stewart Lee said when Jimmy Carr complained about Jim Davidson stealing a gag, “If Jim Davidson can steal your jokes, write better jokes”. On other occasions, you stumble upon an idea that seems so potent and simple that you cannot believe no one could have thought of it before. You ring your friends frenetically and are surprised to hear that no one can think of a comic that has used it before.
Today, for further displacement activity, I have been putting up a few “jokes” on Twitter. That way, I can deceive myself that tweeting is part of the exercise of work. Most of the things I put up I would neither use on stage or think of selling to others, they are just flibbertigibbets, little nonsenses and squibs for a timeline of predominantly inconsequential things. It is interesting to see what captures the distracted reader’s imagination and what is passed over and forgotten even as it is read.
“the other day, someone told me to ‘man up’, so I painted a flag on my face and started crying when someone kicked a thing wrongly.”
This tweet was surprisingly popular, it is probably a summation of a long, long routine from my current show. If you haven’t got 15 minutes to spare, here’s the story of part of my show in 140 characters. I wouldn’t imagine a line like this would make my stand up. Other sentences receive less interest, but I think they may hold in them more interest and possibilities for becoming stand up.
“I was going to put ‘views expressed are my own’ on my profile, but I just don’t have that sort of confidence in them.
Pondering over just how much any thought is our own, and how much of it is a product of all the influences around us, I tried to cram it into something like a joke. Then, I tried a tweak.
“I was going to put ‘views expressed are my own’ on my profile page, but I am not entirely sure they are.”
Both were failures, but it has left me thinking what I can do with them. Twitter can be useful in that way. Sometimes, Twitter is a chance to watch the first draft of people’s imagination. Then, I got lightly embroiled in arguments that my first tweet had been an affront to football fans. This led to –
“rather than men telling men to ‘grow a a pair!’, why not tell them to, ‘grow a bunch! pop them in a vase, cheer the place up a bit.'”
Some of it is no more than an excercise. You see a phrase, and think, can I turn that into a joke in 30 seconds. Someone mentions close up magicians
“I thought I saw a close up magician the other day, but it turns out he was just far taller than I had first thought.”
Then you are told this is a Father Ted joke, though jokes on perspective were not invented in the 90s (though Father Ted’s version is one of the best in my subjective opinion). Someone mentioned “What Would Jesus Do?” and I put something up I like so little that I won’t repeat it here. Soon, an avatar was upon me to say I had stolen the joke. I have no knowledge of the human I stole it from and suggested that my leaps of imagination were arthritic in length. Earlier that day, another comedian had tweeted a joke very similar to one that crops up in my current show. I don’t think it was stolen, it was a phrase seen and adapted. We are not as individual as we might imagine, hence the high sales of astrological crockery. As Alan Coren said, when writing, be aware that your first thought may well be many other people’s too. It is a rare human who doesn’t have to wade a little way through the obvious to something more original. Funny thing writing jokes…sometimes.
I am saying very different things across the UK – Winchester, Hull, Leeds, York, Newport, Swansea, Newcastle, Glasgow and beyond and around. Details HERE (new Autumn dates also up there)
my three hour DVD of mash up cut up ideas is HERE