Twitter as Open University Course in Joke Telling – Module One

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


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19 Responses to Twitter as Open University Course in Joke Telling – Module One

  1. Carolyn says:

    Excellent reading!! Very thought provoking and made me see comedy in a slightly different way. It’s a shame I live in NZ as I’d love to see you perform. All the best for your upcoming tour 🙂

  2. estherw17 says:

    “Astrological crockery”? You mean like a spoonful of bullshit?

  3. bucedessau says:

    I thought it was Giles Coren who said don’t use your first thought, it will be other people’s first thoughts too…but maybe he nicked that one from his dad…

  4. Kira Morgana says:

    I come across this a lot as a writer – I wrote a long story (not quite a novella, but not a short story) about a supernatural hero that saves a bunch of alien slaves from being eaten.
    Because the aliens were blue skinned (I changed that later) and they had a shamanistic, vaguely Native American society I was told that it was too much like the film “Avatar” and no one would publish it.
    But I’d written it a year before the movie came out… I said as much – it didn’t matter.*sigh*
    No idea is original – we’re human; doomed to repeat the same stories over and over again like some kind of bad fairy story. *snorts*
    Just look at “Edge of Tomorrow” – it’s “Groundhog Day” without the charm and the humour, but with a whole bunch of guns added.

  5. colin evans says:

    that’s the problem with first thoughts or ideas there will always be someone somewhere thinking it was theirs first.i very much doubt alan coren came up with that thought first.

  6. Laura says:

    This reminds me of the copyright rules for recipes.

    While you can assert rights over the text and stories which surround a recipe the actual list of ingredients and instructions on how to turn those into a new food stuff is fair game as at this point in history there really is no such thing as a new recipe

    Maybe jokes have reached the same point

  7. segmation says:

    I still don’t get the point of twitter. I do though get the point of jokes. Maybe that is what is wrong with twitter, what is the point?

  8. recentcoinz says:

    So much of humor involves things that don’t get passed along on Twitter like voice inflection, facial expression, body language, and timing. Twitter seems like a a poor medium.

  9. bousquettom says:

    I am a huge proponent of Twitter and I appreciate the way you used it here. It’s almost like that Einstein quote that goes somewhere along the lines of, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” I appreciate the challenge it is to fit a joke, idea, observation into 140 characters. Sometimes it’s easy, other times impossible, but it forces you to focus on wording and your intended aim of the message. Great post!

  10. alfredsalmanac says:

    Astrological crockery. Puts it in perspective. Very funny.

  11. The title of your piece made me think of Community, so I checked it out. I’m glad I did! Congrats on being FP!

  12. amiechadwick says:

    Did you hear the one about… ? 😉

  13. etfaust says:

    I find it interesting that in a society that values history and books as much as we do, we still always are looking for complete “originality.” What I sometimes wonder is whether there are infinite jokes to be told. And as more and more are able to be found through simple search engines, will there reach a point when people stop trying to think of new ideas and resort to recycling what they find online? If that happens, search engines would seem to be bringing about a decline in thought.

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