12 March 2014

Everyone's a Comedian

My kids in Creative Writing this semester, they're pretty hilarious, but they lack the polish of a professional stand-up. So rather than a mystery or romance story, we're working on stand-up routines this week.

We started with Jerry Seinfeld's Pop Tart joke process, mostly because I was searching YouTube for "how to write stand-up," and it was near the top. It's also pretty concise and emphasizes word choice, idea generating, and the necessity of revision.

I also got a lot of great ideas from Jerry Corley's How to Write Comedy video on YouTube, but both the length and subject matter made me decide not to just show the video. (Let's just say that his topical example is Tiger Woods.) But I got the idea for this lesson for students which, truth be told, has felt like work rather than just fun time, as oone might expect of a unit on stand-up,  but I feel like it's a kind of work they need, and the struggle is necessary to growth.

Topical Jokes--Current Events
  1. Pull up CNN.com and pick a topic from the CNN Trends bar. (If they're all tending toward dry or tragic, click the CNN Trends tab.)
  2. Write the topic at the top of a clean page and make two columns.
  3. Choose 2 completely different categories that relate to your topics (e.g. for Tiger Woods, golf and...how about the Pope? Think "old man" and Catholic.)
  4. Brainstorm at least 10 ideas related to your topic--how ever loosely--for each column.
  5. Then pick one idea from each column that you could tie together in a funny way.
  6. Connect them as a joke.
Observation Jokes--Families
I also let them pick their favorite comedians to use as their models, but they only get to watch a video each day if everyone gets their jokes written for the day.

Kevin Hart was a pretty unanimous choice, and after I figured out how to add "clean" to my YouTube search, I stumbled on Creative Writing gold:
This video is the perfect example of observation jokes, everyday absurdities, plus masterful transitions. We carefully identified and analyzed the transitions in this bit, first noting the times, then going back and writing down exactly what he said, because, frankly, I know they have a general understanding of what transition means, but they needed real, effective models to see and dissect how they work in practice, in the hands of a prprofessional. 

So this time, we focused on telling something funny about a family member, à la Sr. Hart. I threw in some tips about funny words and being specific and let them write.

The idea, then, was to transition between the first day's topical jokes (which were, indeed, Pope jokes it turns out) and the family ones, but most of the class either A) didn't like what they come up with or B) actually came up with nothing. So we tried different CNN trends, and everyone could pick their own topic this time, and we went around the class circle naming the topics and identifying two possible categories before attempting the 10 brainstormed words in each category. The weird thing was they were geniuses at coming up with ideas for each other, but they froze when they put pen to paper themselves, so we'll be doing a lot more talking it out.

I'd really love to do an open mic with them, but it's funny how unfunny these funny kids are when put on the spot. However, if we work through a few more jokes together, I think the practice organizing and transitioning will turn the class clowns into first-class comics.

If you're looking for ideas on writing comedy, check out some of these sites I found, too. Do a little mixing and matching and see if you can come up with more funny business!


  1. I wish my daughter was taking your creative writing class. She is in 8th grade and is going through this poetry writing phase. I am going to share this post with her and see if I can help her understand more about the importance of language. As always, a great post.

  2. It is really good tips . I apply this in my site
    Youtube Help