Everyone writes differently. Some people sit down and force themselves to write, while others only write by riffing on stage. Most of us are somewhere in between. However you write, we’ve all had a desire to come up with something new, only to draw a complete blank. Here are a few methods I have heard over the years that can help jumpstart the process.
The Titus Method
I was told that Christopher Titus writes by starting with a story with no jokes. Just the whole story. Then he goes back and underlines every fact. What someone was wearing, what someone ordered for dinner, what was said, etc, etc. Then he writes jokes about each of those facts. The jokes can be complete tangents from story, as long as they’re peripherally related. That way a 5-minute story ends up being a 20-minute bit. And the audience is brought along the whole time because it’s funny AND they want to hear the end of the story.
The Richardson Method
Told to me by Darrick Richardson, this is a great way to jump start topics. Think about your last 24 hours and write down each time your mood changed. Did someone cutting you off in traffic anger you? Did a friend doing an unexpected favor surprise you? Did a news story confuse you? When your emotions change, that is ripe for a joke. So much of comedy is about conveying emotion. So explore your own more often.
The Hofstetter Method
This is what I have been doing the last few years. Fed up with writing jokes with the sole purpose of getting laughs, I wanted to SAY something to the crowd. So I wrote a bunch of points I wanted to make. No jokes, just things I wanted people to know. If I had an hour to tell the world something, what would I tell them? Once I finished that, I had the premises for my new hour, I just had to find the things that were funny about each of those ideas.
The Partner Method
Maybe you’ve hit a wall with an existing bit, or you have a premise that isn’t going anywhere. Find a friend who makes you laugh and bounce ideas off each other for an hour (switch off so no one feels slighted). You will get new ideas directly from them, but more importantly you will look at your joke differently. If you’ve ever played scrabble, writing with a partner is like mixing up your tiles or spinning the board – you may see something obvious that you missed earlier.
Instead of trying to come up with five new minutes, why not try to turn five existing minutes into ten? Going over your existing jokes and punching them up with tags, callbacks, and added premises is a great way to beef up your act. The two easiest ways to do that are to juxtapose and to ask why. Juxtaposing involves looking at the same story from someone else’s perspective, or putting it in a different location or time. Have a story about fighting with a bad parent during Christmas shopping? What was the parent thinking? The kid? The clerk? Witnesses? What would you have been thinking if you were younger? Older? In a different time or location? All questions that could lead to new thoughts. Asking why involves taking the material where you state your opinion and ask yourself why you believe that. Unless it’s a universal truth, always ask yourself why. You hate the cold, great. Now ask yourself why? You’ll get to the root of the joke a lot faster – and the root of the joke is where the funny is.
Like I said, everyone writes differently. If you have a method that you use, please add it to the comments. But like on stage – be succinct! Because, no matter our writing methods, the thing we all need to know how to do is edit.