Getting choppy with standup - Mo Fanning Author talks comedy writing
Standup comedy

Getting choppy with standup

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It’s been a while since I updated readers on my bizarre bid to become a standup comedian. With nearly two terms under my belt, I’m well on the way to being an absolute beginner.

As with anything new, there are times when I despair at the lack of progress. I emerge often from the class with every word I thought hilarious crossed out, and my fledgling comedy brain mired in confusion.

The thing is when it comes to writing a story, I’m on solid ground. When I read back over new chapters, I see at once what works and what doesn’t. And – importantly – I know how to fix what’s broken. With standup, I’m nowhere near that perfect state. I know the theory, but putting it into practice isn’t as easy as it looks. So much depends on the writing.

Standup comedy demands a different skill set. The language is different. Any audience must be able to read my act as standup. I can’t shuffle into the spotlight, grab the microphone and tell a story. That’s been the hardest thing to accept.

This weekend, my ego gave itself a boost … and if you happen to be struggling to make progress with your latest writing project, I may offer help.

Standup comedy – experiment 1

This applies to standup, but you’ll easily adapt this exercise in self-flagellation to any writing project.

Just so long as you’ve read or seen enough of what you’re trying to write.

For this experiment, you’ll need

  • 1 willing partner/friend
  • 1 sample of your writing
  • A safe space (optional)

Hand your willing partner/friend a copy of your work in progress. Ask them to perform or read your work out loud.

That’s it really.

It’s all in the edit

Mr Fanning picked up my set and put on his ‘let me show you how it’s done‘ face. He started to read and within seconds I was shouting out. He was adding words here and there. Doing the thing my comedy teacher warned against.

Standup calls for choppy, very short sentences. It takes forever to edit six words into four and have it still make sense. And work as a gag.

It really helped to put myself in the shoes of my long-suffering standup comedy teacher. To hear what she hears each time I get up on the stage and try something new.

It made me think I might have learned something.

I reckon this would work for any creative project. As the writer, you know how it should sound and what will work. Get someone else to bring it to life. And you’ll see how easy it is to kill.

One word of warning, this experiment will drive a wedge of resentment between you and whoever you choose to support your quest to become a better writer.

Buy them nice flowers. It works.

By Mo Fanning

Mo Fanning is a British author of dark romantic comedies including the Book of the Year nominated bestseller 'The Armchair Bride', 'Rebuilding Alexandra Small' and 2022's hit holiday romcom 'Ghosted'.

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