‘It’s like learning to speak a new language,’ the stand-up comedy teacher said. ‘At first, it won’t sound like you.’
It never crossed my mind I’d need to find new ways to write to deliver a gag, but three weeks into a twelve-week course, I’ve come to see that writing to be read is very different to creating words for stand-up. Readers frown on short choppy sentences – unless your aim is to create pace and tension. The stand-up world loves them. Punctuation is king – delivered in the form of short pause-shaped full stops. Words like ‘and’, ‘but’ and ‘however’ have little place in the set-up of a joke, they confuse. As someone who spent many years learning how to write longer sentences and vary the flow of words, this is proving harder than standing on the stage and delivering my feeble attempts at humour.
What’s proving fascinating is how hard it is to use language and make it funny without sounding like you’re trying. As my group of fellow wannabe comedians workshop ideas, we’re often shot down for picking topics that have been ‘done to death’ or that sound like us trying to be funny. And yes, I thought the whole point was to root your gags in absurd ground, but why? That’s not how I write novels. I often start with a situation that in the hands of any other character might be everyday, normal and dry. The comedy comes from the people who populate scenes. It’s the same with stand-up. The humour lives with the person delivering the joke. It needs to become personal.
Hemingway is often credited with having claimed there’s nothing to writing … ‘all you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein’. It seems this rule applies to stand-up. You’re the fall guy. Everything must happen to you if the audience is to come down on your side.
Next step in my stand-up journey is to find a topic. I have several in mind though worry they sound like someone who tries too hard. Something that’s been done before.
Keep coming back, it works.