Saturday, December 8, 2007

Stand Up Comedy 101 - The Funny

In my last post I discussed the Set Up. Here I'll summarize The Funny, as described by Judy Carter, in her excellent book, The Comedy Bible.

The Funny

Once you have the set-up -- the serious part -- you just need to think about how to express this in a funny way. The quickest and easiest way is through the “act out.” The Funny has two elements

  1. The Act Out. This is where you act out the premise. You act out the situation in the set-up. As Judy says, “Instead of talking about someone or something, you perform it. You turn into the people or things you mentioned in the setup – actually act them out.”

It doesn’t have to be a grand performance. You just take on the attitude of the characters in the set-up. Here again is Robin William’s set-up, with the act-out to follow.

“When you have a baby, you have to clean up your act. You can’t come in drunk and go, ‘Hey, here’s a little switch. Daddy’s going to throw up on you.’”

Here is another example of a simple act-out by Steve Wright. The unstated attitude is, “You know what’s weird about babies?”

“[Premise] Babies don’t need a vacation. But I still see them at the beach. It pisses me off. [Now, here comes the Funny.] When no one’s looking, I’ll go over to a baby and ask, [act-out] ‘What are you doing here? You haven’t worked a day in your life.’”

Now, here are Judy’s set ups with the act outs. Notice that the premises have been elaborated, with more specific detail, giving a richer set up.

  • [set up] Piercing is stupid. It’s painful enough just to being in a relationship hurts so much, working for a stupid boss hurts, paying taxes hurts. There is no need to add to it. in a relationship. There is no need to add to it. [act out] “Oh gee, I’m just not feeling enough pain in my life. I think I need to pierce my tongue.”
  • [set up] It’s hard being pierced when you go through metal detectors at the airport. [act out] “’Buzzzz!’ [security guard] ‘Please remove all of your jewelry, miss.’ [pierced person] ‘Oh, OK! [Then act out, removing a lot of rings in weird places.] Can you help me with this one/’” {imagine where she’s pointing}
  1. The Mix-Up. Although any joke can end with the act-out, you can get point out another dimension of the subject with this tool. Judy Carter states, “A good mix is where a comic connects two elements that people don’t associate with one another. The laugh comes from the way the comic connects them. It’s the ‘surprise’ element that causes laughter.”

Mixes generally start with “Can you imagine if” or “What if” and are almost always followed by another act-out.

Here is an example of a mix by Dennis Miller.

“I view a visit to the therapist in much the same way I view a visit to the hairdresser… When I leave the office my head looks great; around an hour later, it’s all f'd up and I can’t get it to look that way on my own. ‘Excuse me, doc, can I get a little mousse for my id?’”

He mixes therapist and hairdresser, and follows it with an act out of himself talking to the therapist, incorporating elements of the mix. The humor is in the surprise and the juxtaposition of unlikely elements.

That's it. That's the basic structure of putting together a solid joke for stand up comedy: The set up followed by the act-out and the mix-up. Join us on Wednesday to try out your ideas and to see the first few bits that the other comics have developed. December 12, 7:30 PM at Marianas Eye Institute on Beach Road.

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