5 Things Stand Up Comedy Taught Me About Writing
Happy 2017! I took a break, but am now back on the blogging wagon.
Most writers have day jobs, which feed into their writing. Every Friday I’ll be asking a writer what unexpected lessons their day job has taught them about the craft.
Today, stand up comedian and screenwriter Jessica Glassberg shares how stand up comedy has improved her writing.
Jessica Glassberg is a comedy writer and standup comedian. For ten years, she was the head writer on "The Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon" and performed standup on the nationally syndicated show five times. She has also written on “Zeke and Luther,” for Disney XD, “A Hollywood Christmas at The Grove” for EXTRA, and "The Screen Actors Guild Awards" (where her jokes were highlighted on E!’s “The Soup,” EntertainmentWeekly.com, and Hollywood.com). Similarly, Glassberg was a featured performer on “The History of the Joke with Lewis Black” on The History Channel. Most recently, Glassberg wrote, directed and appeared in the premiere of “Ben and Becca’s Totally Retro B’nai Mitzvah,” a completely interactive comedy production (a la “Tony and Tina’s Wedding”). Additionally, Jessica’s original monologues have been published by Hal Leonard Corporation in the “Comedic Monologues That Are Actually Funny,” series for Women, Men, Teens and Kids.
Jessica is also a prolific digital writer, with her work featured on: HelloGiggles.com, Reductress.com, xoJane.com, HotMomsClub.com, Kveller.com, AbsrdCOMEDY.com, attn.com, DailyDisclosure.com and Torquemag.io.
Lesson #1 : Whatever You Write You’ll Need to Rewrite
No matter how natural or off the cuff they might seem, pretty much every joke a comic tells on TV or at a professional show has been carefully crafted. It was been written, rewritten, discarded, returned to and rewritten again and again. As much as I’d like to believe that every time I put pen to paper (or fingertips to keyboard), that genius flows out, the truth is, it’s all about a perpetual loop of revisiting and revising.
Lesson #2 : Make Time To DO IT!
Anyone can call themselves a stand-up comic, but you aren’t one if you don’t perform. Similarly, anyone can say they are a writer, but you actually have to write to BE a writer. I’ve met people who claim to be writers but have nothing to show for it. And heck, as a comedy writer writing a funny tweet, “counts” as honing your craft. But you can’t just wait for a writing. You need to write something… in a journal, on a blog, in a funny birthday card to your grandma… anything.
Lesson #3 : We All Need Feedback
In stand-up, the moment I tell a joke in front of an audience I get immediate feedback. Did the audience laugh or not? And having that instant gratification (or frustration), has taught me how invaluable it is to understand how others react to my work. With writing, I don’t always get feedback on something until it is already published or optioned. But there is always plenty of material that gets passed on and it helps to understand why. Often times I am too close to the work to get the best perspective. See, in the midst of the aforementioned process of writing and rewriting comes reading and rereading. I read and reread and reread… and reread… everything I write so much that I inevitably reach the point where I am too invested in the characters or the story or just plain hate everything and need a fresh set of eyes. I have my own script analysis service, but, I too, need others’ viewpoints. This doesn’t mean that writers should listen to all of the naysayers, but if you give a piece of writing to five people, and all five have an issue with the same section, chances are it probably needs to be reworked.
Lesson #4 : Be Original
Sure, in stand-up you may hear that so-and-so is the next Pryor or DeGeneres or Carlin… but if they’re going to make it, they have to be original. The golden rule in comedy is that you don’t steal others’ material, so if I want any respect and stage time, I have to be original in my joke writing. But it’s also about stage presence, joke delivery and working with the audience. So, that’s why I know that as a writer I need to find my own voice. As much as I may want to emulate Nora Ephron’s pithy dialogue or David Sedaris’ sardonic wit, frankly, “I’ve Gotta Be Me.” (Cue: Sammy Davis Jr.)
Lesson #5 : Be Prepared To Throw Away Great Ideas
I may love the idea a joke. I can love the message that it is intended to send and love how it makes me laugh. But if I can’t get the wording right, or the topic isn’t in my “voice,” it might be time to retire the idea. I have learned that, in my other writing, every idea isn’t necessarily as precious as I might think. If I’m writing a TV pilot and I hear that a very similar show is coming to network TV in the fall, the chances are that much less that someone will want to purchase my concept. Or if I write a scene and it’s the greatest scene the world would ever know, but it just doesn’t work with the story I’m telling, it’s gotta go. Basically, I can’t go all Gollum on everything.
Thanks to Jessica for this week's post! Any valuable lessons you've learned from your day job? Do share!