Essence Comedy in Theory & Practice


Comedy is a serious business. As in Magic in the Mirror, Comedy Laughs are provoked, but beneath the obvious chatter and trivial pursuits, Great Truths prevail, and the audience is open to the Uplifting Force, an as-yet unknown major player in the Quantum Dimensions.

Comedy is a great way to penetrate past the defenses and get to the core, and can be used to slide up the scale of Being to the God State. As you climb the dimensions, the nature of your problems will change, but the problems will never completely go away.

Here are a few of the subjects we’ll be covering in next week’s upcoming Comedy Workshop, to be held both in-person and online (both are available) on Memorial Day Weekend, May 27th, 28th, 29th and 30th:

  • DOUBLETALK — The comedian SEEMS to be talking English, yet you don’t understand a bloody word of it. “It’s a napid day, isn’t it??? It was brackid this morning, but it became moistesse later on. Quite a bit of ristan on the surmentate, don’t you think? Oh, you’re one of those fislong citizens, eh?” — What you’ve just heard is called “doubletalk” and it’s highly technical, and not all that easy to do rightly. Some doubletalkers use a weird personal version of pig-latin, some cross real words with fake, some use tone changes. some prefer to make it sound like English, some use it to speak foreign languages without saying a single real word. I like to imitate the SOUND and RHYTHM of the language I’m imitating, along with the facial expressions and body-language of that particular culture. I’ve had billions of years of practice pretending to be something organic, and so have you — maybe it’s time to refresh your memory on the subject. Doubletalk can be funny if it’s used sparingly, as you would use any illustration.
  • AD-LIBS — There are two basic kinds of ad-lib; the first is something oddball or off-the-wall, something that just now occurred to you. The second type of ad-lib is one that you have used before, one of a stable of ad-libs that you can call up from the depths like a spirit, to save you in a moment of dead air and lifeless audience. Ad-libs don’t come easy, should be used sparingly, and should ALWAYS be delivered as if you just thought of it — simply re-create the moment when you first thought of it. If you’re paying attention and living life in the God-State, you should do all right.
  • BLACKOUTS — A blackout is literally lighted during the gag, then the stage is blacked out right after the punchline. The blackout can be fast or gradual, if there’s someone at the lighting board or a computer has been programmed to call its own lights. The effect is that the audience sees the blackout and realizes at once that the joke is over, the punchline has been delivered, and that it’s okay to laugh right out loud. Most folks are totally afraid to laugh, and nobody except Milton Berle’s mother would want to be the first to laugh in public.
  • BURLESQUE — This used to be a fine art for the comedian who wanted to make really big bucks, because you played to drunks and totally disconnected prostitutes in the downstairs bar in the local whorehouses, of which there are always plenty. The strippers need time to towel-down and breathe, so they send in the comic to appease the audience, which of course wants the girls back, which often means rotten fruits and vegetables get hurled your way, but the laughs are cheap and easy, the sex and drugs abound, and the money’s good.
  • CARDS — Every PUNCHLINE gets written out on a 3″x 5″ or 4″ x 6″ HEAVY index card, the size depending upon your age and eyesight. Think of the card as a memory stimulus, not a complete storybook. Every punchline should contain the setup or enough of the setup to make it easy for you to remember which setup goes with that punchline. Every punchline needs to be honed down to fit your own style and timing. Never read directly from a card. Use the cards to help you slow down, to resist the urge to “get it over with” and get offstage and hide somewhere until it’s all over. I like to hand-write my cards, which helps me to learn the joke.
  • DELIVERY — Jokes are not, in themselves, funny. You have to MAKE them funny somehow, with timing, delivery and a sense of fun. Every line has to appear fresh and original, spontaneous and fluid, and that in a nutshell is delivery. Think of delivery in the same way that a UPS or FEDEX driver would think of delivery — the package arrives intact and unharmed at the destination. The deep secret of delivery is that you ENJOY these jokes, you like to tell them, to hear them, again and again; they are your longtime friends and companions and they help you make it through many dark places and long lonely nights.
  • HECKLERS — The only thing a heckler has going on inside is to brutally assault you in order to get some badly needed attention and approval. Most hecklers are drunk or meth-toxed, so there’s really no arguing with them, no way to win. The only thing you can do is wait for a lull in the audience, then at a silent moment, deliver the killing blow, a retort that sends them spinning and makes their companions howl with glee at the cut-down. I used to be careful to not upset hecklers, but now, I simply pull out the stops and let it rip, because I have no time for assholes. I don’t recommend that attitude if you’re just starting out, but it does work for some.
  • HUMOR vs. WIT — Straight up comedy is raw and in-your-face. Wit relies on intellect, thinking, and most of all, analysis, the very thing we’re NOT looking for, so I eschew didactic obfuscation whenever possible, and sail right on into the meat of the matter. Wit is fine for George Bernard Shaw — he couldn’t take a pie in the face at any range.
  • INSULTS — There are a few comedians who have made it entirely on insult humor, such as Don Rickles and Phyllis Diller, who insulted herself and her husband more or less continuously. Insults should be used sparingly if at all. It’s too easy to lose the sympathy and support of the audience by attacking someone who is essentially unarmed, meaning a humorless subject of your comedy, such as a politician, lawyer wall street broker, or your average banker. An insult must NEVER be delivered in anger, frustration or fear. If you’re not feeling good and having fun, the audience will sense it, and nobody really wants you to draw blood — that’s reserved for sports events like boxing, football, hockey, ice hockey and speed skating.
  • INTROS & OUTROS — Never let facts louse up a funny introduction. Always use a preparatory line before the snapper — don’t let the snapper go until the audience is ready to catch it. One great way to get the audience over to the next person on the bill is to throw them a straight line that they can cap, such as: “He’s not only a lousy comedian — he’s a lousy lover!” The person being introduced has his line ready: “Your wife tells you everything!” and the audience howls in the transition to his routine — they’re with him. Male or female, this works every time. “Our next speaker needs no introduction, because nobody cares who he is, anyway.”
  • RESPONSES — When you’ve been introduced, it’s a good idea to have a line ready, such as “Thank you for that terrific introduction. It will always be with me, like the roast beef and gravy.”
  • “K” WORDS — Vaudeville and other forms of local entertainment had a start back in Roman times. The Eight-Act Bill was created over thousands of years of experiment and failure by literally millions of entertainers over the millenia. Thousands upon thousands of vaudeville and music hall acts had to fail until someone noticed that the only act you can open with is the so-called “Flash Act”, which is typically noisy and complicated, busy and extravagant. This fulfills the “Get the Attention” part of the three-part comedy rules. Don’t overlook the fact that “K” sounds get laughs while other consonants lie there wondering what went wrong.
  • LANGUAGE — Language is all about attitude; it’s a dance and a song. Listen and watch and GET it, hop into the form the way a method actor climbs into a role. FEEL the language, dance with it, make the moves, feel the shifting patterns and SWAY and SWING with it. When imitating Japanese, think Japanese, Be Japanese. Every culture has its own feel and tone, which I’ll illustrate during the workshop.
  • MAN IN BOX — Back in living theater days, there was a showstopper if you had a box in the balcony. A stooge would call out shredding comments from the box, reducing the onstage comedian to a shriveling mess. This was a conscious effort to imitate the heckler, but with a pro, not an amateur, at the controls. It’s a finely written act, not an accident.
  • MONOLOGUES — There are two basic types of monologue — one jumps around from subject to subject without much regard, if any, for segues and connections; the other kind is a singular subject, such as returning an unwanted gift, or the weather, or how crazy or fast or stupid the world is getting these days. Monologue is always dangerous and the territory is steep, rocky and riddled with sink-holes. Monologues are the backbone of the professional comedian, unless it’s a team act.
  • TEAM ACTS — There are two kinds of team acts — duos and theatrical casts. Sometimes a group show or comedy team works, mostly they don’t, and none of them work forever, not even Laurel & Hardy, because people change, tastes change.
  • OCCUPATIONS — When you work a crowd that constitutes a Singularity, such as a group of Elks, a crowd of medical people or salespeople, you need to know their language, or at least a few words. For example, the word “borax” means “shoddy work” in the furniture business. When you throw out a few “in” words or phrases, you become one of them, and they will laugh better and more often.
  • RAUNCHY JOKES — Dirty words get old real fast, and it’s no big deal to get cheap laughs. With off-color jokes, you never have to learn the craft. Shocking words? There aren’t any, these days, so there’s really no excuse to pepper your act with scatology or sexually explicit gags. There are SO many ways to get a belly laugh, why go there?
  • PROPS, GIMMICKS & SHTICK — Many comedians use a prop to bolster their confidence, but some go much further, using a cigar to get the timing like Groucho, constantly adjusting tie and cuffs, like Rodney Dangerfield, or almost playing the violin like Henny Youngman, or kicking a bamboo cane and tipping a bowler hat, like Charlie Chaplin. Props have tons of uses, all of which we’ll explore at the workshop this coming Memorial Day weekend.
  • ROASTING — A comedy roast is created along the lines of insult humor, where the target is someone who can professionally dish it right back out at the attackers. If you ever find yourself running a mortuary, seriously consider the Comedy Wake, it’ll keep those repeat customers coming back for more. A roast is the surest way to fund-raise short of a direct stickup. Committees bring chaos, so make sure that the roast is under the direction of one person, someone at whom the buck stops.
  • SAVES — Every comedian needs a “save” when everything is dumping and you’re going down faster than the Titanic. If you have to use more than one “save” at a performance, you’re not yet ready for prime-time.
  • SKETCHES — Take a joke and express it as a comedy sketch, that’s all there is to it, except that in a sketch, you can use running gags and stacked gags and a variety of props, body moves and stage actions, plus lighting and sound, to accomplish your belly-laughs.
  • SWITCHES & CONVERSIONS — Almost any joke can have its subject switched with no harm to the humor. You’re in a convention of architects and designers, so you say, “Flash! A tornado just ripped through Las Vegas and did $500 million dollars worth of improvements!” See the switch there?
  • WOMEN IN THE AUDIENCE — The fact is, and any comedian, furniture sales person or medical assistant will agree, that women control the audience. If you don’t win over the women first, the men will dare not laugh. “Do you really think that’s funny?” coming from a woman at the table can squelch any ripple of amusement whatever. Moreover, it’s best to stay away from “son” jokes, although “daughter” jokes are okay, and “husband” and “lover” jokes are fair game. Once you understand how to win over the women in the audience, you will be ready for the big time.
  • ANALYTICS vs. INSTINCT — Analytics don’t help. Instinct does. If you take it apart to see what makes it tick, it stops ticking. Observation changes the thing observed, not always for the better.

There are so many “rules” to good comedy, but the boildown is that if you follow just those simple rules posted above, you’ll do just fine. If you use comedy to relieve the tedium and painful drabness of life, use it to uplift others and bring them just a bit above the misery of organic pursuits, if you just loosen the nuts on the grinding wheel a little, you’ll have accomplished all that anyone can ask of comedy.

See You At The Top!!!