Once you know your mode of ‘comic-unication’ (performance or publication), joke writing and career development have to proceed in tandemPhoto by Call Me Fred on Unsplash
People write comedy for performance or publication.
Performance includesStandup or Tiktok type skits, You Tube pranks (though I doubt many of the latter two are scripted).Sketch comedy like Saturday Night Live (SNL) or your local improv groups ( *1)Comic plays, movie comedy screenplays and sitcoms.
N.B. There is also musical comedy but its a niche area I know little about much like cartooning so is not covered here.
Publication involvesOne or two line jokes to the Readers Digest or Social Media joke groups or your own account. Cartoons (if you can draw).Satire / Parody for print (e.g. The New Yorker) , newspaper op-eds or online magazines (e.g. College Humor, The Onion, theLaughline.com, various Medium publications ).Joke books, funny stories, comedy novels — self published online or in print.
N.B. Nominally scripts and screenplays (the previous section) can be sold or optioned in print form. Hopefully to be eventually performed / produced.
Performance or Publication ?Comic
If you fancy yourself as funny or potentially funny person the first step is find the location of your nearest comedy open mics (OM) or improv group.
The difference is between solo acts and group acts. Usually between an individual telling jokes or funny stories and comic sketches.
There is invariably a Facebook group (or three) for OMs and improvs in your area.
BewareMusicians have them too so specify ‘comedy’ in your search .FB groups are often private and you have to apply and wait for an admin to approve you. Which can take minutes to days. So if there are several, apply to all from largest membership down.All OMs are not equal – ‘curated’ means you apply and the room runner uses a magical process to decide who they like.- invitation means “forget it “ as a newbie. Its likely a paid audience and they (and you) don’t want to bomb in front of them.You are looking for genuine OMs who usually ‘everyone gets on’ and ‘order picked out of a bucket ’ etc. You might still have to fill in an online form so the organizer knows what numbers to prepare for.Observe firstAttend the OMs. Genuine OMs are free as the experience involves sitting through mostly excruciating acts for a few decent laughs. You should feel a lot better about your chances after you see how low the bar is.OR Attend the comedy improv group (there are theatrical ones also which are no use to you). Some actively develop sketches more just develop their funny.Watch a lot of standup on You Tube and Netflix.Follow the steps in Joke Writing 101 below.Writer
If you are not remotely interested in standup or comedy improv or Tiktok or YouTube “comedy” .
It helps to know what your ultimate goal is e.g.
Writing satire for online or print magazinesWriting funny stories and books.CartoonsWriting comedies for stage or screen.
Mainly so that you start researching now — reading and viewing the comedic works that speak to you, sell the best and are regarded the standards of the form.
It’s a long art so the sooner you start actively and critically reading / viewing both the material and professional analysis / criticism the better.
Nevertheless the next step is unavoidable and universal for all comic writers.
Joke Writing 101Read jokes. Subscribe to Facebook groups / Twitter humor topics.Categorize them — what is the form?Replicate them — use the same template with different content.Post to somewhere you can get feedback. Facebook ‘Joke’ groups (not ‘Comedy’ they are usually industry sites and may or may not allow joke posting — you could get banned so ask).Keep a diary of any ideas you think are funny or interesting.Develop ideas out of this diary at least once a week into jokes and bits ( a series of jokes on a related topic) or more frequently if you are keen.Read online articles on joke writing and try out any suggested schemes ( a lot are only slightly useful but one or more will work for you).Read reviews on the books / lists below and grab a second hand or digital copy of the ones that sound most useful. This is optional but an accelerator.The GrindPractice in Public
Do be submitting to twitter, Facebook groups, joke sites or attending OM’s and improvs even if your ultimate goal is writing movies (*2) or any other type of long form comedy as they all grow out of jokes.
You only improve by bombing. Like startups failing is inevitable and welcomed — there is no other way of finding what works.
Writing is hard and long — to keep motivation it works to be surrounded by the like minded so join comedy groups, forums, mail lists to keep your energy.
*1 : Improv is sometimes used to generate scripts for directed performance e.g. the famous Second City company who gave us SNL , the Ghostbusters etc.
*2 You might also want to locate a screenwriting guide — its a unique format you will need to know.
There are many other lists out there — try Goodreads or good comics resource lists on their sites.
Julie Vick on online writing markets.
Warning: comedy books
A lot are biographies or failed comics selling their teaching schemes or gossip about the pro circuits. Check reviews of people whom are doing comedy not enthusiasts or beginners.
BooksHow To Write Funny Scott Dikkers. Onion cofounder. Step by step method to mine and develop jokes (ebook ). He has two other books in the series.The Comic Toolbox John Vorhaus.The Cheeky Monkey Tim Fergusson. An experienced standups guide to comedy basics and long form writing (how to migrate to sitcoms)
It’s good to read around but these are the books I’ve found practically useful.I’m glad to answer any questions I can or any feedback or helpful ‘practical’ books or resources.
I manage the Kill or Bomb space on Quora and Comedy Scene group on Facebook check either if you are interested in jokes and industry gossip.
How to Start Comic Writing was originally published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
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