Coming up with material for a comedy routine has to be the ‘fun part’ of the gig for many comedians. While you may get a buzz from performing in public, you’ll also no doubt find it to be a nerve wracking experience and particularly if you find yourself being heckled or choking when you can’t think of your next line. Writing your material on the other hand is a quiet and relaxed process you can enjoy with a cup of tea, and is also a very creative endeavor that feels really rewarding when it’s well received.
Coming up with fresh material though can be a lot of hard work, and knowing what will work live and what will bomb can be a nigh clairvoyant skill – particularly when you’re starting out. If you’re struggling to find material for your comedy routine then, or if you aren’t sure about certain parts of your script, here are a few tips you can use to beat your writers’ block and improve the rhythm of your stuff. For a warm-up, read Digital Dante at Columbia to see how things could look.
Tip 1: Work With What You Know
If you ever do a creative writing course in fiction, this will be one of the first things you get taught. Writing what you know is a good strategy to take because it will mean your writing is more genuine and relatable and this will come across when you perform it/when someone reads it. This doesn’t mean you can only talk about things that have happened to you though, it just means making sure that there is an emotional truth behind what you’re saying. If you’re recounting an embarrassing story, then think of an embarrassing story from your own past and then work elements of that into your sketch. This way it will resonate more with the audience and you’ll be able to really relate to what you’re saying rather than sounding too detached from it.
Tip 2: Perform For Yourself
If you have new material you’re unsure of, then of course it makes a lot of sense to try practicing it in front of friends and family to see if it’s a hit or not. Before you get to that point though, you should have tried performing the routine in front of the mirror, or by recording it, and by doing this you can practice your delivery and see what it sounds like out loud. Some things will just work much better on paper and not translate well when you perform them out loud, so make sure you are intimately familiar with your script and the way you’re going to present it even before you start testing it in front of others.
Tip 3: Cut it Down
One of the things most freelance writers can benefit from is going through their work and cutting out great chunks of it which the writer unleashed can verify. This can be a very painful experience which many people compare to casting out their favorite children, but being able to step back and do what’s best for the overall flow of your performance is an important skill to cultivate.
In short, long rambling speeches with no jokes are going to bore your audience and lose the momentum you’ve generated, while leaving in your slightly less hilarious jokes is only going to bring down the ‘average quality’. By being ruthless and removing some of the parts you’re most proud of, what you will be left with is only the very best material with the minimum ‘filler’ in between. You can file away those unused jokes and stories for another day or just to read later at your leisure, but only the very best and relevant material belongs in your routine.
Tip 4: Get Outside
If you’re sitting at your desk for hours on end and inspiration isn’t striking then you need to get outside to find more inspiration. The great thing about comedy is that it’s all around us all the time – funny interactions we have in coffee shops can provide material, as can films we watch, or things our pets do. Rather than hoping for something to materialize itself when you’re sitting alone in the dark, you should be outside experiencing life and surrounding yourself with potential inspiration. Carrying a notepad is one of the best things you can do to improve the amount of material you have, as this way you’ll be able to jot down the ideas as they come to you wherever inspiration may strike.
Jimmy Cornwall is a stand up comedian in Melbourne. He conducts a lot of comedy workshops around Australia. He just enjoys making people laugh and derives great satisfaction in doing so. He likes blogging and speaks about the nitty gritty’s of his profession on his blog.