Honing Comedy Writing Skills With Stand-Up and Improv

Posted on: Feb 20, 2024

Photo Credit: Stock Photo World // Shutterstock

By Brendan Fitzgibbons

Breaking into comedy writing is just the first step. The real challenge is mastering the craft. While it’s true that humor is subjective, not everyone is naturally funny. For evidence, watch a C-SPAN program for more than two minutes—if you can handle discussions on farm subsidies.

If you’re the one who brings laughter to friends, co-workers and family (without bribing them), you’re in luck. These innate comedic chops are the perfect foundation for a successful career in comedy writing. Improv, stand-up and podcasting are three avenues for honing your craft.

Podcasting: Your Personal Comedy Lab

Today’s comedy landscape is flourishing, partly because podcasts are everywhere. Imagine if historical figures had access to this medium—Jesus might have hosted a show called “Savior Behavior” with a modest dozen followers.

Launching a podcast is an excellent way to refine your comedic voice. It often requires pre-writing and research, allowing you to experiment with humor. While lacking immediate audience feedback, a podcast is an unrestricted space to explore what makes you laugh—the essence of humor.

The informal nature of podcasts helps you discover the natural rhythm and peculiarities of conversation that can enhance your writing. As you converse, you’ll find that spontaneous reactions are often the funniest, translating well into scripts and sketches.

Stand-Up: The Comedy Crucible

Stand-up is a prime path for improving your comedic writing. It’s a direct test of your material. If a joke lands with a live audience, it’s likely to resonate on screen, too. Treat stand-up gigs as previews for your ultimate script.

Stand-up teaches the art of “punching up” a joke—refining it to hit just right. The editing process is at the heart of comedy writing. Stand-up also toughens you up for writer’s room rejections. A bombed joke in a pitch meeting is nothing compared to dead silence from an audience. Trust me, it’s a lesson in resilience.

Improv: “Yes, And…” to Better Writing

If you’re skeptical about improv’s benefits for writing, you’re missing out. Despite its quirky reputation, improv is a goldmine of principles that can elevate your comedic scenes.

The central tenet of improv is “yes, and…,” a commitment to build upon the scene and never reject your partner’s ideas. This constructive mindset is perfect for scriptwriting. Embracing each concept, you can improve upon it creatively.

Improv also teaches you to trust your instincts and react naturally, which leads to authentic and humorous dialogue. Whenever I’m stuck on a character’s line, I return to the reality of the scene and listen to my gut for what comes next.

And yes, you might throw a few invisible knives around. Just don’t overstock on black-rimmed glasses.

Brendan Fitzgibbons is a comedy writer and actor living in Pasadena. He’s written for Comedy Central, The Onion, NBC, HuffPost and Bravo. As an actor, he’s appeared on Comedy Central, MTV and “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.” His podcast, “Spiritual As****e” was named a Top Indie Podcast by Stitcher.

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