One question invariably pops up whenever I’m speaking on comedy—especially if I’m speaking to comics, writers, or others in the profession. They want to know if comedy has changed over the years. It has in many ways. For comedy to be effective, it must be fresh, innovative, invigorating. That means it has to change.
That doesn’t mean that I’m comparing the legendary comics of past generations to the bright, sparkling comedians of today. Not at all. Yesterday’s comics became legends because their comedy was right for the time. Today’s entertainers are successful because their comedy is incisive, real, and funny. The fact that comedy may change with time doesn’t mean that one era is superior to another. Henny Youngman had a different delivery than Mort Sahl who worked differently from Jerry Seinfeld. They all got big laughs from their respective audiences. Abbott and Costello had a technique that was not similar to Martin and Lewis who performed differently than Sonny and Cher. All were delightfully entertaining.
So yes, comedy changes in several ways, but its impact on the listeners remains the same—it makes them laugh.
In 1990 I published a book for comedy writers called Comedy Writing Workbook. It was a collection of practice sessions on various facets of humor writing. I called these “workouts.” For quite a while, and for whatever reason, the book became difficult to obtain. Either buyers couldn’t get it, or it took a long time for delivery. Recently, ROUND TABLE recovered the rights to this book and we issued a newer version.
Obviously, in going through the pages again for this recent volume, I had to take into account how comedy may have changed from the original publication date until now. We did incorporate many lines from newer comics. Some of them hadn’t yet established their stardom in 1990. Some of them may not even have been born then. But their comedy has now been proven to be excellent and we wanted to include them in this newer volume. We felt compelled to do this for two reasons: to give the artists the credit that they had certainly earned and to make use of many of their lines as examples of current techniques.
Years ago, when I spoke on comedy, people would ask, “Who’s going to replace the legends like Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, George Burns and the like?” My answer was that we had no way of knowing. None of us can predict who’s going to make it, who’s going to drop out of the profession, or who’s going to become a legend. However, I personally did guarantee that someone would. And I was right. We have new legends in the comedy world and they deserve to be there. I will reinforce my reply now. Comedy is in good hands and always will be. Fresh, innovative, creative comedy minds will flourish in every era. Be at ease; someone will always be ready to make us laugh.
However, in re-editing the original volume, I discovered something about comedy that surprised me—although humor may change through the years, the process that creates comedy remains basically the same. And there is a definite process that humor writers utilize—either consciously or subconsciously. There’s a step by step progression that may not write the joke directly, but puts the writer’s mind into “funny” mode.
That’s why in redesigning this book, I retained most of the original workouts. They still applied. The examples connected with them are updated in many cases, but the process is intact. There are 22 separate chapters on different aspects of comedy writing. Within those chapters are a total of 87 separate workouts. They offer various techniques that deal with writing jokes, sketches, or sitcom scripts.
There’s one other aspect of humor that I discovered remains the same through the years—comedy writing is fun. That’s why I ended practically every chapter and every separate workout with the same words—“Have Fun.”
Master Course in
A 12-week email class that covers the basics of comedy writing. Features lessons and feedback.
Master Course in
A 9-step program that takes the writer through the process of developing a monologue. You will work on a topic of your own choosing.