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Apr 172012

If you attend our weekly meetings on a regular basis, you notice that some of the same topics come up time and again. The big three are  politics, racism, and sex. Beyond that we hit the observational humor. Someone points out the mundane material of life, often without a punchline. The observation itself is supposed to be humorous, but it often falls flat.

If you find yourself going in these directions too often, then this exercise might break you out of your rut. This exercise provides that lifeline, if you use it regularly. The exercise comes from improvisational theater, but it can kick a stuck writer in the ass.

Choose a mundane or even a ridiculous activity. Good examples include tying one’s shoe laces so they never become untied, apologizing for things that are not your fault, making the sound of spaghetti boiling in a pot with one’s mouth, timing the nose picking that you do in traffic so that the driver next to you will see everything, etc. The more mundane or the more absurd, the better.

For the next step, imagine that you are the world’s leading authority on that topic. Interview yourself on the page as if you are a journalist. Ask yourself the following kinds of questions:

  • When and how did you discover your passion for the topic?
  • How long have you been doing this activity?
  • What are the finer, subtler points?
  • What advice do you give to beginners?
  • What are some little known things about the activity?
  • What sort of preparation is involved?


Just imagine all sorts of questions that are normally asked of an expert in an activity. Take it to an irrational extreme.  Remember that when a ”joke” comes to mind, go ahead and jump to it and write it down.  If nothing is jumping out at you, just play both roles with yourself on the page. See how ridiculous you can make it by being dead serious about something stupid.  Find out if there really is an expert out there for your activity in a google search.  You might be surprised. I am a perpetual 5th grader myself, so I looked up “expert in flatulence.” Among other things, I came across the maestro of farts from the turn of the century, Le Petomane, or the “Fartiste.”

This is the sort of exercise that can produce a monologue pretty quickly just from the utter absurdity of the topic matched with the stupidity of being an expert in it.  Even if you stray back into old topics like sex, race, and politics, you might find a fresh angle by using this exercise. For folks looking for jokes, the exercise can give you a fresher way to look at the topic and help you find more connectors. Connectors the words in jokes that can give you more than one meaning and point to not only a punchline that works, but a series of tags as well. See Greg Dean’s book Step by Step to Stand-up Comedy for more information on connectors and joke structure.

Remember that none of these prompt exercises can produce funny material on their own.  They just help you punch through the first stage.  Joke mechanics and editing–that’s all up to you.

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