The Open Mic Life podcast is an Australian podcast about starting out in standup comedy hosted by open mic’ers Doug Gordon and Dilruk Jayasinha and featuring an interview with a different guest each week.
Sometimes they interview fellow open mic’ers with only a couple years experience, and sometimes they book some actual headliners with 10+ years of experience. In December 2013, they had 20+ year comedy veteran Gerard McCulloch on for a conversation that focused largely on the art of writing comedy. Below are some of the highlights of what McCulloch had to say, and you can also listen to the full episode here.
1. Don’t Throw Anything Away
The first bit of advice comes early. At about the 6-minute mark, the three talk about what to do with jokes that aren’t working. The first thing you can try is asking for advice! Don’t be too proud to take your joke to someone else and see if they can help you unlock the funny. If you find yourself unable to even communicate the thought of the joke to your friend, maybe that joke wasn’t meant to be in your act. Maybe it would make a better YouTube video, or sketch. Maybe it could be a blog post. Explore the possibility of exporting your thought to other mediums.
2. Learn The Mechanics
Around the 22-minute mark comes a specific tool for the crafting of a joke, called the “Pull back, and reveal.” This is where a comedian sets up a situation and then gives away a detail that sheds new light on the scene and flips it in an unexpected way.
McCulloch points out that the first stage a comedian goes through is to get onstage and just say, “Here’s this thing that happened. Isn’t this funny?” But urges you to instead take that same thought and consider how to write it so you come at it from a different direction.
Once you learn several of these mechanics, you can apply them to all your jokes. Which of these cookie cutter techniques will best serve the thought you’re trying to convey? This approach ties in nicely to the episode’s next bit of advice…
3. Analyze Your Sets
At about the 32-minute mark McCulloch shares his method for analyzing his sets. He uses a tick system – after the show he puts one, two, or three marks by each joke depending on how they did. If a joke doesn’t go well, it gets a slash, and eventually gets dropped altogether.
4. Identify Holes In Your Act
At the 38-minute mark, McCulloch discusses how his background in economics leads him to consider his act in an analytical sense. If there are events that happen regularly, say a Super Bowl, or the Olympics, he might write 5-10 minutes on the subject, and just keep it in his back pocket since he knows that event will come around again.
Even though these events may be temporary, they are also recurring. Besides, the more things you have material on, the better you’ll be able to handle anything that comes up.