Notes From a Life-Long Learner: Comedy Writing
"It's the jokes. I need the jokes."
This is something a young library patron said to me the other day. He wanted me to find him a DVD of Abbott and Costello’s greatest movies and routines. I felt an instant kinship with the boy, whom I’ll call Hal. “Yes,” I thought as I took to the catalog. “It’s the jokes.”
I remember being a kid and watching Abbott & Costello movies every Saturday morning on one of New York City’s local stations, channel 11. Films such as Buck Privates and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, although made in the 1940s, are still hilarious today.
“I’m not into The Three Stooges,” he told me, as I searched the catalog. “It’s just guys hitting each other.”
I didn’t comment. I happen to like the physical comedy of The Stooges (I’m so familiar with them, I’ve long since dropped the “Three” out of their name). Call it a guilty pleasure, if you must. There’s just something about them. It does my heart good to know that in a simpler, gentler time people were able to laugh at a large man crashing into an occupied baby carriage at full speed.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that it takes a little more to write the kind of comedic material that can stand from decade to decade. It’s the jokes. It’s Abbott and Costello and The Marx Brothers; stand-up comedians like Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Dave Chapelle, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman; sketch writers like Tina Fey; and humorists like David Sedaris.
These are just a few of my many favorites—diverse people with different styles. What they all have in common is the writing. They make it look easy. But it isn't.
I’d always wanted to try my hand at some comedy writing—just for laughs. Hal’s visit to the library gave me inspiration. I checked out Comedy Writing Secrets, and after some study, and with total respect for the comedian’s craft, I took the liberty of writing a joke.
You know what amazes me about the first few days of spring—you know when it’s only about 60 degrees and there’s still a chance of snow? I’m always amazed at folks who wear too little on those first days of spring. They’re like the equivalent of a needy first date. They come out of the house all smiles and Spring is like: “Whoa, whoa. Flip flops? Strappy tank top? Hey—I’m not looking to get serious or anything. I barely know you.” Next day, it’s windy and really cold. A total shock. It’s like Spring is saying, “Back off! Put on some clothes, will ya?”
Don’t worry; I’m keeping my day job.
Do you have a favorite comedian or comedy writer? Feel free to share.
Previously on NYPL blogs: Comedy! (insert witty subtitle phrase here)