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Lifelong Learning

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.

One of my favorite Abbott & Costello routines  is “Who’s on First?” which appeared in their film The Naughty Nineties.  This is exactly the kind of thing Hal, who must be about 12 years old, wanted.

“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 ChapelleJerry 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 springyou 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? HeyI’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)


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great post :)

great post Jyna! thanks for linking to mine-- I've been thinking about doing a 'Lifelong Learner' piece sometime soon...

You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll laugh again ...

Right now I'm reading Hail, Hail, Euphoria!: Presenting the Marx Brothers in Duck Soup, the Greatest War Movie Ever Made by Roy Blount Jr. I figured that it would reinforce my love of Duck Soup, but Blount makes so many references to so many other books and films that my reserves list is growing by leaps and bounds. I grew up watching the George Carlin HBO specials, and I used to listen to his records when I was going to bed at night after I finished my homework. I was especially fond of side 2 of Class Clown. Welcooooome to limbooooooooo!!! I am Comic is a great documentary. I also thought that Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work was very well done. And The Aristocrats is both very funny and very raunchy, so ... yeah, these would be better for grownups than 12-year olds. In terms of classic black-and-white comedy, I'm a fan of Abbot & Costello, Jack Benny, and the Marx Brothers. Laurel & Hardy I enjoy sometimes, but if I see too much of them, they pass my annoyance threshold. The Ritz Brothers, on the other hand, pass my annoyance threshold the moment they appear on the screen. And the Three Stooges just make my brain hurt.

Comedy is for the realists!

Wow. It's nice to see that the NY Public Library has so many resources for people to use for listening to great, classic comedy. I always thought that stand-up comedy was for the thinking person, because it takes intelligence and a sense of reality to really appreciate the parodies of Life that are presented in comedy. I think Rodney Dangerfield is one of the best stand up comics in history, along with George Carlin and Richard Pryor. I may be visiting the library to get access to some of their recordings.


How could I forget Rodney Dangerfield? Talk about jokes! Love his short, punchy, self-deprecating humor. Thanks for the reminder.

tim heidecker

I find Tim Heidecker's stand-up pretty hilarious:


I would have to go way back to my childhood. My favorites would have to be George Burns and Gracie Allen and also Red Skelton. George Burns continued to be a great comedian after Gracie's passing but there was this wonderful spark between them that was so natural. She was so perfect in her timing and her responses would have you roaring. Red Skelton was the other one that I picked. He was a comic genius. The characters that he came up with, Clem Kadiddlehopper (my absolute favorite), Junior the Mean Widdle Kid, San Fernando Red, and the list goes on. His was pure slapstick comedy. I can remember watching him on an 8" TV screen and or course in black and white. Not only was he a great comedian, but he was a talented artist and great humanitarian. I only wish there were comedians like these now.

Great post Jyna!! Love the

Great post Jyna!! Love the joke too, Spring always respects my overly layered choices. ;)


Although many of the comedians I really loved were from before I was born, I still remember The Marx Brothers for their very zany wit, the sarcastic remarks of Grocho, the sweet poignant persona of Harpo (and his great playing of the harp), remain as a pleasant memory. I went to their films many times, and was never disappointed. Other comedians of that era were the pan-faced, expressionless Buster Keaton and his uproarious antics, the team of Laurel and Hardy, always taunting one another in a very hilarious way. In later years, Lucille Ball became the queen of comedy. Also, Carol Burnett was hilarious, as well as the Honeymooners. I hope there'll be a revival of the really good comedy. I really like this blog. Geraldine Nathan

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