Podcasting is truly the people’s tool for reaching out to the world. All a person needs is a mic, a computer and some recording software and they can unleash their mouth-sounds onto an unsuspecting populace. Hell, the mic comes with the computer and the software is found on the internet for free, so I guess the required gear is: Computer, mouth-sounds.
With this arsenal at your disposal you can bring any type of message you wish, but if you’re on our site then chances are you’re interested in something like what we do (fake accents for make-believe people and such) so with this in mind I’d like to give you fellow ‘casters some advice on something I know a lot about: How to tell a joke.
First, let me say that a lifetime ago I did amateur stand-up. I was young and eager but incredibly rough around the edges, so I signed up to attend a class in stand-up at the local comedy club. I thought I’d show up, kill it on stage and walk out with a diploma or a flower that squirted water or whatever. I had done plenty of open mics at that point, what was I gonna learn there?
As it turns out, a lot. I had to unlearn most of what I thought I knew, bad habits and mistaken beliefs of what I thought worked on stage. I had bombed on stage before, sure, but I had never gotten criticised by a group of my humorist peers week after week while standing under the scorching lights of the stage. I was terrible at taking their review as anything other than a total rejection of the core of who I was. I had a reoccurring nightmare that every crowd I was in front of was deathly silent, or was only laughing because my mom paid them to. It was brutal.
What I’m doing here is called “establishing credibility,” a crucial point at the beginning of any bit where you tell the audience why they should believe you, and it’s tied into my list of things I’m going to tell you about jokes into a recording mic. Here we go.
1. Don’t Punch Down
There is a fine line between being funny and being a total dick, and recognizing where that line resides is pretty goddamn important. In establishing your credibility (as I mentioned above) you give the audience a heads-up that you can speak with some authority on the following subject matter, and mostly this has to do with being part of a marginalized part of society. (“As a gay man, as a woman, as a black person,” etc.) When you utilize stereotypes, cliches and gross generalizations as a person outside of the culture you’re talking about, chances are you’re reinforcing those things. Does that line shift sometimes? Sure. Nobody said comedy was easy.
2: Be Friends With Whoever Edits Your Podcast
There will be times that you think of an absolutely brilliant and hilarious thing to say in the moment, but later you’ll realize you actually broke the rule above. That’s okay! You’ve taken an important step on the road to telling better jokes. The next step is to get that mistake removed from the recording and, if necessary, give an apology to anyone at the table who you probably pissed off. By getting that shit-tastic joke edited you dissuade listeners from thinking that’s okay to say and by apologizing you show that you’re not an asshole. In this life we tell many jokes, correct yourself and move on.
3: Observe The Rule Of Threes
This rule is an old one but it stands the test of time and is very simple: Good comedy comes in threes. You and everybody else at the table may explode into a killer set of riffs on a topic, but try to observe this rule. You may have to discard a joke or let someone else have the last say to let this happen but it’s worth it. I break this rule often and it’s usually a mistake, because the maximum potential energy for a joke is often set at three. Don’t ask me why, I’m just the messenger.
4: The Straight Man Cometh
The term “Straight Man” is a stock character in a sketch that acts rationally and normally in contrast to an irrational or unbelievable character or scenario, and let me tell you: It is a goddamn art form. The decision to keep a straight face and suck the air from a room is a difficult one, but it can be the difference between a good gag and a hilarious one. It takes practice but it’s worth it.
5: Read, Watch and Listen to Comedy
In his book “On Writing” Stephen King posits that in order to be a good writer you have to do two things: Read a lot, and write a lot. Comedy is no different, and if you want to sharpen your skills then you have to go out and absorb good comedy. Go to stand-up shows, listen to comedy podcasts, get comedy albums and books and watch documentaries on comedy to get a feel for the rhythm of a good joke.
6: Don’t Drink and ‘Cast
Hit the hypocrite button and slam on the breaks! I’m guilty of this one and I don’t recommend it. Imbibing and recording is a dangerous mix because it slows down your response time and reduces your internal filters, which isn’t good. Every time I do this I regret it, even when nothing goes wrong. It’s just a bad habit that you shouldn’t get into.
Here’s an example: The Rat Pack. They got on stage and told jokes in between songs while sipping whisky poured from a decanter. The only thing is, it wasn’t whisky. It was apple juice, because they knew getting drunk with mics was a bad idea.
7: You Don’t Need Edge to Tell a Good Joke
Last but not least remember that humor is like Kendo, Fencing and Krav Maga. What do those three things have in common? They teach you how to wield a blade but they don’t actually give you a goddamn blade. Not every joke has to be cutting-edge comedy nor does it have to have a bite to it. Every joke, regardless of subject matter, is a risk, and by taking those risks you learn how to take bigger risks for bigger rewards. Start with some dedication and passion and one day you’ll kill the six-fingered man, avenge your father’s death and ride off into the sunset as the new Dread Pirate Roberts. (But in a comedic way.) Fuck. Yes.
So what about you? Do you have any advice for those listeners who want to up their comedy game? Do you have a favorite comic or author that tickles your funny bone? Let us know in the comments below!
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