Comedy writing is really comedy thinking. The writing part is much easier than the comedy part. It all starts with ideas — unique observations about the world that make people laugh out loud.
Maybe you've heard this old saying: “There's no such thing as an original joke. Comedians just retell the same old jokes in slightly different ways.” Well, that's just not true. That's the creed of hacks — comics who are lazy and unoriginal. There are countless new jokes just waiting to be discovered by writers with the creativity to find them, the drive to develop them, and the guts to try them out. Dating? Airline travel? They might sound like tired topics, but you haven't had your say on them yet, and your unique take might be the funniest one yet.
The key to comedy writing is having a system, a thought process for generating and developing comedy ideas. No book can teach you that system, because it's different for every writer. You can't just fill in the blanks and get comedy. The goal of this book is to guide you to develop your own system by exploring your personal way of looking at things.
So what do you do now? Read through the book and try the exercises at the end of each chapter. If a strategy works for you, keep it, use it, modify it. If it doesn't, just move on to the next one. You'll be doing all the work, and the jokes you come up with will be all yours. You won't merely think outside the box; you'll forget that big, stupid box even exists.
Remember, there's no right or wrong with comedy. One comedian may be quiet, thoughtful, and deadpan (think Steven Wright), while another is loud, crazy, and all over the place (Robin Williams, anyone?). They are polar opposites, and guess what? They're both right, because they're doing exactly what's right for them and making millions of people laugh in the process. The lesson for you, the student of comedy writing, is that you should learn from both styles — and everything in between — as you figure out what's right for you.
These are exciting times for comedy. Writers have more freedom than ever before. In the old days (like ten years ago), you had to get permission from someone to get your comedy out into the world, and you often had to win that permission by making compromises — watering down your comic vision to make it work for a mass audience. But the explosion of new media outlets means you don't have to make artistic compromises to find an audience — in fact, your audience might even find you. You still have to be funny to be successful, but there's no filter wearing a suit between you and the audience.
So what are you waiting for? Get started! In the time you've spent reading this introduction, two guys walked into a bar and said: “Line?”
That's your cue.