Making people laugh is like a superpower. No, seriously.
Let’s say you hire out a professional comedian. You literally witness them turning a dark, tense room into one full of laughter. And all because of a couple of jokes.
Comedy writers know this better than anyone. In fact, they’ve managed to make entire careers out of it.
And let me be clear. Comedy writing isn’t just another writing job.
It’s kind of like another beast altogether. But if you want to write your way into the next chapter of your comedy career, comedy writing is the way to go.
The demand for content and jokes has never been higher. So the time to start writing has never been more lucrative than now.
What is a comedy writer?
At its simplest, a comedy writer is a writer of comedy. At its most complex, a comedy writer is a TV writer, a staff writer, a freelance writer, a sketch writer, a spec writer, etc.
In other words, there are many ways to be a comedy writer. The comedy writers we hear the most about are probably those writing jokes in New York for Saturday Night Live.
Or really any other late-night TV show. But the jobs available to a comedy writer can go far beyond the television industry.
And can even land you some a job in the film industry. Or even the publishing industry.
So before we begin, it’s important to know each writer’s process. After all, humor comes in many different forms.
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Different types of comedy writing
The following types of comedy are just to give you an idea of how you can develop your comedy writing career. But at its core, comedy writing is truly about narrative.
This is probably the first thing you equate with comedy writing. So somebody who can write comedy for television, film, online web series – even for an entertainer who primarily does corporate events.
This can include joke writing for a comedian in front of an audience. Whether that comedian is a high-profile act or a humble stand-up set in Los Angeles.
Or, you can think of performance-based comedy writing as a spec script writer. Really, anything that could possibly have a producer attached to it.
But performance-based comedy writing will always have an audience in mind. And this means these jokes are being written with the intention of being watched.
Some prefer to think of publication-based writing as the quieter version of comedy writing. Simply for the fact that this type of joke writing is not performed.
Instead, it’s read! Sure, there are comedians who write down their life stories in the form of a memoir.
Those certainly count as publication-based comedy writing. But also think of people like David Sedaris who has made an entire comedic career out of writing not scripts, but humorous stories.
Not too many people recall the humor of publication-based comedy writing when performance-based comedy takes the stage. But that doesn’t mean people laugh any less when they’re reading a joke.
How to get your comedy writing career to take off
Of course, comedy writing skills take time to accumulate and perfect. But here are just a couple of ideas to get you started.
#1. Write everything down
Funny things happen all the time in life. But you could miss it if you’re not paying attention.
Get into the habit of writing everything you find funny down. Something your friends say could make you laugh during a lunch break.
Or, it could even be as simple as a miscommunication you had with the dry cleaners. No matter how trivial, write it down.
Writers always need new material. And this way, you’ll have a funny notebook as your weapon of choice.
#2. Consume funny material
Sometimes, the best way to learn about comedy is to watch it. Attend a stand-up show and start to analyze what’s funny and why.
Or, gauge the audience and their reactions to see what gets the best laugh. If you’re more interested in publication-based comedy writing, pick up a script or two.
And start to dissect the scripts apart. Ask yourself what makes this story work.
Even write out each character and identify the quirks they bring to the world before you. The main point is this: start to study everything around you. Friends, characters, a sitcom show you’re watching for the third time over.
Life is full of funny examples. Whether they’re on a stage or not.
#3. Meet other comedy writers
If you’re an aspiring comedy writer, odds are you also have a host of other jobs to pay the bills. Just make sure that you take the time to spend with other comedy writers as well.
If you have a script you’re working on, ask for their opinion. Even attend that one stand-up show that your friend is performing in as a way to network and meet other funny folks.
Or get to know that one comedian in your writing group who caters to corporate individuals. Just to see how they manage to do it.
Most creatives end up working freelance to make ends meet. But the good news is that freelance allows you the flexibility to invest in what you want to make of yourself.
So don’t get stuck in those odd jobs just because they pay the rent. Go out, have some fun, and get to know some like-minded people in the process too.
#4. Take a writing class
Writing is rewriting. But you might never have known that had you not taken a comedy course before.
Classes can help you construct a story from a more literary lens. And they may even help you get your character to the point in their next joke.
There are a number of benefits you can gain from taking a comedy writing course. So if you’re able, take the plunge and have some fun with it.
Maybe even test out new material in the class. And get some feedback too!
#5. Join an improv group
Okay, I know this article is about comedy writing not performing. But if you want to write performance-based comedy, what better way to get into it than jumping on a stage yourself?
Improvisation is a great way to think on your feet and get your blood pumping. If you want a job as a TV writer, odds are things will be changing at a really fast pace.
Improvisation can help you with that. You’re forced to come up with stories and solutions on the fly.
And these can actually give you real-life skills to help you in your writing job. Who said improv was meaningless?
#6. Find your funny
There are a million ways to be funny. And every comedy writer must learn what kind of comedy they are best at delivering.
You might find that slapstick is really where you find your rhythm. Or perhaps dry humor is more your cup of tea.
But any comedy writer will tell you that knowing your strengths is, in fact, your greatest strength of all. So start exploring and find that sweet spot between your comfort zone and your potential for growth.
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#6. Gain experience in the field
All of these tips are super easy to hand out. But the real challenge is getting out into the field and applying them.
Shoulda, coulda, woulda. We’re all familiar with those what if’s that keep us up at night.
But comedy demands that we jump in. Sure, there’s preparation to be had.
But sometimes, the best way to learn is simply by doing. So go get your comedy writing on!
#7. Laugh off your rejections
Nobody likes to be told, “No.” But it’s also just a fact of life.
And in the comedy writing game? “No” is used almost as often as the word “the.”
So get used to laughing it off! No, really. There’s no use trying to fight it unless it’s a job you truly believe is worth fighting for.
But especially if you’re just starting to get into comedy writing, let those rejections slide off your back. And just keep swimming.
Who knows – maybe one of your rejections will be particularly amusing. Then, you’ll automatically have new material for your next gig!
#8. Build a portfolio
Having a portfolio to back you up is something every comedy writer needs. You can include any spec scripts or other content you’ve developed in the past.
Essentially, you just want to show your client what you are capable of. For freelance writers, a portfolio is especially useful.
Not only will it help you remain more organized as you endeavor to showcase your best work. It will also act as your credentials.
Because let’s be real. When someone says they’re freelance, you’re not always sure what that means.
#9. Pitch comedy ideas
Once you’re able to secure a writing job, then you’ve got to follow through. Keep pitching new comedy ideas to the team.
And demonstrate that you are continually invested in the material. Too often, writers will start to feel comfortable in their role when it’s no longer freelance.
And it’s a totally understandable thing! But push yourself to pursue your creativity no matter what.
Your comedy career will only go as far as you take it. Remember – you’re the one in charge.
Get to it!
The world of comedy writing is an exciting one to dive into. Whether you’re writing for a high-profile comedian or assisting in the publishing of comedic stories, comedy writing really does have it all.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. The industry itself can feel quite intimidating at times.
But just remember that there’s no reward without risk. And what better way to make a living than making other people laugh?
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Adam Christing is a professional comedy magician, virtual MC, and the founder of CleanComedians.com. He is a member of the world-famous Magic Castle in Hollywood and a popular corporate entertainer, magician, and virtual speaker.