Topical jokes that have no shelf life

Mark: been thinking a lot about this: when I did Broadway that time and watching alexandro, they seem to be able to write good topical jokes about chris brown or phelps. And the audience loves them but they have no shelf life. Should we be doing that? I kinda don't care about that stuff. Whats your take?

Me: i think it works for the same reason riffing works. people give you credit for being in the moment (relatively) and it's obviously relatable. but remember when ck said he never talks about what's in the news? i kinda feel that's a better approach. you build a bit that lasts. i'd rather spend time doing that than trying to make something funny that i'm gonna have to throw away in two months. plus, it's shit that's covered so much elsewhere (late night shows, etc.). a lot less chance you're gonna have a fresh take on something when everyone's making jokes about it.

Mark: good point. Id rather have lasting material that i feel strong about. but on the other hand it shows you can write a joke about anything and its kind of a good exercise i think. but in the long run i'm probably not going to do it. Although it could be a fun discipline to learn.

Me: yeah, i would say if you have a line that comes to ya, go ahead and try it. but i wouldn't slave over it trying to come up with the right punch. i lump it in with crowdwork or the riffing we see people do at the top of a set all the time. that kinda stuff is fun but your real material is what's gonna make or break you. unless what ya really want is to be a writer for SNL, Best Week Ever, Daily Show, or something like that. then i could see how it'd be a good muscle to flex.


myq said...

Louis CK also throws out his act every year or two now, after recording it.

So it's not like he's concerned about being able to do the jokes he's writing forever. (Though he might be happier having them recorded for posterity if they'll make sense throughout the ages.)

But you've got someone like Chris Rock, whose last special has a bunch of Obama stuff in it, if I remember correctly... and obviously it won't hold up exactly however many years from now when we have half-alien gay robot presidents and Obama doesn't matter anymore, but not all comedy HAS to stand the test of time.

Improv comedians make shit up every night that won't be duplicated every again, and some of them are great.
And some standups do crowdwork or riffing that is akin to great improv, like you said--there's certainly something to be said for being in the moment.

And that's what I feel people like Alexandro are doing--he's not necessarily building a lasting set of timeless comedy, he's being a comedian in the now.

Even if I don't care about Michael Phelps or everything that's in the news, I think when people talk about relevant shit that's going on right now, that's valuable, a good skill to exercise, and fun to watch and impressive when done well.

Sorry if I just basically reiterated and agreed with most of what you guys just said.

But the point is, to answer the question "SHOULD we be doing that?" the answer is that there is no "should" about it--if that's the comic you are, then yes, if it's not then no.

The only should is we shouldn't all be doing the same thing.
(And that's a shouldn't, not a should.)
Except we should all be doing the same thing of being great and original and ourselves, but if we're all different then that's not the same thing.

Is it bad when a comment is longer than the original post that it's commenting on?


Matt Ruby said...

Myq, pretty much agree with all you've said. "SHOULD we be doing that?" I think a comic should do whatever he/she thinks is funny and is authentic to who they are (or who their onstage character is). If you don't care about what's in the news, don't do jokes about it. And vice versa.

Nick Cranston said...

Hey, Matt,

first of all, really like your blog. Been in stand up for about 6 months here in the UK and it's been a real help.

On this note, for me, material with a shelf life is a good writing excercise. You can get a line out of it that can be placed elsewhere when the joke has to go to joke heaven - and it's also a good warm up for the crowd, to give them the feeling that the perfomance is unique for them....I think.

Also, when something inherently funny happens on the news e.g a 13 year old boy has a kid, I've got to write something about it.


A trap I've fallen into however is when no one knows what the hell you're talking about. The first couple of times I went up I wouldn't shut up about Sarah Palin.....not the best for a British audience.



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