Preventing jokes from sounding robotic

Justin Zimmerman asks:

Do you write out your jokes word for word, and then when you perform go from an outline and then speak off the cuff with just the general idea? OR do you memorize everything word for word and then rehearse it to the point that like an actor it comes natural?

I am able to develop funny material organically or by writing but once I perform it for the 2nd time, it starts to sound robotic. I want to be able to keep that natural off the cuff sound.

Also to get over the hump of being funnier in real life than on stage would you just recommend more stage time?



My answer: I do not write jokes out word for word. I have an idea and then I'll go out and try it and see what words come out of my mouth that work best. Sometimes I'll work up a pretty fleshed out version in my head. Other times I'm just more rambling. If the bit stays in the act, it starts to get more rehearsed and take shape as a more structured thing. There is a danger in a bit losing its energy and starting to sound rote. It might not be that good of a joke then. Or it might mean that you need to upgrade your performance chops/acting ability in order to get the bit to keep working. Sometimes giving a bit a rest and then bringing it back can breathe new life into it.

Being funny in real life is a different animal than being funny on stage. Ya may want to get into a zone of doing more riffing and bringing your natural energy up there instead of solely relying on prepared bits that make it seem like you are reciting a script. At some point though, you're going to want jokes you can fall back on – unless you're gonna be a 100% riff/crowdwork guy which can be a tough path.

Justin replied:

After you take an idea to the stage, I'm assuming you'll record your set and then make changes to your new bit to the words are how you like them. Then do you write the bit down word for word just for memory sake? Or just leave it as an outline and let your brain do the work?


I do record my sets. If something is worth noting, I'll go about and listen to it again. Sometimes I'll write down the exact phrasing I've used, but I've noticed I don't refer to those notes often. So if I want to remember something specific, I'll make a point of trying to lock it in mentally.

Also, I like it when an IDEA is funny as opposed to a certain order of words. If there's real meat to a joke, I don't think you need to say it exactly the same way each time. Plus, that's a good way to keep things fresh too. When I lock into saying the words as if it's a script, the joke often loses some punch.

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