Hiring a comedy writer

Hello Dave – Here’s a question: You advise us to get writing or keep writing. How do you feel about hiring a pro writer? And how would I go about it? Your pal – CA

There’s gotta be an easier way.

Hey CA – Hiring someone to write for you depends on your (comic or speaker or performer) career level. If you’re just starting out it doesn’t make any sense – to me anyway – to hire someone else to write your material. What’s the point? If you want to memorize another writer’s script and repeat it – become an actor. If you want to be a comedian or a speaker – then there has to be something YOU want to say.

It’s all about sharing YOUR humor, YOUR thoughts, YOUR ideas, YOUR observations, or anything else YOU want to tell an audience.

To me (again) it’s a creative art AND a talent. That should be the stimulus to get into this crazy biz. Otherwise get a head shot, memorize someone else’s lines and start auditioning for acting gigs.

Here’s a story…

Years ago I had a guy take my comedy workshop. The first day everyone takes a turn on stage to talk about ideas for writing a comedy set. When it was his turn, he did an “act.” Five minutes of prepared stand-up comedy. But it didn’t seem real to me. It was just telling jokes that really didn’t pertain to who he was or what could possibly be going on in his life that would even interest him.

Let me explain what I mean…

I love funny jokes and great joke tellers. I’ve also been fortunate to work with a few of the best. For instance, Rodney Dangerfield made regular guest appearances when I was at both the NYC and LA Improv comedy clubs. He would tell jokes (of course) but the jokes fit who he was:

  • No respect
  • Nervous
  • Underdog
  • … well, Rodney!

No respect!

My wife said she wanted to make love in the backseat of our car. She wanted me to drive. I get no respect.” – Rodney Dangerfield

Get it? I can think of dozens of great joke tellers I used to watch on TV when I was a kid. What made them great was that their jokes fit their personalities. Think Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Redd Foxx, Phyllis Diller and Jackie Mason if you need a history lesson.

Their jokes worked because the jokes fit the comedian’s on stage personality.

Okay – back to the guy in my workshop. He did his comedy act, but nothing fit who he was. It was just some guy telling jokes anyone else could tell. Plus I’d heard a few of them before, which is never good when you’re striving to stand out in a creative business.

When he finished I asked who had written his material. He swore he did. When I said some of it sounded familiar and quizzed him more about his writing techniques, he finally admitted he got the jokes from a writer he found online – and had paid $50 for them. I told him there were undoubtedly a number of other aspiring comics who had also paid for the same jokes.

He really wanted to be a comedian. The problem was that he really only wanted to be a famous comedian and was willing to pay for a shortcut.

That’s not how it works.

Since he had never actually done stand-up anywhere, he had no stage experience. He hadn’t even given himself the opportunity to find out who he was on stage.

Comics call that your comedy voice.

To find your voice it takes on stage experience – and lots of it. Since he hadn’t discovered his yet, how could he expect to find anyone who could write material specifically for him? That writer would have no idea except to peddle him jokes almost anyone else could do.

I told the guy in my workshop he had to start writing. That’s the first step and the key to becoming a comedian or speaker – or even a writer for someone else. There are plenty of styles such as joke telling or story telling, along with techniques, structures and different creative ways creative people write. He needed to find out what ways worked best for him and what subjects interested him enough to write about.

The next week he came in with the basis of an original comedy bit. I remember it was about playing in a pick-up baseball game when he was a little too old and a little too out of shape compared to guys on the other team. It was based on something that really happened to him and filled with his personal experiences, thoughts, opinions and descriptions of events.

Oh yeah – and it was funny. AND it was a story only HE could have written.

He realized he had wasted fifty bucks on words that didn’t mean anything to him. And he had replaced it with something he couldn’t wait to share with an audience.

So the point is – why would anyone want to get into a creative business without being creative?

** Important announcement: I’m not knocking actors (remember what I said above about memorizing someone else’s script). No way. That is also a very creative and demanding craft. I know because I’ve done it. I respect creativity in all forms and efforts. I’m just focusing today on the comedy and speaking biz.

What’s the set up?

That wasn’t as eloquently put as a Shakespearean monologue, but I hope you catch my drift.

And to complete this drift, it’s not a smart idea to hire someone to write for you until you both know who you are on stage. The creative artist doing the writing must know the person he/she is writing for.

What is your comedy voice?

When you get to be Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel – or anyone else that burns up material at a breakneck speed – then you can hire writers. Good writers already know who these personalities are and their style of humor. Good writers can write a Jimmy Fallon or Jimmy Kimmel joke. But writing for someone just starting out… Well, they’re just writing words.

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Thanks for reading and as always – keep laughing!

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