The other week I picked up a copy of Jerry Seinfeld's book called Is This Anything?
I'm thinking it's a biography.
It's not a biography.
I crack it open and what do I find but hundreds of pages of written jokes, going all the way back to the 1970s.
That's the book. Minus a few pages of introduction, and a set up for each decade, it's all jokes that he wrote out by hand and filed away.
Maybe that doesn't interest you, but I find it almost more interesting than a regular bio.
It's a glimpse into the somewhat unhinged mind of a top artist at the peak of his craft. Seinfeld's been at it for close to 50 years. Anybody that puts in that much time and reaches the top has something to teach you.
Yeah, you can see where some of the Seinfeld (the TV show) plots came from, too.
I don't think of myself as a comedian, but I do think of myself as a writer and a creator. And those lessons go beyond any professional silos.
Here's 7 insights into writing that I've picked up so far:
- Comedians are artists. I never realized how much work went into comedy. I only ever saw them on TV or occasional stand-up sets, but they spend hours preparing, writing, thinking, testing new material, throwing out what doesn't work. There's blood and sweat equity behind every laugh.
- Comedians are writers. They have to get up in front of a crowd, usually with lots of alcohol in them, to tell jokes under pressure. No small thing. But, in order to get up there, they have to spend a lot of time in their own heads, while getting those ideas into written form. They face all the same pressure as any other word-jockey.
- Comedians focus on a highly specific type of emotion. Laughter is an art form all its own. It's not easy to be funny. What I didn't realize before is that comedians, the good ones, deal in humor the way Stephen King deals in horror. It's a type of emotion, that they create in a whole crowd of people, with words. That's like magic, if you think about it.
- Creativity follows from commitment. Seinfeld started in the 1970s and didn't get "big" until the 90s with the TV show. But the most interesting part is the story he tells after the show ended. For two years he drifted without purpose. After a Chris Rock show, he got the bug back. But he didn't try to jump right back to the top. He went back to the night-club circuit, testing new material, just like it was Year One.
- Creativity follows from relentless practice. Most everyone that starts out writing waits for ideas to come before they get to work. The pros understand that if you don't show up, you don't get ideas.
- Telling funny stories is like telling other stories. It's all storytelling. There's a character, in a situation, with a problem. There's a beginning, a middle, and an end. Telling a story that gets a laugh isn't much different from a story that makes you cry or scares you out of your skin.
- Telling funny stories is UNLIKE telling other stories. The thing about Seinfeld's sets, they all start out with the most ordinary observations. He's not talking about goofy big ideas that are obviously hilarious. He talks about ironing your shirts, meeting a friend for coffee. He digs the funny out of the most boring, ordinary things. The principles behind the story are the same, but the punchline (no pun intended) is totally different. I always feel that "how'd he do that?" response when he really pulls it off. Studying just how he did it would be a great place to start, should you want to get more funny.
That's just off the top of my head. If you really thought about it, you could probably brainstorm 30 or 50 different things and wrap that up into a $500 course.
Fortunately I'm not selling anything like that right now. You'll have to settle for my free but private social media group:
Be good & take it easy.
PS You'll have to be a member of my Night's Gate group -- which requires an account with SocialLair -- in order to access that link. If for some mind-defying reason you aren't a member yet, click here for access: