Friday, 20 March 2009

The book: A place for your comedy material to live

Interestingly enough, writing stand-up comedy involves actually putting pen to paper or, at least, fingers to keyboard. Typing out your material does have certain advantages in terms of organization and editing but using the pen at some point near it's inception is often pretty much essential to capture the idea while it’s still moving. It’s also a good idea to have your material somewhere nearby when you are working so you can refresh your memory, plan your setlist etc. which is generally better done on paper. It is possible to get by with notes written on scraps of paper that you transfer to a book later on but that transfer is key as scraps get lost and often provide an insufficient writing space. Bottom line: GET A BOOK!

To a certain degree the type of book that you use is a matter of personal preference. I tend to use a book that is a few steps up from the average scratch pad or notebook. Something with a hard durable cover that can stand up well to the abuse dished out by the many environments it will likely travel to. It is my experience that if you have a comedy book that you like by itself as “a book” - it not only gives a little more importance to what you put in it but makes it less likely to be thrown away by someone because it looked like a cheap notebook full of scribble. Tiny notebooks are useful because they are back pocket portable, but they are also harder to write in and easier to lose.

Inside your comedy book is your domain – write however you want to write: doodle, draw pictures, write clearly or scribble, as long as you can read it later and get a clear idea of the idea you originally had. Try to ensure that when you come up with an idea you capture enough of it to put the idea across later – few things are more frustrating than seeing a random word or phrase and having no idea what you were thinking of at the time-

I am not the most organizational person but I try to put my new ideas and material in the front of my book and a list of buzzwords for the contents in the back. Having a couple of setlists in the back isn’t a bad idea either if you’re inclined to use setlists.

One of the reasons to buy a good quality book is that you’ll be keeping them around for a while. Try to take a look back at the old ones once in a while to refresh your memory- ideas can get altered, reduced or forgotten. Sometimes, ideas that initially seemed weak can be spun into something great further down the line, used as throwaways, or connected with material written later down the road. Remember to write down your name and contact information in the front of your book preceded by “If found, please return to” – it can save you a lot of hassle one day.

Even though it is a book for comedy material, that doesn’t mean that everything in it has to be comedy material. Material is formed from all types of ideas, observations and attitudes; they don’t all start as actual comedy so fill your book with all kinds of things. Things you find unusual, interesting, character sketches, events, put them all in and see what they eventually turn into. Even if they never make it into they show you still have a large number of things that are interesting to you by definition.



  1. "– few things are more frustrating than seeing a random word or phrase and having no idea what you were thinking of at the time-"

    50% of my notes.

  2. I agree a book is important. And get one that you cant tear the pages out of. In fact its a great idea to write everything down, comedy or not. You never know that some mundane errand might end up as a great piece of comedy material.