Lesson 16: Personification

In the last few lessons we've been exploring transpositions. Let's end this exploration on personification. Also known as anthropomorphism, this is where something from the human world is transposed into the non-human. Here is a personification gag from Steven Wright that reverses a familiar situation: “The other day when I was walking through the woods, I saw a rabbit standing in front of a candle making shadows of people on a tree.” Meanwhile, Noel Fielding had a talking moon projected onto a circular screen in his Voodoo Hedgehog stand-up show, which later came into the Boosh TV series. These are examples of personification—giving a human voice, character and attitudes to something not hu

Lesson 15: Bathos (Big/Small)

In the previous lesson we discussed transpositions. We’re going to develop this idea and look at a common comic effect that can be achieved through such transpositions: bathos. We have already discussed the simple form of this: essentially build it up/ knock it down. This is more of a one-liner approach. For example, this from the late great Gary Shandling: “One night I made love for an hour and five minutes. It was the day the clocks went forward.” But it’s not just one liners. Comics will build whole routines that are bathetic. For example, in his famed Death Star Canteen routine, Eddie Izzard imagines Darth Vader bickering with a canteen worker on the Death Star. A transposition of the ev

Lesson 14: Transpositions

In the previous lesson I discussed the importance of going beyond what actually happened, and going into playful speculation. In your stand-up, don’t just talk about things you actually know about. Speculate about things you don’t! This can be a big part of the funniness of your act. For example, at the start of his first stand-up DVD Cosmic Jam, Bill Bailey builds a speculative routine that features a transposition – the subject of this very lesson. He begins by asking: “Who photographs kebabs?” Bill Bailey’s query could well have been born one night in a fast food outlet, seeing the photographs of the dishes on the menu and suddenly wondering who took them. If you’ve wondered about this yo

Lesson 13: Questions to Spark Ideas

Comedy, and all creativity, begins with questions. What takes you into comic territory, rather than literary or dramatic territory, is that your answers are absurd. In stand-up writing we are asking questions and coming up with playful answers. This is effectively playing dumb. Ask any question you like, but instead of giving the reasonable, sensible or factual answer, instead you play around with surprising, ridiculous and inappropriate ones. Play is the starting point of funny ideas. The key to play is to be non-judgemental. Don’t censor or be critical about what you are producing. Judgement inhibits play, so just enjoy posing questions and answering them in surprising ways, not worrying i

Lesson 12: Timing

A stand-up will send me a video of their set and I will watch it, meeting them subsequently to discuss my observations on their material and performance, and how both might be improved and developed. One of the key areas I am looking for in performance is, as you might image, timing. Some people have great timing. Others less so. But everyone can improve. But what is comic timing? It's simply: knowing when to pause and for how long. Often, with newer comics, I'll watch a set where the timing has been more or less sacrificed because they're racing through their act. When I question why they delivered their act so rapidly, they often respond: "so that I got through all the material". And ofte

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