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Honestly Assess Your Skills [43019]

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Self-evaluation is an essential factor in beginning and furthering a career in comedy writing or performing.  However, that appraisal must be honest and realistic.  Anything less than total honesty is useless because it gives you a false estimate of your readiness to participate.  A professional musician once pointed this out to me by saying that music was one area where it was almost impossible to fake it.  He said, “If someone hands you a sheet of music, you can either play it or you can’t.”  There’s no way that you can pretend you’re reading the score and playing the notes.  You either can or you can’t. 

            Comedy performing has that built in safeguard, too.  When you step on stage with your prepared set, you either get laughs or you don’t.  If you get laughs, you’re funny.  If you don’t get laughs, either you or your script needs work. 

            With comedy writing, it’s easier to “talk a good game.”  You might be able to cover your tail with chatter about motivation and story arc and character development and such.  Bottom line, though, is that the script or the jokes either deliver or they don’t. 

            Granted, there are often circumstances that can affect the effectiveness of comedy.  As a performer, you might not be on your game on a particular night.  Or you might catch a “bad” audience on a given night.  There are many reasons why this particular set may not be stellar.  Nevertheless, it’s still up to you to evaluate the performance.  Was it sub-par?  If it was, why was it lacking?  What was it lacking?  What were you, the performer, missing that night? 

            As a comedy writer, too, there are circumstances that can affect your script.  The performers or the comedian may not be delivering the lines properly.  They might be adding variations that affect the credibility of the characters.  How can you, as the writer, revise this script to make it more effective?

            Once again, though, you’re not searching for excuses; you’re searching for valid answers.  To simply explain the problems away does nothing to further your career.  You want to make your performance or your script workable.  You need honest, real solutions to do that.

Why is self-evaluation so important? 

            First, it lets you know how your talents compare with the pros.  Are you realistically approaching the skill level that you’ll need?  Telling yourself that you have those talents when you don’t can be more destructive than constructive.  Often, making your move before you’re prepared can sometimes destroy a promising career.  I’ve noticed that the profession can be cruel to newcomers.  If you enter the profession and “flunk out,” you may not be able to break into it again. 

            Second, it lets you know what areas you must work on to improve to the point where you are comparable to the professionals.  I often tell the story about my tennis playing days.  Before a match, the opponents would hit back and forth to warm up.  One day I launched a few lobs to my rival so he could loosen up with a few overhead smashes.  Instead, he said to me, “Don’t hit me lobs.  I’m no good at hitting overhead smashes, so I never practice them.”  It seemed to me that if you’re not very accomplished with a certain stoke, isn’t that one you should be practicing? 

            Third, by noting your strengths and weaknesses, you can improve your skills logically.  If you have weaknesses, as we discussed above, you can practice them until you’re reasonably certain you’ve eliminated them, or at least more comfortable in using them.  If you discover strengths, you can develop them even more until they become formidable.

            Fourth, it gives you information that can be useful in your own writing and performing.  You learn what you can do effectively and what you probably should avoid.  I once worked with a national performer who was noted for his versatility.  People would say of him, “He can do anything.”  Without disrespecting him, he could not do anything.  He simply avoided doing those things that he knew he couldn’t do well and concentrated on those things that he did magnificently.  That gave the appearance that he could do anything.  That’s not a bad misperception for people to have of your talents.

I should note, also, that this doesn’t mean that you should be overly critical of your talents.  Berating your performance unnecessarily can be just as harmful as overpraising your skills.  Be honest with yourself.  It’s the most effective way to know where you stand and how you can best further your development.

Clearing the Mind to Write Comedy: 5 Helpful Tips [43017]

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[Editor’s Note: ROUND TABLE Publisher Gene Perret once revealed, in a letter to a beginning comedy writer, some of his tricks for clearing the mind when writing comedy — and–voiding what sometimes is called “writer’s block.” Here are excerpts from that highly useful advice. In many respects, it can apply to ALL writers – but Gene says it’s still especially useful for comedy writing.]

            So you’ve hit a mental block with your writing. You have so much to do, you’re keeping such a blistering pace, you don’t know where to start first.

            I know how you feel. Everyone gets up to their neck and other parts of the anatomy in alligators. I have five secrets that I apply whenever I reach the snapping alligator stage, and I generally apply them in this order:

1. RELAXATION: As long as you’re worried about all your problems, that worry will joke out your thinking processes. It’s like blanking out on a test. I once took a test at college in a subject I was well-versed in. I fully expected and deserved a 100 on it. But when I read the first question, I panicked. I sat there and stared at the thing until the full test time was nearly over. A friend whispered to me, “Write what I tell you.”

            I did and got 100 on the test. When I looked at the questions later, they were so simple I could have gotten 200 – but I worried and blocked my mind.

            You can shake that feeling by doing anything that’s a diversion for you. Read a book, watch TV, do exercises, whatever relaxes you. I’ve been up to my tail in work, but I just walked out the door and went to a movie. Then I’d come home relaxed and find time to do my work.

2. PLANNING: All big jobs are nothing but a much of small jobs tied together in a common package. A little time spend in planning your work will save you quite a bit of time in executing it.

            I did this writing a book on being a Catholic. I decided to try for two chapters a day. I sat down to write about “practicing for Holy Communion.” I sat and looked at blank paper. No results. I did a line or two but not nearly enough to complete a routine. Then it dawned on me: PLAN the routine. What about Holy Communication? Okay, we spend so much time in church, the nun demanded perfection, we had to wear white, we had to repeat the steps over and over again, and it took all our free time. I did five jokes on each subject and had my routine written in less than two hours.

3. CONCENTRATION: You have to devote your energies thinking about the problem at hand. If you can’t, then it’s time for that relaxation. Take a break, clear your mind, and then come back…and concentrate.

            In my work, I find it easier to concentrate if I visualize. Close my eyes and actually see myself in church with that nun practicing to make my First Holy Communion.

            Planning helps you concentrate. Spending time planning helps you to pinpoint your concentration. When you concentrate on too large an area (like trying to solve a crossword puzzle all at once), your mind can’t contain it and it wanders. So planning and concentrating actually complement one another.

4. REMEMBERING: I’ve gabbed a lot about how you must believe a goal to accomplish it. The same applies here. Believe you can get done what you want to get done in order to get it done. Do this by remembering you did the same thing in the past. You visualize your past successes, then calmly set about doing it again.

            Example: When I was in industry, writing jokes for banquets and 25-year parties, I would close my eyes and visualize myself before the crowd. The crowd was just broken up with laughter, as they always had been. This picture alone was enough to make the jokes come.

5. STEALING TIME: Do a little bit of your work when you’re busy doing nothing. Then when it comes time to do the work, it’s already started.

            For instance, if I know I have to do a routine for Bob Hope about the President, I’ll think about it when I’m shaving…think about it as I’m getting changed…think about it lying in bed. Maybe I’ll get an idea or a joke. It’s happened that I’ll get out of bed and do a whole routine, then I can take the next day off. Your most creative work is often done when you think about a problem lightly and then consciously forget it. That’s when your subconscious works on it diligently. When you call it to your conscious mind again, the problem may be solved.

            Doing what you want to do is fun. Relaxing, planning, concentration, remembering and stealing time – they’re five secrets that can stave off the snapping alligators for many writers. They work for me.


Prepare for your Best Work by Planning [43012]

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Many writers ask me, “What’s the first thing you do when you sit down to the typewriter to begin an assignment?” Actually, to do your most creative work, you should begin long before you approach the typewriter.

            I’ve found from personal experience and in reading about others that creativity builds in the subconscious. The mind is working on the assignment whether we are aware of it or not. So that’s really my first priority to get my mind interested in what I have to work on.

            You can do this by some simple advance planning. Know what you’re going to be working on, give it some causal thought, and then forget it. The creative part of you won’t forget it. It will mull it over, analyze it, dissect it, prepare ideas, and then present them to you when you’re ready to receive them.

            Most geniuses that we study say this same thing in different ways. Musical composers often claim they hear the music in their head and then just write the notes down. Thomas Edison worked hard on the problems that he tried to solve, but noticed that the right solution would just pop into his head from who knows where. But these people were “thinking” about their work constantly, even if they weren’t aware of it.

            Sleep is supposed to be good thinking time for the subconscious, possibly because it’s free to work at that time without annoying distractions from us – from our conscious minds. I have great success with thinking about an assignment right before bedtime, then “sleeping on it.” It’s amazing how creative my mornings are after that. Often I’ve written an entire routine in that twilight area between trying to wake up and actually becoming alive again. I grab a pen and a notepad and write key-words or entire jokes that my subconscious has presented to me after a night’s work. Of course, I have to transcribe quickly since my writing at that time of the morning is mostly illegible.

            Even when you don’t have the luxury of time to allow ideas to roam around your sub-conscious, preparation is still necessary before pounding the typewriter keys. Your subject should be analyzed, organized, and outlined before attempting execution.

            Let’s suppose, as an illustration, that a client wants a 30-joke routine on his lazy brother-in-law. You should first give some thought to that subject. Make some observations about the topic in general. Lazy brothers-in-law are annoying. They eat too much. They’re always there when you don’t want them. They cause arguments between you and your wife, and so on.

            Now take these generalized thoughts, categorize them and place them in some logical order. We’ve noted before that it’s difficult to write 30 jokes about any topic. It’s overwhelming. So we make it easier by dividing it into ‘bite-sized’ chunks. We list 5 or 6 sub-topics and then we only have to write about 5 jokes about each. The end result is a 30 to 35 joke routine on your major topic.

            Now your preparation may look something like this:

  1. How lazy he is
  2. Always lying around
  3. Won’t get a job
  4. Never has money
  5. Eats like a horse
  6. How I plan to get rid of him

Now that your work is laid out, you can take the cover off the typewriter. You can now concentrate on item 1 and generate some good lines because your thinking is better directed.

      This preparation applies to larger projects like teleplays and full screenplays, also. As a

producer of several sitcoms, we always asked that the freelance writers submit a full outline before beginning their work on the teleplay. This assured us that they would go in the same direction that we had discussed at the story conference. Without the outline, it’s easy to get lost in the middle and to begin writing along tangents. Besides, it just keeps your writing organized and makes the creation of dialogue that much easier.

            Here’s the kicker. The preparation, even though it uses some of your valuable writing time, makes your work better. It also makes it go faster. The advanced work you do makes the actual writing easier, thus you can get much more done. If you give it an honest try, you’ll find that taking time out to prepare will allow you to get much more written in much less time. Try it and have fun with it.


Write the Joke; Not the Joke Concept [43004]

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Let’s begin by understanding the terms. A joke is . . . well, it’s a joke. It’s a recognizable truth or exaggeration that’s expressed in such a way that it produces laughter among the listeners. For example, Rodney Dangerfield said, “If it weren’t for pick-pocketers, I’d have no sex life at all.” Funny line. Rita Rudner told a joke that went, “I was a vegetarian until I started leaning toward the sunlight.” Terrific one-liner.

            A joke concept is an idea that has the potential for a joke – or for several jokes – embedded in it. For instance, the thought behind Dangerfield’s line above is that women don’t find him attractive enough to have sex with him anymore. The only intimate groping he experiences lately is the inadvertent titillation from strangers feeling around in his pockets. The concept behind the Rita Rudner line above is that she ate so much plant food that she began acting as a plant would.

            Sometimes we comedy writers can allow ourselves to be mislead that the joke concept can be the joke. And occasionally that can be true. George Carlin’s observation about freeway traffic is a good example of that: “Have you ever noticed that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?” It’s really a factual statement, yet just pointing it out to listeners produces a solid laugh.

            Even though unique observations can often be funny on their own, most of them are rather bland without the innovative wording of the joke. Putting a twist on the idea and expressing it in a unique and surprising way produces the joke. Also, as we noted earlier, a good joke concept can produce many different jokes. As an example, Phyllis Diller would kid about her own cooking. One concept was that her food was dangerous. People could die from it.

            One of her jokes based on this idea was “I serve my meals in three stages—set the table, serve the food, bury the dead.” Another was, “My Veal Parmigiana recipe has been registered with the local police as a lethal weapon.” Also, “No matter what recipe I follow, it always turns out tasting like Hemlock.” You could probably produce another half-dozen lines very quickly based on the idea that Phyllis’ cooking could be fatal.

            In fact, we are also publishing an exercise that ties in with this instructional article. We will list several joke concepts and invite you to create solid laugh lines based on that premise. That exercise is listed under “exercises” and has the same title as this article—Write the Joke; Not the Joke Concept.

            Before you turn to that, though, let’s cover one other bit of advice on when you should be aware that you’re writing the concept rather than the joke. In reviewing your writing be wary of anything that appears to read as a simple statement, such as “I think I married the laziest man alive.” Take that pronouncement and convert it to a full-fledged joke, with a set-up, and a strong punchline that shows why you believe you married the laziest man alive. Your writing will be much stronger if you write powerful jokes rather than bland statements.

            Turn to the related exercise now and give it a try.

It Was a Very Good Day [43003]

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Below is a poem that Dad asked me to read at his funeral. Dad said it summed up perfectly his philosophy of life. I hope you enjoy it…and let’s keep laughing because that’s what Gene would want.


It Was a Very Good Day

Between my rising hour of 8 AM

And my retiring hour of midnight,

I was a model of exemplary behavior.

I ate the proper amount of fruit

And vegetables and protein

And chewed each bite thirty-two times.

I made sure to limit my fat and my starch,

My cholesterol and my carbohydrates,

My salt and my sugar,

Forsaking the white bread

For healthy whole wheat.

I walked and jogged and lifted,

And exercised my lungs.

I did not partake of alcohol,

Or any drugs, legal or illegal.

I inhaled no tobacco smoke,

Neither first nor second hand.

I walked to work.

And en route I gave,

Out of the goodness of my heart,

Contributions of various sizes

To various homeless persons.

At the office, I did an honest day’s work

For an honest day’s pay.

At night, I scorned the mundane

And watched a National Geographic Special

On Public Broadcasting

As I ate low calorie popcorn,

Plain, without butter.

I flossed, brushed my teeth,

Got into bed,

And proudly contemplated my exemplary behavior.

And then it hit me.

The entire day had been rendered meaningless

By one simple omission

Not once, not for one solitary moment,

In the course of the flawless day,

Did I pause and take a moment to laugh.

            — Written by Ed Simmons

Set a Quota & Keep It, Gene Says [43023]

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One of my favorite quotes is from Hugh Prather. “If the desire to write is not accompanied by actual writing, then the desire is not to right.” I like it because it throws the ball right back into my court. It puts the burden back on me, the aspirant.

That prompts another quote. J. Milburn Smith said “The burden of learning is on the person who wants to learn, not on the person who wants to teach.” Combine the two and you get something like, “If you want to do it, you gotta do it, and the only way to do it, is to do it.”

            The only one who can really teach you to write is you. The only way you’re going to learn to write is to write, write, and write. If you want to learn to write, or if you want to improve the skills you already have, or if you want to keep your wit sharp, you have to keep writing.

            I began my comedy writing career as a gagwriter. I did one-liners for nightclub comics. When I graduated to writing television sketches, I still maintained one contract for the one-liners. Why? To keep that skill in trim. As I wrote sketches, I also began writing half-hour sitcom scripts as an exercise. When variety shows disappeared from the TV scene, I was ready to write teleplays. Then I began writing screenplays.

Did I have a contract? No. I did it just for the exercise. A few have been optioned, but to date none of them have been produced. I tried writing books and I’ve had three of them published, two of which are still on the stands, and one of which has been translated and published in Japan.

None of these projects, including the books, generate near the income of my basic television contract. Some of them have produced some income, but that’s not why they were undertaken. They were simply exercises designed to keep my writing skills in different arenas sharpened.

The first advice and the best suggestion I can give to any aspiring writer is to set yourself a quota. Decide what type of writing you want to learn, and decide on a pace for yourself. If you want to begin with one-liners, pick a number for each day or each week. If you want to do short stories, set a goal for a plot outline, then decide on a certain number of words or pages per day. The same applies to teleplay or screenplay. Even a novel is a finite amount of pages. Set a quota and attack it.

Your quota need not be too demanding. That would only frustrate you and make it easier to abandon the project. No, make it comfortable and realistic. Of course, don’t make it too easy or you won’t get any benefit from it, you won’t be stretching yourself. And remember that it is flexible.

If your original goal is too soft, add more jokes or more pages. If it’s driving you up a wall, back off at a touch. This is not a contest to test your endurance. It’s a learning process. So experiment and find the right goals for your writing, but once you set them, meet them.

I’m not a big champion of extreme organization. I have friends who have the rest of their life so well organized and prearranged that they don’t even have to show up for it. I do some of that, but I also leave plenty of time for improvisation and spontaneity. I don’t advise applying every spare minute of leisure to writing or thinking about writing, but I do suggest that even the most capricious personality can allow time for writing. As an example, I used to have a quota of 60 jokes per week on two separate topics. Working six days a week on it, that comes to only 10 gags a day. Monday morning, I would decide on topic number one and do some thinking about it. By doing this, I would automatically think about the subject even when I wasn’t consciously working on it.

While driving to work and listening to the radio I was working on my writing, and it cost me not one bit of time. Then I could write three jokes while having breakfast and or shaving. I might think of a joke while driving or even while working period I would jot it down. I would begin my lunch period by writing three jokes. Then I might do another three or four right before retiring. If the jokes just wouldn’t come at those times, then I’d sit down for an hour or so in the evening and work hard to generate my 10 gag daily quota, but usually, it was a lot less than 10 because of the work I’ve done during the day. The work costs very little of my free time period

Keeping to your quota is good training for several reasons. First it teaches discipline. Probably the virtue that is most important to a professional writer is discipline. You have to learn to produce on demand. You have to be competent whether or not you’re inspired. You even have to be good working on some projects that you don’t fully believe in because the person paying your salary believes in them. It’s an important tool for a writer and the time to learn it is now.

Secondly, the training is constant. It’s repetitive, so you learn faster. Weekend athletes tell you that you can’t play well when you only play on Saturday. You have to get out there several times a week to learn golf or tennis. In fact, one hour of play a day for five straight days is probably better than five hours on the weekend.

Third, by sticking to a quota, you won’t be rushed. You think about your project then work on it. Your mind begins to ponder it again, then you produce more. It’s a steady relaxed flow of creativity. Compare that to letting your daily goal slip by unachieved, then rushing to catch it up in one massive burst of dedication. You may get your work done, but it probably won’t be your best and it won’t be as beneficial a learning experience.

Most steering processes are a series of errors and corrections. You go off target and you correct. You overcorrect, and adjust in the other direction. Gradually, the error factor diminishes to practically nothing.

I remember as a child I used to wonder why people driving a car kept moving the steering wheel when we were going in a straight path. They were constantly correcting to maintain that reasonable straight path. The learning process is pretty much the same. So, you want to keep making corrections as often as possible. If you leave too much time between

corrections, you may stray so far off target that the corrections you made previously are now useless. You have to start over again. My friend, Vic Braden, who teaches tennis, has a great line for that. He says, “Some people say they should be better players. They’ve had 11 years of experience. I tell them they’ve had one year of experience 11 times.”

You don’t want that to happen to your writing, so set yourself a quota make it reasonable, and stick to it.

©2021 Perret Ink

Community Theater [43005]

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I love plays.  I love Broadway plays.  I love high school plays.  I love plays on television.  I like serious plays, but I love funny plays.  Add a couple of songs and I’m one happy camper.

            I find the experience of going to the theater thrilling.  I love losing myself in a story for a few hours.  Yes, you can get that same feeling by going to the movies, but in my opinion plays force you to use your imagination in a way that the movie industry abandoned years ago.  In a movie everything is depicted for you.  You see everything.  In a play, there is usually something left to your imagination because you are limited to the space on and around the stage.

            The other reason I love plays is that they inspire me.  While watching a play I find myself trying to figure out where it is going.  Sometimes I want a play to continue and try to map out what the sequel would be.

I usually go to plays with a friend.  The last time we went to one she asked, “How come before a play you are so talkative and then afterwards you hardly say a word?”  She didn’t wait for my answer, she just said, “I know it’s because you’re rewriting the whole thing, aren’t you?”

She was absolutely correct.  Whether I laugh or cry, I want to change it.  It could be a play by Joe Schmoo, the local playwright, or Neil Simon, who in my opinion is one of the best playwrights ever, but I can make it better.  I get new ideas and I start writing.  

It gets me going.  I come home from a play and write like crazy. 

I want to encourage all of you to start going to some plays.  It’s a great way to get the

creative juices flowing.  Attend some musicals,

comedies, and one person adventures.  You don’t have to attend the high-priced professional shows.  There are usually local theater groups that do a great job.

Here in Los Angeles, I can go see a high-priced professional show, but I also have the option of going to a local theater.  Within 20 miles of my home, we have the Calabasas Players, the Simi Valley Players, and the Conejo Valley Players.  They all put on great shows at reasonable costs; they just weren’t real clever at choosing names.

One advantage to attending Community Theater is that they may perform shows that are not as current or as well know as the big playhouses.  This way you can see plays performed that most likely you wouldn’t have a chance to see anywhere else.  I recently went to a performance of Neil Simon’s Fools, not one of his better-known shows.  It was enjoyable, fun, and got me working.

Another great thing about Community Theater is that they are usually looking for volunteers and this could be a way to get introduced to show business.  Most likely you get to see the productions for free, which is always nice.  As a volunteer you may have the opportunity to watch and learn the ins and outs of a production, not to mention the access to people who may be able to help you in your writing career. 

If you have the opportunity to go to a Broadway production, by all means, go, but don’t overlook the benefits of your nearest Community Theater. 

Explore the Fringes of Comedy [43020]

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It takes dedication, persistence, a pinch of luck, and a little bit of time to make it as a stand-up comedian or a writer for either stand-up comics or situation comedies.  That’s meant more as encouragement than discouragement because only those who remain dedicated and persistence will find that luck and in time make it.  The less devoted competition will fall by the wayside.

            However, there are other avenues where you can utilize your comedy skills while you’re waiting for that pinch of luck and the passage of time.  Some of these fringe areas of comedy can often sharpen your skills, gain you exposure, and expedite your career.

            Magazines are always looking for good humorous articles. Those monologues you want to write can be transformed into 800 or 1000 words that some periodical publisher might be interested in.  It’s getting your name in print, earning a little cash, and honing your comedy writing skills.

            You probably belong to some organization or another, either at work or socially.  They could probably use an emcee for some of their functions.  In that capacity, you can open with an entertaining three or four minutes of stand-up material.  It’s fun and if it’s kept to a reasonable time, and with appropriate material, it’s appreciated.

            One friend had children who played on the high school football team.  At the awards banquet, he opened with a funny monologue about the season, the team, the coaches, and some of the players.

            Some folks use their comedy talents on the job. Some give seminars, work related speeches, or offer training programs in house. These can be made more palatable with a touch of appropriate humor.

            Others actually offer one-line writing services to executives at the company who are always called on for speeches someplace or another.  These executives have learned, as politicians have, that a sprinkling of humor helps tremendously with audience acceptance and attention.

            Offer to write a short humor column for the local papers or even your company bulletin.  Or even put together homemade humorous books for co-workers to enjoy.

            One acquaintance of mine gained a local reputation by assembling a book of captioned pictures for special occasions – a friend’s retirement, an anniversary celebration, a birthday.

            These are only top of the head suggestions. With a little thought and creativity, you’ll come up with your own avenues. Remember you become a better writer as you write. These will hone your skills.

            One fringe benefit of these avenues, though, is that you gain recognition, even if it’s only local recognition. A big factor in moving a career along is word of mouth publicity. Your friends know you’re funny. They mention it to a friend. That friend tells a friend of his. Who knows where it can lead?

            My own comedy writing career got a big boost in just this way.  I emceed company parties, wrote in the company paper, and had books floating around the office with jokes and captioned pictures in them.  One co-worker also worked as a stringer for a newspaper.  He interviewed Phyllis Diller, mentioned my work, and she asked to see some of my material.  I began writing for her and things snowballed from there.

            Keep your eye on your career, but do some other writing along the way. It could help.

Define Your Premise-Exercise [43025]

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By Gene Perret

It’s helpful in doing any kind of comedy monologue, or even in writing humorous articles, to begin by defining your premise. Tell the audience right up front exactly what you’re talking about.

            And, of course, since you are doing comedy, the more laughs you can get, the better off you are. Therefore, it pays to make your definition funny.

This month, I’m offering an exercise that will give you some practice in definitions.

            We’ll take some abstract ideas and try to write some one-liners that define them. I’ll suggest a few, but you might try to come up with more of your own.

            Let’s begin with words like: fear, heaven, hell, heroism, dedication, politeness. Now take each of these (or selected ones) along with those of your own, and write some one-liners that give a good, solid, funny definition of that particular word.

            For example:

  • Fear is that little voice inside you that says, “I don’t know how I got into this situation, but you can bet the farm I’m never going to get into it again.”
  • Fear is when little butterflies form in your stomach and try to get out. Often times your lunch goes with them.
  • Fear is when your courage goes AWOL, and you’d like to go with it.

This is a valuable exercise because your topic is very specific. That forces you to focus on just one thought. The more you can learn to focus in comedy writing, the stronger your material will be.

            Also, these are topics that are unique. They haven’t been overdone by comedians. That will force you to be original and to investigate the topic thoroughly in your own mind.

            To get the most benefit from this exercise, do several jokes on each topic. Again, that forces you to analyze your premise thoroughly. The first gag might be great, but there are other areas within that premise that can be explored.

            I recommend that you do at least 7 to 10 gags on each topic that you select. As a variation on this exercise (after you’ve explored this one fully), you might try opening a dictionary to a random page, finding an intriguing word there, and writing several gags, or even a routine on that word.

            This one will really force you to think.

With both of these exercises, Have Fun!

Success Requires an Investment in Yourself

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I had been writing for Phyllis Diller for some time before I met her. She invited me to see her performance at the Latin Casino outside of Philadelphia. The first thing she said as I walked into her dressing room was, “You’re the best writer I’ve got.” I said, “Then how come I’m not in Hollywood?” She responded honestly, “Because you’re not ready yet.”

            Naturally, I was delighted with her compliment, but disappointed that she felt I wasn’t yet prepared for the big time. It was confusing. How could I be so good on one hand and not good enough on the other? She was right, though, and since then I’ve come to learn what she meant.

            Reaching a certain level of success—especially in the arts—requires more than ability. You have to convince others that you’re talented. That requires a lot of persistence and a touch of luck. There’s another phenomenon to consider—if you’re really good, sometimes the powers that be won’t recognize your sills. You’re too advance for them. I’m not claiming that happened to me, but it has happened to others. They were ahead of their time. I can remember as a television writer reviewing tapes of Steve Martin many years before he became a household name. He was so outlandish that no one would admit he was funny…until audiences forced us to.

            It would be an ideal world if we could acquire a certain amount of proficiency in our profession and immediately be recognized for it and paid for it. It just doesn’t often happen that way.

            However, I will go out on a limb and suggest that if you do learn your craft, be it speaking or writing, you will eventually earn the recognition you deserve. It does take some time, though.

            There will be times when you deserve pay and don’t get any. There will be times when you deserve more than you get, but no one will give it to you. These are the times when the true professional invests in the future. You invest in yourself.

            During one of our writer’s strikes I was walking a picket line outside of Universal Studios. A young man approached and began talking to us. We welcomed that. We welcomed anything that broke the monotony of walking in a circle. This gentleman was an aspiring writer who was studying TV scripting in a class taught by the Writer’s Guild. Many members volunteered to teach classes regularly to the underprivileged and this lad was one of the students.

            We talked about the good and bad facets of the television writing. We all knew what was wrong with TV and how to cure those ills. We all knew that if only we were in power, the medium would be improved two hundredfold. There’s a word for what we were doing, but it doesn’t belong on the front page of a classy newsletter like this.

            Then this aspiring writer told us that he had written a short presentation that his teacher felt had potential. He went to his car, brought back the document, and asked us to read it quickly. It was only one or two pages long. We all agreed that it was a workable idea that could possibly result in a sale.

            This student told us that his teacher advised him to rewrite this premise into a full treatment, which might be ten to twenty pages. We thought that was good advice and were happy for him. The he said, “If he wants me to do that, he’s going to have to pay me for it.”

            That was about 15 years ago and I doubt if that lad every became a TV writer. I doubt if he ever sold anything. In fact, I doubt if he ever completed that treatment.

            Each aspiring writer or speaker reading this page can put the moral to this story in his or her own words. I know the lesson I learned from that day’s chance encounter struck me heavily…otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it 15 years later.

Half Today; Half Tomorrow

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I had lunch one day with one of the writers from The Carol Burnett Show. She said, “I learned so much from your dad, but for the longest time, I thought he was crazy.” She went on to explain, as if an explanation was necessary, that while working on The Carol Burnett Show, Dad was busy doing other things.

“Whenever we asked your dad if he wanted to go to lunch with us, he would say, ‘I can’t. I’m working on a speech for the local Kiwanis Club…or writing a book…or working on some magazine article for $50.’ Here we were working on the highest rated show, winning all kinds of awards, making pretty good money and your dad was writing a speech for a group of businessmen. I thought he was crazy.” She said he always encouraged her and her partner to do these things. “Why would we want to? We were award-winning writers. We didn’t need anything else. Until we were no longer on the air and the jobs weren’t so easy to come by.” She said that while she was looking for work, Dad was on a book tour with his second book and had contracts for more. He had become a well-respected humor speaker and was traveling the country giving talks for thousands of dollars. She realized that while she and the other writers were living in the present, Dad had been preparing for the future. And when the future came, which it tends to do whether we’re ready or not, Dad was prepared.

This story reminded me of a little bit of advice that I received when I ventured out into the freelance world. I was having a discussion with someone about my decision. They said, “That’s great, just remember to work half for today and half for tomorrow.”

            He went on to say that no matter how much time you’re going to invest into this area, whether it’s two hours a day or eight, be sure to divide it in half. Spend half of that time working on your assignments for now. Spend the other half making sure you have assignments for tomorrow.

Basically, this is what Gene was doing in the first story, whether he knew it or not. He wasn’t resting on his laurels but was laying the groundwork for future work. No matter what you are working on today, things could change tomorrow and if you’re not prepare, you could be in trouble.

            So what does that mean to you? It means, if you are a comedian, and you’re working on new material and developing your act, that’s great, but also spend some time getting bookings six, seven months down the line. If you’re a writer working on the contacts you have today, great, but spend some time making new contacts and generating more contracts for later.

Let’s say you spend four hours a day working on your comedy.

Spend two of those hours on what’s happening right now, and spend the other two working on the future…whatever it may be. If you want to write sitcoms, start writing your spec scripts now. If you want to get booked in the LA clubs, start the groundwork now. Try this for a bit and see how quickly things start happening.

Meet Gene Perret [43002]

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Eugene R. (Gene) Perret, one of Hollywood’s best-known comedy writers, has worked with Bob Hope, Carol Burnett, Tim Conway, Phyllis Diller, Bill Cosby and many others.

            In 1969, following a long-range stint as a monologue writer for Phyllis Diller’s one-hour variety show, he joined the Jim Nabors Show writing staff, became a member of Bob Hope’s regular writing staff, and later became head writer for Laugh-In and The New Bill Cosby Show.

            During five seasons with The Carol Burnett Show, Gene picked up three Emmy Awards for outstanding comedy writing and a Writer’s Guild Award which is voted yearly by the writers themselves.

            Moving into producing with his partner, Bill Richmond, Perret spend a season with Welcome Back, Kotter and another with the then-#1 rated show on TV, Three’s Company before helping launch The Tim Conway Show as producer and head writer.

            Gene first book Hit or Miss Management was published last year. Despite his many honors, Gene is proudest of his work with young writers. Through magazine articles and correspondence, he’s helped launch many new writing careers. 

Why Round Table? [43001]

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All of us on the staff of ROUND TALBE are happy to see this first edition finally in print and we welcome all our readers.

            We’re quite proud of this publication, and we unashamedly wish ourselves much success. You’re welcome to join the good wishes if you like.

            We feel that ROUND TABLE is a unique periodical written by comedy writers and humorists for comedy writers and humorists. But then why the mysterious name, ROUND TABLE, a gathering place for comedy writers and humorists? Why not simply COMEDY WRITERS MONTHLY or the COMEDY WRITERS JOURNAL? Is it because the comedy writers who put the first edition together simply can’t bring themselves to use such trite, hackneyed, expected titles? That’s part of it. We humorists always think we can top anything

that’s been done before. But that’s not the real reason.

            We wanted the title to reflect the purpose and the content of the publication. Years ago, the finest humorists of America would meet periodically for lunch at the Algonquin hotel in New York. People like Alexander Woolcott, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley and others would exchange ideas and insult across what became known as the Algonquin Round Table. It was at the meeting place that Robert Benchly once said, “It took me 15 years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”

            We want this publication to have the same relaxed and friendly atmosphere as the original Round Table.

            This journal is not intended to be merely a fact finding and news reporting bulletin. It’s intended, rather, to be exactly as the subtitle says, a gathering place for comedy writers and humorists. It’s really an instrument for you readers and subscribers to exchange ideas. We solicit and welcome your input.

            Writing is supposed to be a lonely profession. That’s especially true for the comedy writer. Even the most popular writers magazines virtually ignore this specialized field. In every city that I visit I invariably meet at least one comedy writer who wants to know “Who do I show my material to?” “How do I sell my material?” and similar questions.

            ROUND TABLE is designed to take some of the loneliness out of comedy writing.

            Through this publication, writers and humorists will meet on these pages. They can ask questions of the experts, the experienced writers and humorists, or of each other. We want to know of your successes and how you achieved them, because others can learn from your innovations and gather some residual confidence in your achievement.

            We’ll provide a showcase for your writings. We’ll provide interviews with successful performers and some accomplished writers will pass on their experience to you. Notice, we don’t say “expertise,” but experience. A long-time writer isn’t necessarily more skilled than the beginner. He just has learned how to use those skills more effectively. (Go back and reread the Robert Benchly quote. It has as much truth as humor in it.)

            One advantage this ROUND TABLE has over the original…they only had room for the elite of the world of humor. We’re grateful that we have plenty of room for everyone.