Where My Jokes Come From 1/3/16


I get asked about my process quite often. How I come up with my jokes. Are they really true. How often do I change them up.

Soooo, here's my answers for anyone still curious: 

HOW DO YOU COME UP WITH YOUR JOKES? 

Well, for me it all boils down to one thing. 

Listening. 

Dip a sponge into a bucket of water, then ring it out. That sponge came into contact with all of the water in the bucket, but didn't retain all of the water once you pulled it out. Now after you ring it, it's got the perfect amount for you to cover the surface of whatever you're wiping it on, right? Same thing. 

I dip myself into the world. No motive, no goals. I just let it all filter through me. News, people-watching, strangers' conversations, my own conversations. It all sounds the same to me. Like being in  traffic with the windows down. 

It all sounds, the SAME...until it doesn't. 

Until you hear a crash. Or someone's engine revving unnecessarily (it's TRAFFIC remember? Where you goin???) Until you hear someone yelling at someone for cutting them off. Until the person in the car with you says something you have never heard before. I call this the "Wait-What" moment: Any moment that causes you to either mentally or literally say "Wait, What???" And we all have them. How many times have you done that in your life? How many times was it because you didn't hear or see the moment properly? I'm willing to bet almost never. I'm willing to bet you heard it right or saw it right the first time, but it was so out of the ordinary for your brain to process, you just needed a sec for a mental instant replay...Yep, that's you isn't it? Right. THAT'S the sponge coming out of the water. 

Now...right after the Wait-What moment...Listen. Shut up. LISTEN..........................Your brain just told you something. That very first response you had in your mind after the replay?...That's the joke. Look at it...isn't it beautiful??? Just writing about this imaginary thought gets me excited! This thought could be the thing I'm most remembered for the rest of my life. This thought could be the reason I've got enough money to buy groceries. Thank You brain, for stopping me in my tracks. I will not forget you. There's no way in hell. You are just too beautiful!!! My thoughts are my children. They may wander but I never let them go. They are invaluable to me, so I find a place for them all. I write them out, talk them out, use them in conversation, or silently reflect on them, but they won't get lost. Not anymore. And that is the only difference between the guy onstage who is the entertainer, and the one offstage who says "Oh I could do that". Yes, you absolutely can! I'm not special, I'm just a dude. But the difference between you and I is when it comes to your own thoughts, you're a deadbeat daddy. So have a seat, and watch me work.


ARE YOUR JOKES REALLY TRUE? 

Yes. Ridiculously True. Truer than you would often want to believe. Ever heard the term "Truth is stranger than Fiction"? Yea, That. 

I honestly don't even like using the word "joke" to refer to what I do. My life ain't no joke! Lol I prefer the term material, as most comics I have come across prefer also.

If I tell you a story and I'm the focal point, you bet your ass it happened. It happened and it prooobably wasn't my best moment in life either.  Some of my stories sound downright insane. They were. You know what else??? I watered the tales down for you. Not because I think you can't handle it, but because if I gave you any more details, it wouldn't be funny anymore. That's why I ring out the sponge. If I gave you too much you can't dry off in time for the next story, you'll be stuck on whatever I drenched you with in the first story and now both of us can't move on. 

Whenever I'm asked for advice from people who want to be comedians, instead of slapping them like Terrance & Phillip slapped Brooke Shields in the South Park movie, I offer this tidbit: 

"Tell the truth. You'll never forget what you have to say, and no heckler can call you out onstage. Because it happened. No one knows how to tell your story better than you can when you're being completely honest." 

The truth (onstage) is EASY. You have the 4th wall to protect you, and if it's broken at any moment, it's on your terms. Anyone who doesn't adhere to these terms gets dealt with. Either by you or by your audience. The crowd will respect the truth. 

The best comics come from the most messed up truths you could ever wrap your head around. That's why I'm grateful every day that I'm not the funniest guy in my circle. I don't WANT to be, EVER. Because that takes some pain my friends. And that's the truth!
 

HOW OFTEN DO YOU CHANGE YOUR MATERIAL? 

When I think of new material, one name comes to mind immediately: Louis C.K. 

But let's start by talking about George Carlin: 

Carlin is my all-time favorite comedian. He is the gold standard in my book. There was nothing he couldn't do with a pen or his voice.  But even George still allowed himself to use some of his favorite jokes from time to time from his old works and incorporate them into his new work. Watch his HBO specials, you'll hear a few of his classics recycled occasionally, and you won't CARE. Because wrapped around those classic jokes are completely original reinvented new sets for his audiences to hear him in a way they hadn't heard him previously. Every Carlin album has it's own personality. That's what I try to emulate. Have new stuff but keep the old stuff on retainer and create around it. 

Great material, no matter how often it's used, can be very hard to let go. Jerry Seinfeld once did a special called "I'm Telling You For The Last Time" where he used all the material he was retiring in one show. He wasn't retiring from stand-up, he was retiring his old material. He was giving his material a viking funeral. Honorable, but still burned away. 

This is why I say Louis C.K. when this subject comes up. He takes this idea to a different stratosphere. He burns his old material like an infected mattress. Once he develops it, tours for a year and records it, it's gone. Onto the next hour of genius. Not just new, but GENIUS. It's all classic. Which is remarkable, because new does not always equal genius. Moreover, not all genius is created equal.  Prince and Sir Mixalot are both considered song writers buuut...Ya know. 

Are there more comedians out there who are capable of this? I truly believe so.  I know I can do this, but from a pratical standpoint there's no incentive for an unknown comic to burn their material. Why are you burning something the masses haven't heard? Something you haven't monetized to its full potential? Because you're "doing it for the art"?... 

Listen, even the greatest artists in history needed patronage. Doesn't make you more artistic because you're poor. I don't know about you, but I LIKE money lol so I'm not gettin rid o' nothin until I think enough people have heard me say it. I let the audience response let me know when a joke is done. The minute I feel a joke that used to kill start to lose steam, I send it packing. I'm like Bill Belicheck. Could those jokes still work for me? Sure, but not much longer, so let's waive it while it still has some dignity left. You've wiped the surface clean, the sponge is dry, and now it's time to dunk that sucker back in some fresh water. Start over again. Dunk, ring, wipe. Repeat. Repeat. REPEAT...Sometimes you don't want to repeat. That's ok...you'll be gone soon enough. 

I worked with a very well known comic last year who had just finished up his Netflix special. He had just gotten offstage after completely destroying the house. Amazing show. He wasn't very enthused about it though. When I congratulated him on such a great set he said "Thanks, but I KNEW that was gonna kill. It's my best material. All of it. And when that Netflix special hits, it's all gonna be gone. I don't HAVE any new material." 

I told him I didn't believe that. I told him "I know you're not doing the same jokes as when you started.  You couldn't have been. You've put too much time in and you're too great of a comic, and every one of your "best" jokes started as nothing but an idea or an addition to your previous jokes. I saw your Comedy Central special years ago. It was completely different than these jokes you did tonight. You've got more. You will always have more. I shouldn't even have say this!" 

He said "You're right." 
Because I was!...But also because I'm sure he knew all of what I said already.

"New" material comes from everywhere and nowhere all at the same time, so of course you can do it again. But Why ARE you??? You just need your answer to be great enough to justify the struggle. And MAN it can be a discouraging, value-changing struggle. Hovering nightly between "I don't have it anymore" and "Wow I'm AMAZING now!", you'll find new material. Just "Trust the Process" as my favorite comedic mentors who challenge the new material curve on a regular basis like to say. 

Louis C.K. isn't worried about bills, or status, or fame, is he? So of COURSE he has time to let all that genius flow. You would too if your creative side had the free time to be creative again! Not to mention he is always prepping for a new special at a sold-out venue that will make him millions of dollars and new fans...so the goal is always in view. His answer is great enough for the forseeable future. 

Not all of us have strong enough reasons to change out the material that we've worked so hard to accumulate over the years in an industry that beats you down for trying to re-invent your voice. We need motivation constantly. 

A new taping? Sure, great answer. 
New album? Hell yeah, excellent answer. 
New Year? Good answer. 
New Venue? I guess. 
Private Party? Don't hurt yourself. 

My material in my actual show changes organically. Nothing is forced. Old jokes find their way out, new ones work their way in. But my thoughts, no matter how small, are always being collected. I checked the other day, I have 117 premises of jokes I have not fleshed out. 117! They're not all gonna make it into my act I'm sure but the point is, I'll never run out of things to say. Things, things, things...Ok I'm rambling let's wrap this up: 
 

SO TO REVIEW... 

Q: How do you write your jokes? 

A: Dunk, Ring, Wipe, Repeat. 

Q: Are your jokes true? 

A: More true than I'd like them to be! 

Q: How often do you change your jokes? 

A: The jokes switch out themselves, I just keep writing them in the meantime. 

Q: How are you able to make people laugh with clean humor? 

A: F**k if I know! We'll focus on that one next time! :) 

Have A Great Day! 

-Al

 

Leave a comment

    Add comment