That’s Not Funny…

Print it out and sign it, you unfunny twatwaffle.

… according to PAUL LAO
edited by WOO

[Editors Note: This piece, while containing plenty of humor, is more of an advice column for those striving in the Stand-Up comedy arena. We could all use advise from one who has been around, and we all know Paul Lao has been around!] 


I have been doing stand up for 8 years and I know how to spot a hack, a train wreck, a complete waste of time.  Here is (from my findings) what I consider to make one suck at the hard art:

1. Don’t hate fuck the crowd.
If you think this is going to go well because you shocked the crowd with a raping grandma’s corpse joke while curb stomping a baby, then guess again.  Also don’t talk shit about the venue, the owner, the staff, and the audience.  You are there to make people laugh. At least start with a welcome and a smile before you decide to fist them with no lube.  Wait for them to wrong you then come down on them with furious vengeance.

2. Don’t dress up and make a joke about it.
Resourcefulness is a very admirable attribute when we think of a hero.  And what’s worse than to give him/her a situation that they are completely prepared for?  Diehard would have sucked if John McClane had the Ironman suit.  I have seen guys wear Hawaiian Shirts, 3 piece suits, hats of every genre, t-shirts, props glued to their chest, a doll house on their head, and a guy who slammed his hands on his shorts and popped red fake blood onto the floor.  If you make a joke about a circumstance that you put yourself in you will not get any laughs because the surprise isn’t there.  Or the punch is going to be weak if they see it coming.  Comedy is about misdirection and an awakening of the mind.

Do material about the body you are born with, and how you deal with it.

3. Please don’t say the phrase “I know what you’re thinking.”  And don’t preface your jokes with excuses as to why they aren’t funny.
The mark of an amateur is revealed in every facet of our craft.   If you don’t know if a joke works try it on friends and people that won’t lie to you.  If you have to say, “ oh you should have been there”  or  “man that was sooo funny we laughed…” If you have to testify under oath that you were funny, how is that relevant to now?  Be confident or stay in a character that is too preoccupied to worry about being nervous.  You also don’t have to tell people that it sucked or step on their laughs.  Practice your throw aways.   Johnny Carson thrived on the rebound when a joke died.  If you lead, people will follow.

4. Know how creepy you are.
Daniel Tosh, Mitch Hedburg, Anthony Jezelneck, Demetri Martin,and Dane Cook are all relatively good looking comics.  And if they wanted to,  or are, doing mean or dark comedy they have different levels of getting away with stuff.  Jim Norton, Zach Galifanakas, Robin Williams, and Uncle Lar all have to do something that the other comics do not, and that’s smile when they say something very offensive. And they can’t go to over board without changing their voice.   If you are a creeper the laughs won’t come when you joke about cleaning women’s carpets.  Good looking people can talk about sex and show you their homemade porn, and you might appreciate it.  Ugly people will wear the skimpiest outfit and you will be diagnosed as bulimic because Kirstie Alley decided to dress up as a 4 layer muffin-top for Halloween.

We aren’t created aesthetically equal so make up for it in cutting wit.

5. Adjectives are more powerful than most act-outs.
Two act-outs that I can’t stand, and that waste time are the air hump, and pot smoking.  Imagine trying to play charades with someone and you get a raisin bran cookie with a razor blade plugged into a electric socket while Ozzy Osborne’s War Pigs is playing in the filling of your premolar.  And they have to get it exactly.  The Devil is in the details and when it comes to jokes.  The difference between miming lifting a kid by the bangs and saying, “the dad lifted his son’s head like a cellar door.” (Ryan Papazian’s joke) is much more powerful when doing the latter.   The sound of a bong or the toke of a joint is not the same as doing it.  So why do it?

6. Get to the point.
If you are at a club do your polished jokes.  If you are at a coffee house do written material that you are working on.  Keyword: “written”. If you are an improv comic, get to the funny as fast as you can.  The economy is bad and people’s attention spans are worse. Word economy is efficient and yields more laughs.  If you are at an open mic and you go and talk about your day then you are wasting time. You are draining the positive energy out of hard working comics who are trying to do something with this as a career.

7. Singing without an instrument or a good voice or good lyrics is shit.
I came to hear comedy not listen to bad A capella…  Weird Al does it, and I know many talented guitar comics that destroy with smart and funny songs.  Check out my friend Eli Brazen.  Hilarious!  Besides we have real musicians, song writers and singers who have dedicated their lives to that art.  So don’t step on their heels unless you are willing to make a quality product.  Otherwise STFU!

8. Talk about things you know “to” the people, not “at” them
If you are a phony or a liar your set will contain clues and nuances that sounds disingenuous.  The delivery will suffer, the topics will be vague and come off as shallow.  When it comes to the performance, embrace the crowd and talk to them.  Find out how you best communicate.  If you mumble one liners or try to set up with big concepts before acknowledging the audiences approval, then you are in public talking at a wall.  Connect and that will enhance the show.

9. Stay away from being hack and always be smart.
Finally, it is very hard to be original.  With 6 billion people in the world you have a lot of competition for original thought.  Being creative is different. It’s looking at the same concept but seen through a different angle, perspective, and innovation.  Creativity doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel, just use the wheel in different ways.

Being smart makes you a legend and pandering to the lowest common denominator makes you a forgotten hobbyist.

[Editors Addendum: Our apologies for the mention of Dane Cook in this article. We find Pepto-Bosmol® generally fixes us right up, but if this does not work for you please seek a Healthcare Professional.] 

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