Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Today's Topic: Topical Jokes

Here's Louis CK's take on topical jokes (Boston Comedy via Sandpaper Suit):

"I just don't do that. It has a shelf life, and… I don't care about current events. They're hit so hard by comedians. That whole thing of, 'Hey, what the hell…' you know, 'And the eight babies lady…' You know, Jesus. And fucking enough. It's the most boring part of our national conversation, is the five headlines. You can't tell the news from Entertainment Tonight anymore. It's just a bummer. And I think it's one of the most boring aspects of stand-up, and it's just me being really harsh, is just the feeding on that shit. And taking the, 'Here's my take on it.' Oh, okay, that's about three degrees different from what Conan said, and Leno said, and Letterman said, and Jon Stewart, and Dennis Miller, and Spike Feresten, and Jimmy Kimmel, and Jimmy Fallon. And the columnist, and the Onion. And a bunch of bloggers...Your take on the Octomom, you somehow found a little territory in there that was just yours. And I really wish you had thought about something about yourself instead."

Now here's MY TAKE:

I don't know if you've noticed but the past few days I've been writing topical jokes. Why on earth would I do this? Two reasons:

a) As a joke-writing exercise
b) It's amazing practice for television writing

The truth is, there is ZERO money in alternative comedy. You either make money as an actor or a writer. I don't have a Johnny Hollywood Good Time Charlie face, so I may as well hone my writing chops.

That said,
I would stay away from telling topical jokes onstage. Stand-up, more than any other form of comedy, is about honing and sharpening the same material. Granted, I don't feel you need to tell the same five jokes at EVERY show (I just realized this recently, so apologies to my fellow comedy colleagues) but it really is hard to let go of jokes that have the shelf life of one loopy afternoon at work.


Topical jokes: great for blogs/Twitter, but a waste of time onstage.


Aalap said...

Agreed. CK has a good point, stand up is about you and turning your experiences and ideas into a fun time for the audience. One of my favorite CK joke is his joke about 9-11 and masturbation, which may seem topical from the short description, but is actually wholly unique and has much more to do about himself and human nature than 9-11.

Mo Diggs said...

Precisely. If it fits your voice fine but don't try to do Weekend Update onstage.

soce said...

The only time I would tell topical jokes is when I'm hosting a show, at the start of the show. I feel like the audience is just settling in, and I want to catch their attention with something that's on their minds.

But once the show gets going, I drift into the outer reaches of space and go all over the place. wace. mace. umm...

Also I don't host shows often, so it makes for an easy crutch to transition from not hosting to getting the audience on my side!!!

For my own music though, I stick to more random, personal thoughts.