Tuesday, September 01, 2009

News Brief Comic vs. Feature Writer Comic

The word "hack" gets thrown around in comedy circles like the word "communist" gets thrown around Beltway conservative pundit conversations about Obama: its overuse builds to a sort of glossolalia to the point where one almost forgets what either word means.

Perhaps journalism can show us the way.

Most cub reporters start off picking up faxes/e-mails and writing brief stories about charity bake sales, Halloween safety tips, etc. Then they graduate to real local news briefs about robberies, murders, etc. Eventually, they graduate to in-depth features, a cover story, maybe even their own column.

The same can be said for comedians. Many comedians start off with "news brief" jokes ("This is in the news..."). At the very least, they start off with brief jokes that anyone can write. News wire stories from the AP or Reuters have very little personality. Similarly, hacks are more concerned with content and timeliness than style.

Great comedians, then, are like feature writers: very thorough, thought-provoking writers with their own personal flair. Richard Pryor; Maria Bamford; Andy Kaufman; Bill Burr-all very different comedians and yet they can all be considered "feature writer" comics.

The best a "news brief" comic can hope for is a monologue writing job for Conan or Letterman. For a "feature writer" comic the sky's the limit.

As unremarkable as news brief comics can get, they are also well-versed in the fundamentals that a feature writer comic knows cold and builds on: strong punchlines, timing, clarity. Feature writers have difficulty at first bringing clarity and focus to difficult issues like whether public health is socialist, much like feature writer comedians might initially experience frustration trying to make their personal bits accessible.

There is overlap of course. Great comedians likes Andres DuBouchet and A.D. Miles write monologue jokes for Conan and Fallon. Similarly, a feature writer can probably write a news brief in her sleep. But news brief writers and news brief comics who only do briefs have difficulty making the feature leap; some may be so happy with the money and/or travel that brief guys get to experience that they never want to write features.

Although the majority of news brief writer comedians are hacks, there are exceptions -- comedians who write their brief jokes with a certain panache. Steven Wright and Mitch Hedberg come to mind. They have relatively simple jokes but the delivery and mannerisms make all the difference. So if you do find yourself more comfortable talking about Sarah Palin's latest gaffe, make sure to include your own personal stamp or else you will end up being yesterday's news before you know it.

1 comment:

Abbi Crutchfield said...

This looks too wordy, so I skipped straight to the comments section. Thank you for writing something that looked thought-provoking.