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A Comedy Class Where You Won't Learn to be Funny

Posted August 5, 2010

2 comments posted. Read them now.

I can't teach you to be funny. So sorry. My comedy writing workshop will not magically turn you into the next Zach Galfianakas. Or grant you the secrets to getting a piece published in McSweeney's or the New Yorker or land you a late night talk show. Though I can promise you that I will help you with the pronunciation of Galfianachas. Just not the spelling.

As I put together my syllabus for my online comedy writing workshop at the Basement Writing Workshop, which starts September 13th, I have not a single lesson plan about how to turn you into a funny person.

I'm also not going to tell you whether you're naturally funny or not. Comedy is incredibly subjective. From what I've noticed good, smart and beautiful people think I'm funny, but BP oil executives, Kim Jong Il and your psycho ex-boyfriend do not.

Why would you fork over bags of dough to me, then, if I'm not going to teach you to be funny? Aside from the fact that I need the money to pay for simonizing treatments for my flying yacht?

Because I will help you put on your inner jester suit. That's right. I will be your clown whisperer. Thankfully, because this is an online class, I don't have to see you in your jester suit, which is tacky and made from orange polyester, and and you won't have to see me teaching without pants. That is our pact.

Good comedy comes from being loose. Not in the sense of being promiscuous, though there is a ton of material to be exploited from the dozens of humiliating or embarrassing sexual encounters, nestled in among the thousands of seamless romantic conquests, that a Wilt Chamberlain like you could tell in amusing detail.

Your brain has to unravel. If your mind is receptive and open you can feel free to write the ridiculous. It's hard to know if your latest essay has the comic power and maturity of a seventh grade lunch table fart-off but if you aren't loose you won't even try. Sometimes you need to chase the ridiculous to find the sublime and you need to give yourself license. If you relax you can trust your instincts and occasionally give over to puns and bad taste.

Comedy is about wordplay, about riffing and improvisation. When I was covering the 2008 campaign for Comedy Central the writers were constantly riffing with each other over instant messenger these IMs can never be released because they would basically take down the government. They were also funnier than anything we actually printed but were always either off topic or too offensive but that's how you keep your brain working.

We can play games. I can teach you games to play on your own that will get you into the right frame of mind for being inappropriate, being childish, finding the right answers to the wrong questions. Because it's important to know who would win in a fight: a unicorn or narwhal?

In my class I hope to goad you to the edge of the cliff to take risks. In an online class I can't force you to do standup but I can prep you for it. We can go blue again, maybe it's something you never show to anyone but working blue helps you define the edges, to go places where you're uncomfortable. You'll be a better humor writer if you aren't afraid cross those lines. The line you cross might not be obscenity, but going blue helps you give yourself permission to tell your internal censors and editors to fuck off.

While I won't tell you whether you're funny or not I can strengthen your work. I can help you move laugh lines around, help you become a better editor and demand you take your work into unexpected directions: let Wile E. Coyote, genius, catch the Road Runner at least once. Since this is a workshop format, you will critique the work of others in a meaningful but kind way, you'll find that you become a better writer just by listening to yourself and others.

So we can go to recess and start throwing sand into each others eyes, or we can have discussions about the difference between a paraprosdokian and a semantic zeugma .

Class begins September 13th. I can't wait.


g. xavier robillard



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