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Comedy Writing
by Linda Perret

Mention comedy writing and most people immediately picture the original Dick Van Dyke Show with Rob Petrie stuck in a room with Sally and Buddy churning out material for the "Allen Brady Show." That is one aspect of comedy writing, but there are many other outlets for humor writers.

There are comedians, greeting cards, bumper stickers, fillers, joke services, articles, speeches, t-shirts, coffee mugs…and the list goes on and on. Luckily for all of us freelancers, the field is wide open and hungry for new talent.

Breaking In

The first step in writing comedy is research. Determine which market you would like to break into first. Once you get used to writing and selling one type of comedy, you'll find it easier to branch out to other fields. To begin, narrow your efforts to just one market. If you want to submit material to a comedian, then study comedians. Visit comedy clubs, rent stand-up videos, tune into HBO and Comedy Central, and learn who's hot.

As you do this, you'll start to get a feel for comedy routines. Once you have an overall view, narrow your efforts again. Choose one comedian you want to write for, and get a feel for his or her routines. Transcribe a few of the routines. Study the type of jokes this comic uses, topics that keep reoccurring, speech patterns, joke patterns, as well as other things that will give you an insight into your comedian. Now begin to write for this comic. If she does topical material, get working on current events. If she uses life experience, find a topic along those lines and start writing.

Don't be discouraged if at first the jokes come painfully slow, and don't seem very funny. Most comedy writers go through this stage. It's part of the process. It's also why you should set a daily writing quota at the start. Your goal should be something obtainable: "I'm going to write five jokes a day" or "I'm going to work on comedy for two hours a day." Stick with your quota and soon you'll find that he jokes are coming faster and funnier. When you have what you feel is good, representative material, it's time to submit it to the marketplace.

The same process applies to other fields of comedy writing. If you want to write greeting cards, go to the card store and research what's on the market, what companies there are, what the trends are, and what's missing. Follow the same steps as above and then send your material out.

Markets

Where do you find the markets? There are numerous books and publications that list celebrity and company addresses. Also do a search on the Internet. Once you have names and addresses you can send a letter stating that you are a comedy writer and are interested in submitting material to them. For their convenience, be sure to enclose a SASE. In return, you may receive guidelines, a release form, or an invitation to submit material.

Sometimes you must be creative and aggressive in finding markets. If you know a comedian is coming to town and stays at a local hotel, try sending a letter to the hotel. If you want to contact a cartoonist you saw on a talk show, send a letter to him or her in care of the show. Usually they'll forward your letter. It's the old clich és of "hit and miss" and "if at first you don't succeed try, try again. "The form for submitting material varies form market to market. Greeting card companies and cartoonists generally prefer their material submitted on 3x5 card. Comedians and joke services usually want your jokes on 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of white paper. Some buyers will limit the amount of material they'll look at, some will want signed releases, some will want it faxed, others mailed, some prefer email and some absolutely don't want you to email them.

Pay Scale

The freelance market usually pays on a 'per joke" basis. Just as the form varies form market to market, so does the compensation. In general, comedians will pay between $5 and $75 per accepted joke; joke services, $3 to $50; greeting cards, $25 to $175; fillers may bring in up to a couple of hundred of bucks. Most guidelines will list the purchase price.

Of course, once you build a reputation with a buyer, they may prefer to put you on salary. This is where they pay you an agreed upon amount and you supply them with so much material. But don't expect this kind of deal when you are beginning.

Conclusion

Humor is one of the most sought after fields in writing, which means the possibilities are endless. It also means the competition is tough. One hint when writing comedy is to "be good." Ten solid one-liners are much better then a hundred so-so lines.

If you take the time to learn and develop your comedy writing skills, this area is full of opportunities for you. And the most important thing is to have fun with it.

© Copyright 2003, Linda Perret

Linda Perret is a full time comedy writer. She supplies material to comedians, magazines, and services. In addition she publishes a monthly newsletter, called Round Table, for comedy writers and performers and runs a yearlong email course on comedy writing. You can reach her at RTComedy@aol.com

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