11/1/12 - how to write a joke

In today's encore selection - in an interview with Franklyn Ajaye, Jerry Seinfeld states that the key to his comedy is the discipline of sitting down and writing. And being left-handed

Franklyn Ajaye: Describe your method of getting into writing a routine.

Jerry Seinfeld: I believe in having a structured approach. My philosophy is that I can sit down at any time with a problem, and if I sit there and don't allow my mind to have distractions -- no phone, no music, no televi­sion -- my mind will eventually start to work on it on its own. It's like a biosphere situation. I isolate myself -- 'cause this is my 'sit' time.

FA: How long do you try to write or sit?

JS: I say, 'I'm going to sit for an hour.' I always consider sitting the accomplishment. If I could boil it down to the essence of becom­ing a really fine comedian, it's just getting your ass from upright to seated.

FA: Was this your approach when you first started developing material?

JS: This was my approach from the very beginning. At first I'd just go on stage and try this and try that, but I soon felt that I had to have a better system than that if I was going to survive the talk shows. I had to figure out how I was going to create material on a dependable basis. That is the number one problem that a co­median has to confront in the early years, so that when the time comes that the demand is put on you to appear on a show like The Tonight Show three or four times a year, you can come up with the material.

FA: So your first sit-down goal was an hour a day?

JS: Yes. An hour a day. That was my first goal. Ten hours a month. That's not easy for someone starting out, and it took me a couple of years to accomplish. Sometimes I had to trick myself to get my­self to write. You wouldn't believe the things I had to do to get myself to write. Sometimes I'd put the cookies by my notebook. It's like a mousetrap -- I go get the cookies, then I look in the note­book, and the next thing I know, I'm writing.

FA: How do you pick a subject to write about?

JS: That's just an instinct. Frankly, I think you've gotta be born with that. I look at something and go, 'That's weird, there's something funny about it. I don't know what it is, but I betcha if I think about it, I can figure it out.'

FA: What was the subject matter of the first routine you wrote?

JS: It was about being left-handed-about how everything in society is set up against us. It was about discrimination. (Laughing) So you can see that even at the beginning, it was very political. By the way, most comedians are left-handed. Way more than the gen­eral population.


Franklyn Ajaye


Comic Insights: The Art of Stand Up Comedy




Copyright 2002 by Franklyn Ajaye


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