In this lesson, I’ll introduce you to various styles of comedy and give you a few examples of each style in action.
Here’s what you need to know before we dive in:
You do not have to choose only one of these styles… especially early on. If you still consider yourself a beginner then play around with each style. Do a one-liner, follow it with a current event, then use that as a reason to tell the audience a short story. It’ll make writing more fun and give the audience some interesting variation. If you’re like most comedians, the STYLE will most likely CHOOSE YOU.
Styles of Comedy
One-Liner comedians use quick, snappy lines that have all the information you need to get the joke. They bounce around from topic to topic with little or no segue.
The best things about one-liners are also the worst things about them: They don’t require long setups, segues, or even logical sequence. You can easily jump from one joke to another.
One-liner comedians are typically better at coming up with joke premises than storytellers.
One-liners are very easy to try out on stage. If the joke works, great. If it bombs, you can switch back to a proven joke. You have no chance of getting stuck with a longer story.
This makes them a great starting place for new comedians. However, most new comedians find this style to be very awkward. This is why so many comedians graduate to storytelling.
Storytellers tend to be better at expanding their original material than one-liners but not as good at coming up with as many premises. A storyteller takes a single premise and makes it into an entire, logical story. The premise doesn’t necessarily unfold as you’re going along. Usually the story starts as a single joke that snowballs into an entire story. These stories can build MASSIVE momentum.
Another huge plus of storytelling is that people naturally love to hear stories. We’ve all been raised hearing stories. We love them because they allow us to identify with the characters more than we ever could just by hearing ‘about them’. It’s the audience’s ability to identify with a character’s POV (point-of-view) that make storytelling such a powerful comedic tool.
The down-side to using storytelling is that it’s much harder to perform initially. You can’t simply drop a quick story into your set like a one-liner can drop in a new joke. If the story bombs you might find yourself stuck in that story, unable to segue into something else.
OBSERVATIONAL VS EXPERIENCE BASED
There’s a continuum in comedy between observational humor and experience based humor. Where you are on this continuum will likely change throughout your set, but most comedians tend to be pulled towards one side or the other.
Observational humor is based on your view of the world. It’s about taking everyday things and putting them into a new light. If you can identify with this type of material or have always been good at looking at common situations or objects from an unusual perspective, maybe this type of humor is for you.
Opposite observational humor is experience based humor. This title most likely belongs to Ray Romano. Ray Romano is always on stage talking about his family, frequently his twins. It’s all stuff you can identify with, even if you are not a family man. The distinction here is that observational humor is mostly third person generic comedy while experience-based humor comes from a first person POV. Either way the comedy will come from the audience identifying with you.
Remember, this is a continuum. You don’t have to be on the far-left or far-right. You can choose to be anywhere in the middle. You can talk about 1st person events and then segue into observations you noticed that happen to surround those events. You can change at any time. Experiment with both types. The majority of us are going to be somewhere in the middle anyway.
CURRENT EVENT HUMOR
Current event humor is exactly what it sounds like. It deals with what’s going on in the world today. Current event humor is a great way of leading off a show. Since the audience knows you haven’t been repeating this line for the past few years they’ll draw the conclusion that the rest of your material is coming off the top of your head as well. In this way it brings your comedy “into the moment” for audiences. They feel like you’re being more genuine with them instead of simply repeating jokes.
Current event humor has two big down-sides. First, it’s often low quality. Since you are unable to test this material.
The second problem with current event humor has a short shelf life. It gets dated very quickly. It doesn’t matter how well-written a joke about Michael Jackson is… The king of pop is dead. So are jokes about him.
Local humor has the same strengths and weaknesses as current event humor. Local humor is fantastic for opening a show because it brings the show “into the moment” for the audience. They know you’re talking to THEM… not merely saying the same jokes you tell everyone.
The downside is the quality. You don’t get many opportunities to try out local humor. Since local humor is often used as an opener, it can be a double-risk.
Louis C.K: Opening With Local Humor (2013)
Thank you very much…
Well, this is a nice place.
This is easily the nicest place for many miles in every direction.
That’s how you compliment a building
and shit on a town with one sentence.
It is odd around here, as I was driving here.
There doesn’t seem to be any difference between the sidewalk and the street for pedestrians here.
People just kind of walk in the middle of the road.
I love traveling And seeing all the different parts of the country. I live in New York…
[CK then segues into material about New York City]
Universal humor is where you’ll be spending most of your time. Universal humor can be used anywhere. Everyone will understand it. It works exactly the same in New York City as it does in whatever the capital of Kansas is. If you want to tour the country with your comedy act you must use universal humor.
Local humor deals with what makes a us different. Universal humor deals with what makes us the same.
SUMMARY & TAKE-AWAYS
- Don’t stress about what style of comedian you should be. Play around and let the style choose you.
- You are allowed to jump between styles inside the same performance.
- One-Liner jokes are easy to learn, but almost always sound unnatural
- Storytelling is more difficult to learn, but is a more natural and allows stories to build momentum.
- Observational jokes take the mundane/boring and add a new spin.
- Experiential humor uses the 1st person.
- Current Event Humor and Local Humor are great as openers or to gain trust with the audience, but are often untested.