Aug 22

Breaking Comedy’s DNA: Review

I’ve been on author Jerry Corley’s mailing list for a couple of years now. I really enjoy what he has to say. And there’s a lot to be learned, for free, on his blog. He’s always entertaining and insightful. If you’re not sure who he is, Jerry is a comedy who worked the road for a number of years, and also worked the corporate comedy market. Not only that, but he wrote for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno for eight years.

Now, before you think “urgh, Leno? But he sucked.” Well, he obviously didn’t suck for a large number of people because he hosted that show for 17 years. Not only that, just think of how great the competition is to get a job writing on staff. In my experience living in the U.S. these last 6 years, broadly speaking, if a comic isn’t aiming to get their own sitcom or movie career off the ground, they frequently aim for being a performer or writer on SNL or one of the Late Night shows.

Anyhoo, the meat of his teachings can be found in his eBook, Breaking Comedy’s DNA.

I have to say, much of what he spoke about in his eBook, such as reverses, the rule of three, etc, I had come across before. But sometimes it’s useful to read someone else’s explanation of a technique. Someone else’s explanation might provide you with the clarification you’ve been seeking.

However, for me, I felt that some of the sections were a little thin on the ground. I wanted more examples, and more techniques to build some of the jokes. For examples, benign retaliation was brand new to me. It really resonated with me and I really got it. But there was only one example of how to create a comedy bit using this technique. I wanted a couple more ways to create material using benign retaliation. I’m sure they exist.

Also, on Jerry’s blog he analyzes slices of different comedians’ stand-up act. I’ve seen Bill Burr, Amy Schumer, and Daniel Tosh on there so far. Now, whether you like those comics or not, reading the breakdown of a segment of material is super useful. It could even provide you with a structural template for your own comedy bits. But I wanted more of this analysis in the eBook.

He also has two very, very useful videos so you can watch him write jokes. The first is a general one about writing topical jokes, and the second specifically deals with writing material for the corporate comedy market. For me, I wanted either additional videos available via links in the Breaking Comedy’s DNA eBook or maybe transcripts of the videos that he already has on his blog.

I do completely agree with him when he says that as comedians and comedy writers we cannot just always wait for things to happen to us, or for us to observe events before we write comedy about them. That way, you might end up forcing yourself to go on weird adventures or have outrageous experiences just to be able to write about them later.

Instead, we need to be able to create material as well as live our lives and write about them. If you get a job writing for television and you have to wait around to experience life before you can write comedy material bout it, you’re not going to have that job very long.

I’m all for writing about what you know, but I think it’s also useful to write about things that you want to know. For example, I have strong opinions about politics. But by writing about them I get to know and understand better what they are, without necessarily having to wait around for, say, an election.

Earlier in the year, when I bought the book, I wrote a bunch of comedy material following along some of the exercises in Breaking Comedy’s DNA. I found them quite useful. I just need to work on them on a more regular basis in order for them to become second nature.

Personally, I intend to use these techniques for generating comedy material alongside the techniques I already use, and others I am learning at the same time.

Ultimately, I found the Breaking Comedy’s DNA eBook thoroughly enjoyable, even though I was nitpicking a little bit. And at some point I would love to purchase one of Jerry’s Skype comedy coaching sessions. But there are a few other comedy goals I need to complete first. If you’re in the market to purchase a book to learn comedy writing, or stand-up material, you would be wise to purchase this book. Even if you’re a veteran, you might learn a new insight.