7 reasons why comedy needs more girls

We need more women in comedy.

The more women do comedy, the more women define comedy.

And “more women in comedy starts with more girls in comedy,” as tweet-noted by GOLD fan/fam Daniel Radosh, senior writer/producer for The Daily Show with Trevor Noah (and formerly of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart).

What’s the rush?

Change is happening in comedy RIGHT NOW, and you can help it happen faster.

Where we are: Dudes still dominate comedy, both onstage and behind the scenes. Comedy bookers are STILL weird about booking women, with female comedians STILL being told (directly or otherwise) that sorry, there’s “already a woman” in a given show. Female comedians in the trenches still get less stage time than their male counterparts. And! Only one female comedian—Amy Schumer—has ever made it onto Forbes’s highest-paid comedians list; that took until two thousand freaking sixteen. And no woman has made it since. This is why “it’s a terrible time” for women in comedy, according to none other than Tina Fey. As she told Town and Country, “If you were to really look at it, the boys are still getting more money for a lot of garbage, while the ladies are hustling and doing amazing work for less.’”

As New York Magazine’s (and Good One podcast’s) Jesse David Fox noted: “The pool of stand-ups networks can draw from is largely based on already-established comics, meaning previous bias factors in, and it can be difficult for up-and-coming talent—especially women—to get noticed in the first place. The point being there need to be more female comedians progressing through the stand-up stages, and that will take time.” (So YOU! Start now!)

Where we’re going: “The emergence of new female voices over the past five years has brought us to a point where the importance of women in American comedy cannot be glossed over,” Yael Kohen writes, “and there is no going back.”

BOOM. Why? Because, Kohen notes, today we have:

  • Demand for points of view beyond those of white men.
  • The growth and dominance of niche audiences.
  • The power of social media to LIKE (or NOT)
  • YouTube, podcasts, etc. that enable creators to skip the middleMAN

“Women have been thriving in these alternative channels for years, and now that the alternative is the norm, female comedians are especially prepared to take advantage of a new climate,” Kohen writes. “Female comedians have always been ahead of their time; now, at last, their time is catching up to them.”

AWESOME! But why comedy?

We need more women in many professions, such as president of the United States, and Ghostbuster. But bottom line, comedy matters. So there are at least 7 reasons why women—starting with you!—matter to comedy.

Comedy is power.

When you tell jokes, you are in charge. You’ve got the mic, the spotlight, the punch. You can tell your story any way you want. That’s power. More women should have that. (More women—and people—of all colors and shapes and lifestyle choices should have that.) More women in comedy would mean that the default setting for FUNNY—and all the power and perks that come with it—would, and could, no longer be DUDE.

Women are a gender, not a genre.

Imagine this: You arrive to do a standup show. You find out you’re the only woman in the lineup. To introduce you, the emcee says: “And now we’ve got a laaady coming to the stage!”

Then you have a big job. A dude comic just has to spend the next eight minutes proving that he is funny. YOU you have to spend the next eight minutes proving that WOMEN are funny.

This is also why Aparna Nancherla says “‘What’s it like to be a woman in comedy?’ 1% jokes and 99% answering this question.”

More women in comedy would mean that each individual woman does not have to represent her entire gender, which no woman (or man, or person) can do anyway. More women in comedy would mean that people would finally stop talking about two kinds of comedy: comedy, and “women’s comedy.” Or two kinds of comics: comedians, and, God help us, comediennes. It’s numbers. We need enough women in comedy so that we’re no longer DIFFERENT, or INTERESTING. We’re just comics.

Comedy is business.

Comedy is work. It might be fun, and even funny, but—like ditch digger and yogapreneur—it’s a job.

So if you get treated differently from men when you do your job, that’s uncool, at best. Illegal, at worst. (You may also be aware that comedy also has a serious sexual harassment problem.) As with any other business, there’s individualized and institutionalized sexism (and other -isms and -phobias) that keep women (and others) down, sidelined, or out.

That’s bad for individual comics, and for business. Setting aside the discrimination and harassment, more women in comedy means more jokes! More jokes about more things! More jokes about more things from more than only 50% of the population! And more jokes means more laughs, which means more dollars. People should do more math.

Take it from movies: Among the 25 top-grossing movies 2006 to 2015, those about women “earned $45.5 million more than movies about men,” Mic reported, noting that 97 of those 133 movies are about men. “Only 36 are about women—the people who are the bigger box office draw. That’s not just poor representation, it’s also bad business.”

Or television! James Poniewozik on Why diverse TV is better TV: “Audiences for everything are smaller now, which means networks aren’t programming each show for an imagined audience of tens of millions of white people. On top of that, there are younger viewers for whom diversity—racial, religious, sexual—is their world. That audience wants authenticity; advertisers want that audience.”

More women in comedy makes everyone funnier.

Comedy, like almost anything else, is better with more voices.

And comedy especially benefits from more outsider voices. “Just as women have emerged as the leaders of the nascent [#resist] movement, so are women behind some of the sharpest political satire of the moment,” wrote Laura Zarum in Flavorwire. “Not because we’re inherently superior to men but because it’s easier to punch up when you’re already one rung down.”

That rising tide lifts all boats—even S.S. Straight White Dude. The magnificent Cameron Esposito breaks it down. “If you are a straight, white, 22-year-old dude and you do stand up comedy, there are a lot of you. So if you put a woman who is black and 35 in between two straight, white, 22-year-old dudes, those dudes look more interesting. They get to be a counterpoint, and that’s something that straight, white men rarely get to experience. Not only were the people that had historically less representation benefitting from being around more diversity, but the people who were in the majority were too.” (Extra credit: read this.)

Comedy has something to say.

Comedians are “today’s public intellectuals,” as The Atlantic put it. “People look to Amy Schumer and her fellow jokers not just to make fun of the world, but to make sense of it. And maybe even to help fix it.” (According to Salon, we also expect comedians, in the face of public tragedy, to “comfort us.”)

In a different Atlantic article, Megan Garber observes that much high-profile comedy today is “distinguished by the fact that it isn’t content simply to elicit laughter. It has an ethic and a vision, and strives to convince its audience of the rightness of that vision. Comedy that argues and insinuates and in general has Something to Say about the world.”

And if more minds could be opened to more ideas from more people who don’t necessarily look like them, we’d all be better for it. We’re talking to you, late night comedy. Sam Bee is lonely out there.

Funny women open people’s minds (including women’s).

If every single personal ad ever is any guide, we are all looking for a partner with a “sense of humor.” But science breaks that down a bit: “Women want men who will tell jokes; men want women who will laugh at theirs.”

In that same article (again with The Atlantic!), Olga Khazan writes: “The way men and women laugh and joke has been so different for so long that it’s hardened into a stark, oppressive social norm. Norm violators get punished, and often, that means funny women are punished, too. These biases have a chilling effect on women. The idea that women aren’t supposed to make jokes can trigger stereotype threat, a phenomenon in which simply telling someone that their ‘group’ tends to be bad at something hinders that individual’s performance. Told that their humor isn’t wanted, many women don’t bother.”

But it is wanted! Comedy: support and promote women, all kinds of women, and more women will “bother,” and more people will get used to it, and more people will watch more of your shows, and more people will PAY TO watch more of your shows.

More women in comedy means more women in comedy.

White dudes who try standup or improv invite their friends to their shows. Their friends are, perhaps, mostly white dudes. When white dudes in the audience see funny white dudes on stage, audience white dudes go, “I could do that.” Then those white dudes try standup or improv and INVITE THEIR FRIENDS. And: THE CYCLE CONTINUES.

Here’s the flip side. “Women are limited in our imagination by the things that we have seen women do,” says Cameron Esposito. “So if you just go to a room and you watch other women tell jokes, there is something that switches in your mind where then you realize that you can tell jokes. We also don’t see ourselves as presidents because we never have female presidents.”

Comedy needs more women—and more everyone—so that more everyone will get into comedy.

So what do we do?

Get more women into comedy.
How?

People with power in comedy should work hard to book women, hire women, represent women, and mentor women. They’re there.

Don’t just say “no one sent me any packets from women.” At this point, that’s just hacky. Just ask Trevor Noah. In a conversation with Lupita Nyong’o and the New York Times about hiring his writing staff, he said:

I said, “I want more diversity.” They said, “But this is what we’re getting.” So I went to all the young comedians I knew—black, Hispanic, female, whatever—and I said, “Are you interested?” And they all said: “Are you crazy? Of course, I’m interested.” So I asked, “Why didn’t you audition?” And they said, “We didn’t know about it.” But they told me they’d sent it out to all the agents and managers. And they all went: “Oh, that’s where you made the mistake. We can’t get agents or managers.” We can say we want diversity, but there’s this little roadblock that no one tells you about.

Agents and managers: go out of your way to agent and represent women. (And all sorts of people outside the mainstream.) That’d be a start.

GOLD likes to start even earlier by telling teen girls that it’s good to be funny. That you are already funnier than you think. GIRLS: Being funny means being exactly who they are already, just with a few more punchlines. Comedy is not what dudes do and girls laugh at. Comedy is YOURS. Whether you want to be standup funny, or YouTube funny, or improv funny, or Instagram funny, or funnier stump speech for class president funny, comedy is power, and that power is YOURS.

Read Lynn’s bio here.

Are any jokes off-limits? Punching up vs. punching down

A student in one of our workshops once tried out a joke about wanting to hide a knife in her hijab to cut the boys who tried to take it off.

Can she do that? It’s edgy, but sure.

But could a white dude do a joke about trying to take off a girl’s hijab? NOT RECOMMENDED.

This is all a way of answering the very, very common question: Are any jokes off-limits? The answer is YUP! But the real questions are: Which ones, and how do you figure it out?

Put another way:

Is stabbing people funny? NOT REALLY.

Can you do a joke about stabbing people? MAYBE!

It all depends on your joke, on your intention, and on you.

This is why people talk about punching down versus punching up.

Simply put, punching down means making jokes about people with less power than you. Punching up means making jokes about people with more power than you. When you make fun of a mean principal, you are punching up. When you make fun of the dweeby kid, you are…bullying.

Comedy is better when you punch up.

Punching up is morally preferable, generally kinder, and most likely to make the world a better place, as awesome comic and beloved friend of GOLD Negin Farsad notes. “It’s vital to understand the job comedy can do in actively providing a counterbalance to bigotry and prejudice, as well as understanding the types of humour that reinforce negative stereotypes,” she says. “I want to make sure I’m punching up, not punching down.”

But let’s also look at it simply from the level of craft. A punch line is a surprise. A punch line takes some work. A punch line reveals something new, or says a familiar thing a new way. A punch line may even, at best, not just be a rando wisecrack, but a joke that only YOU can tell: a window into your unique point of view.

So for instance when you make fun of someone short, you’re revealing that they are SHORT—and showing us nothing about what makes YOUR POV unique. When you make fun of the mean principal, you’ve got much more to work with: you can reveal something about how you relate to the grownups who boss you around, and you’ll get people on your side without ganging up. And bonus: no one in the crowd will think, “Eeep, that comic’s kind of mean.”

At the level of craft, it’s lazy to write the easiest joke about the easiest target. Comedy is about being CREATIVE and getting people to LIKE you. Do the harder work on your end and you’ll make easier for them.

Where are your up and down?

Up and down are different for different people. It all depends on how up or down YOU are on the existing power structure (#fighthepower). Straight cis white dude, up. Young woman of color with a hijab, farther down. Let’s call them Norm and Nora. Nora could make jokes about Norm. Norm probably should not make jokes about Nora.

But wait. It’s not really that simple. If Norm makes a joke that puts Nora down for being female, of color, Muslim: that’s punching down. If Norm makes a joke ABOUT sexism, racism, Islamophobia with Nora as his main character: bruh, that’s punching up. Because then he’s making fun of the existing power structure itself. Go, Norm.

#elephantintheroom

Can you make rape jokes? YUP!

Quiz: Will the better jokes be about (a) rape victim(s) or (b) perps and the culture that excuses rape, etc. etc.?

If you answered (b), go write some jokes!

There it is: there is no TOPIC that is off-limits. Not even rape! It’s the joke—the target, the POV, the intention—that requires evaluation.   

When in doubt, answer these key questions.

  1. Who or what is my target? Starting point: make sure the target of your joke—the who or what you are making fun of—has more power than you. (Margin of error: one bratty kid sibling.)
  2. Who is my audience? Do they have roughly the same up/down as you? You should be good. If not, tread more carefully. (This interesting counterpoint to the up/down idea is relevant here.)
  3. How’s my tone? YOU KNOW (and so does the crowd) if a joke is coming from a place of snarky mean, or a place of legit anger. (Sometimes legit anger can justify snarky mean, but that’s an advanced move.)
  4. How’s the joke doing? If it’s crushing with the people you want it to crush with, then you’re probably doing fine. (If it’s crushing with a**holes, maybe let it go.) And if it’s just not working at all, even after some tinkering, it’s just not working. Let go of the idea (usually pushed by people on the higher end of the up/down) that COMEDY IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE or whatever. Naw. It’s supposed to make people laugh.
  5. What does my gut say? How do you feel when you tell this joke? Delighted and energized, or a little tight and squinched up? Your gut knows what’s up. Your gut is a tough crowd, but a good one. If your gut feels off, maybe the joke is, too. If your gut feels good, punch on!

Read Lynn’s bio here.

How to respond to FUNNIER: GOLD’s daily prompts

Hi! If you’re here, you’ve probably signed up for FUNNIER: GOLD Comedy’s new daily humor-writing prompts. Thank you, and welcome! This means you are going to get FUNNIER every day! (See how we did that? Also, it’s TRUE.)

  • Oops, haven’t signed up yet? NP. Click here.
  • What’s GOLD Comedy? Find out here.

So what are these prompts?

      1. We text you a prompt, like “Ruin prom in 5 words” or “I wish my pet could…”, and you respond with something funny! (Tip: UNDERthink this. Start with the first thing that pops into your head. More below.) Send in your response(s) by 5 PM EST. Reply once OR as many times as you like!
      2. Our team of GOLD judges (made up of people* just like you!) will announce their favorite responses at the end of the day. You can check it out here.
      3. Next day: Do it all over again! We’ll be running FUNNIER for a month to get a clear picture of the kinds of prompts you do and don’t like. Then we’ll head back into GOLD Comedy labs (#girlsinstem) and, based on your responses, create more fun/funny stuff for you to do. 

MEANWHILE: Browse through our big library of comedy-related info and #inspo.

Still have Qs? We have As!

Why should I do this?

It’s a mini comedy workout! No matter what your other life goals and interests, making a little bit of funny every day helps you:

    • get your head in the game
    • write better
    • think sharper
    • stop overthinking
    • let go of perfectionism
    • get snappier with comebacks
    • understand what makes YOU laugh
    • find and hone YOUR authentic voice and unique lens on the world

What if I don’t want to be a comedian?

NO PROBLEM. Getting funnier is a good thing in so many ways. There are a ton of reasons to find and hone your funny that serve you no matter what your #goalsMaybe you want to be funnier on Instagram, funnier anywhere BUT on stage, funnier at the lunch table, funnier in writing, funnier at protests, funnier in your OWN MIND. Maybe you want to be an ad or TV writer, a journalist/novelist, a talk show host, an INFLUENCER. Funny helps with all that, and more:

What if I’m not funny?

There are a million ways to be funny. Replying to this prompts will help you tap into what makes you laugh, which is part of finding your own unique voice. Being reliably funny takes PRACTICE. If a joke doesn’t land, that is PART of comedy. It doesn’t mean you’re not funny. It means you’re writing comedy. Just give it a whirl and see what happens. You got this, Travis. 

How long am I supposed to spend writing a response?

Not so long! Everyone’s got time for this! Go with your first thought, and if that doesn’t pan out, try your second. Take 30 seconds, maybe a minute. Stare at it for a few seconds before you send it in, and tinker if you like. (Comedy IS tinkering.) Then go ahead and send that bad boy in! If you see “mistake” in your response, you can always send in an updated version—and you can always send in more.

Can I send in more than one response?

Yes! Comedy REQUIRES banishing perfectionism: you toss so many ideas and variations out there that eventually you’re no longer worried about whether one joke is funny or not, because you’re already thinking three jokes ahead. By sending in a bunch of responses at a time, you learn about what feels funny to YOU—and you can improve on your own jokes without feeling the pressure to be “perfect.” 

SERIOUSLY, I’M NOT FUNNY!

Now you’re cracking us up. This is funny! Why? Because you just did a CALLBACK! No, but seriously, we hear you. But you’re still here! So just come and give it a whirl. We are all very nice. This is a place where even people who are already secure in their funny will write jokes that don’t land. Also, to be clear, no one ever died from not getting a laugh.

Are any jokes off-limits?

Good question. We don’t have rules about specific jokes or topics so much as we have a basic code of conduct. That said, MOST good comedy, especially when you’re learning, punches up, not down. This is true from an ethical standpoint (pick on someone your own size, or bigger), and it’s true simply at the level of craft. Writing jokes about people less powerful than you—punching down—is less funny than the opposite because it’s usually predictable, not surprising. Punch lines, by definition, require surpriseSo: joke unto others as you would have them joke unto you.

I think my friend might like this. Can they sign up?

YES! The more, the funnier!

What if my friend is a dude? Can he sign up?

Yep. GOLD Comedy puts girls (and other folks outside the norm) first because comedy doesn’t—but that’s the point: we’re here to include*, not exclude. Plus, never hurts for dudes to be in the minority and kinda sit back and watch what happens when girls are in charge. 

What if there’s a day I can’t think of a good answer?

All of these prompts are great practice to help you learn to be ok with not being “perfect.” So if there’s a day or two where you feel like you can’t think of an answer, no big. There will be another prompt the next day, and the next, and the next. There is always another chance to be funny. 

Bottom line: whether you’re a massive comedy nerd, comedy-curious, or just think this could be fun, LET’S DO THIS.

 

P.S. Ready to dive in deeper right now? Check out our one-of-a-kind online class! Bonus for you for reading this far: $5 off (reg. $19) with code goldfiveoff.

*femme/female-identifying/genderqueer-non-binary/GNC/girl-adjacent/your own description…if being part of a community of funnymakers sounds interesting to you, come on in. 

Read Lynn’s bio.

Mini Q+A with Veronica Dang

Veronica Dang is an award-winning director/actor/writer and comedian. You may have seen her on TV or teaching people about Yellow Fever at comedy clubs around NYC. Check out her webseries Subway: The Series, which is on Marie Claire’s list of “Webseries You’ll Want to Ditch Netflix for.” She also started NYC’s 1st Asian American sketch comedy team Model Majority. Their live shows have been on Timeout NY’s list of “Best Comedy Shows in NYC.” 


Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

When I do standup comedy, most people feel sorry for me so they don’t heckle. But if they did, I would just say “Mom and Dad, I’m so glad you finally came to see me!”

Describe your worst gig.

I was a costumed mascot for a famous children’s cartoon character at a public park event in 90+ degree weather. I couldn’t see, had trouble breathing and moving in a large, heavy costume with big head and feet. I wasn’t allowed to talk but had to do photo ops (where adults can be a bit handsy), play tennis with two thumbs, and dance battle while baking in my own sweat all day.

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?

Eat whatever you want and keep doing comedy no matter what other people say. Comedy world doesn’t need more privileged mediocre white heterosexual males with mommy issues.

What’s your first impulse when someone says “women aren’t funny?”

Walk away. I don’t need that kind of stupidity in my life.

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

The world is messed up and I need comedy to help me deal with it. It also really helps to create your own work, that’s why I make my own films which have won awards 😉 and started NYC’s first all Asian-American sketch comedy team, Model Majority.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Always be doing comedy and you won’t actually die on stage.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

Replace all minorities and women in your script with white men.

Favorite response to “What’s it like to be a woman in comedy?”

I don’t know. What is it like to be a man in comedy? It seems like a lot of dick and pedophilia “jokes.”

Feelings about the word “comedienne?”

I prefer comedian but will accept any label that indicates I’m funny and doesn’t use racial slurs or insults.

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life, either recently or when you were younger?

Helped me avoid being bullied and beat up.

What advice do you have for how to level up from open mics + bringers to actual SPOT-spots?

Produce your own shows/work and make friends with people who know bookers or have own shows.

What single word always cracks you up?

manamana

Was there one person who inspired you to become a comedian?

Not one person, but one entity. My family inspired me to be a comedian because I needed a way to complain about them without them knowing.

Photo via: Leslie Hassler


Veronica Dang is an award-winning director/actor/writer and comedian. You may have seen her on TV or teaching people about Yellow Fever at comedy clubs around NYC. Check out her webseries Subway: The Series, which is on Marie Claire’s list of “Webseries You’ll Want to Ditch Netflix for.” She also started NYC’s 1st Asian American sketch comedy team Model Majority. Their live shows have been on Timeout NY’s list of “Best Comedy Shows in NYC.” 

Read Lynn’s bio here.

Mini Q+A with Adrianne Chalepah

Adrianne Chalepah is a standup comedian, writer, and mother of four. Raised in Kiowa/Comanche/Apache territory in Oklahoma, she began her career in entertainment at age 20. She has been honored to open for First Lady Michelle Obama and share the stage with comedy legends such as Margaret Cho, Dane Cook, and Jarrod Carmichael. She is author of Funny Girl, an anthology of women comics and writers, and founder of the all-female indigenous comedy troupe Ladies of Native Comedy. In 2019, she was featured in the Netflix series Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy. She is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.


Describe your worst gig.

Laughlin, Nevada. Old rich retirees apparently aren’t into my jokes.

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?

Be unapologetically yourself.

What’s your first impulse when someone says, “women aren’t funny”?

Your mom is funny.

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

I needed it for sanity.

Best comedy advice you ever got?

Do your thang.

Worst comedy advice you ever got?

Wear a tutu on stage.

Favorite response to “What’s it like to be a woman in comedy”? 

I don’t know. I’m not convinced I’m a “real” woman.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

Meh.

What advice do you have for how to level up from open mics + bringers to actual SPOT-spots?

Network. It don’t matter how funny you are if you don’t know the right people. Unfortunately, being an introvert, this is hard to do… Good luck!

What single word always cracks you up?

Fuddruckers

Was there one person who inspired you to become a comedian? If so, who, why, how?

My dad. He’s a funny guy and he schooled me in film and comedy.

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life?

Humor is therapeutic. I come from inter-generational trauma as an indigenous person whose ancestors survived genocide. Comedy is ingrained in us. We survived because we never forgot to laugh.

Photo via: Ceylon Grey


Adrianne Chalepah is a standup comedian, writer, and mother of four. Raised in Kiowa/Comanche/Apache territory in Oklahoma, she began her career in entertainment at age 20. She has been honored to open for First Lady Michelle Obama and share the stage with comedy legends such as Margaret Cho, Dane Cook, and Jarrod Carmichael. She is author of Funny Girl, an anthology of women comics and writers, and founder of the all-female indigenous comedy troupe Ladies of Native Comedy. In 2019, she was featured in the Netflix series Larry Charles’ Dangerous World of Comedy. She is a member of the Kiowa Tribe of Oklahoma.

Read Lynn’s bio here.

How to write jokes: use our patented set of comedy “wrenches”

As you know, the punchline of a joke is the surprise. The switch, the twist. But what KIND of surprise? What direction is the twist?

Or, if you think of the shift from setup to punch as where the comedian throws a wrench into the joke, this is about what KIND Of wrench it is.

Let’s look at the most common wrenches that comedians have in their toolkits. I’m using one-liners for the clearest examples, but wrenches are at work in almost any type of joke.

OPPOSITE wrench.

  • Emika: “I love to inspire people [SETUP]. I also love to see them fail [PUNCH].”
  • “I believe that each person can make a difference [SETUP], but it’s so slight that there’s basically no point [PUNCH].” —Lauren Lapkus
    • These jokes go in the exact OPPOSITE direction from what you expected. (Inspirational/cynical; positive/negative)

WORDPLAY wrench.

  • “I got my hair highlighted [SETUP], because I felt some strands were more important than others [PUNCH].” — Mitch Hedberg
      • Hedberg takes a wrench to the word HIGHLIGHTED. Highlighting hair turns into highlighting like you do with a book. So it’s a good old fashioned wordplay wrench.
      • You could also call it an ABSURD wrench.

ABSURD wrench.

  • “I’m a lousy cook. I burn sushi.” —Joan Rivers
    • Rivers uses an ABSURD wrench to how just how bad a cook she is, because you don’t cook sushi in the first place.
  • You could also call this an EXAGGERATION wrench.
  • “So I met my boyfriend’s parents recently, which stressed me out. Because he’s white, so his parents are white. Hate when that happens. Why can’t it just skip a generation?” —Phoebe Robinson
    • Phoebe Robinson uses an ABSURD wrench — race can’t skip a generation — to underscore how un-psyched she is to meet her boyfriend’s white parents, and generally how stressful situations like that are. “Hate when that happens” is also absurd. He’s white because his parents are. It didn’t just “happen.”

EXAGGERATION wrench.

  • Sasheer Zamata, hating that women are expected to be un-hairy: “I found out that Native Americans would keep all their hair long because it helped them with battle and hunting. It made them more aware of your surrounding, and if something was coming to attack you you would feel it and sense it quicker. So if that’s the case, women—of all people—should have ALL OF THE HAIR. We’re at risk of being attacked just for walking out of our house. For safety purposes, I want to be Chewbacca-level hairy.”
    • Chewbacca is as hairy as you can get. (Also a funny word.) Women will not actually get that hairy if they don’t shave, so, exaggeration.
  • Here’s GOLD student Romaissaa on her obsession with YouTube: “I  can’t breathe air without knowing my favorite YouTuber’s opinion on breathing air.”
    • Do we think that’s actually true? No. But the exaggeration effectively illustrates her obsession.

UNDERSTATEMENT wrench.

  • “I broke up with my girlfriend. She moved in with another guy, and I draw the line at that.” —Garry Shandling
    • He’s using an UNDERSTATEMENT wrench because for him to “draw the line” at her OBVIOUSLY breaking up with him is a tiny reaction to a huge move. What’s great here is that he uses that understatement to make fun of himself.
    • “I don’t know if you’ve ever been sad on a roller coaster. It’s doable.” — Ryan Hamilton

DOUBLE DOWN wrench.

  • Thea: “I am not just a nerd [SETUP]. I am also a geek [PUNCH].”
    • You thought Thea was going to say I’m more than “just” a nerd. Instead she doubles down.
  • “I get so frustrated when people think I’m trying to look like Ellen Degeneres [SETUP]. It’s so frustrating because I’m trying so hard to look like Nick Carter [PUNCH].” —Emma Willman
    • You expect Emma to to say she’s frustrated because she’s not trying to look like anyone! But she’s like, I AM trying to look like someone. Just someone ELSE. (She’s taking the wrench to “Ellen DeGeneres” rather than “trying to look like.”)
  • “It wasn’t that no one asked me to the prom. No one would tell me where it was.” —Rita Rudner
    • You think she’s going to say…LOTS of people asked me to the prom. But then she doubles down on not being asked. They hid the entire prom from her.

So, when you’re writing a joke, you can look at your topic or setup and ask yourself: what kind of wrench could I throw in here? Play with different ones and see what works.

1. TOPIC/PREMISE. What you want to talk about…PLUS

2. ATTITUDE/EMOTION. How a person with your persona would feel about it…PLUS

3. TYPE OF JOKE. Which type of joke would best match what I want to say?

4. TYPE OF WRENCH. Which type of wrench will make the joke work best?

Read Lynn’s bio here. 

5 ways to discover your comedy persona: your unique, authentic comedic voice

They say it takes a comedian ten years to develop their comedy persona. But with the head start we’ll give you here, you can totally nail it in like eight. So what are you waiting for? Let’s go! (My comedy persona is positive, high-energy, impatient.)

So first let’s talk about what a comedy persona is. Then we’ll talk about how to identify yours—and what to do once you have.

What’s a persona?

First, here’s what it’s not. For our purposes, it’s not a “character.” Some comedians do deliberately develop fictional identities or caricatures that may or may not align with their off-stage personalities—like super-ranty Lewis Black, who is much more of a marshmallow in real life, or María Elena Velasco-Fragoso, early deliberately-dim Sarah Silverman, Maria Bamford, or Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who do stand-up as their Broad City characters.

If that comes naturally to you, great (and consider exploring sketch comedy and/or being YouTube-funny). But generally, that’s an advanced move because it’s actually very challenging to sustain. And what we want to get at here, first, is authenticity.

So a persona is not a character, it’s your character. It comes from your personality, your take, your attitude, your bearing, your point of view, your general lens on life.

Your persona is what makes your jokes your jokes. Anyone can write a joke about parents or dogs vs. cats or homework or taxes or gentrification or doughnuts. But only you can write a joke about your unique take on those topics.

Example: Take this joke from Lauren Lapkus. You can get a sense of her persona without seeing or hearing her—just by reading these 18 words:

“I believe that each person can make a difference. But it’s so slight that there’s basically no point.”

From this (superb) joke, we can surmise that her persona is perhaps cynical, maybe glass-half-empty—at any rate, not the Pollyanna peppiest.

Of course, neither Lauren nor you are just one thing all the time. In real life, you shift somewhat according to context and mood. Your industry-standard five minute comedy set—and your persona in general—will not be all one-note either. Not every joke will be angry, not every joke will be bubbly. You can have one pretty constant persona in one set, but lots of different attitudes and emotions can come from it.

 

Where do you find your persona?

To find your authentic comedy persona, we are going to start with your original factory settings.

#SPOILER: Your persona is who you already are. At least that’s where it starts.

This is TOTALLY NOT AS BORING AS IT SOUNDS. In fact, it is GREAT NEWS.

Why is this not boring? Because, nerds, we get to do some MATH! Because when you do comedy, you are not acting, but you are performing. That means your persona isn’t you just wisecracking at your locker or water cooler or Instagram, it’s you standing on stage with a mic (and, on a good day, a crowd!). So your performance persona is a slightly exaggerated version of you. Here’s the equation:  

PERSONA = REAL YOU x 1.3

And why is it great news? Well, let’s say you’re reading this thinking: “But I don’t haaaave a ‘persona’! I’m boooooring.” Guess what? Are you ready? THAT’S YOUR PERSONA.

I’m not saying you’re boring. I’m just saying you don’t have to work that hard, or go into analysis, to know what the kernel of your persona is. Even if it’s something you think might be negative or unappealing about you, FINE! That’s FUNNY! Don’t apologize for it or try to hide or fix it; instead, double down. Embrace it and take control of it and let that flag FLY. Own it. PWN it. That’s how BORING can become INTERESTING, say, or being a loner can be loveable, or being a downer can crack people UP.

OK then! What is your persona?

So let’s see. Are you cynical? Sarcastic? Shy? Super-trusting? Lazy? Nervous about everything? ANGRY ABOUT EVERYTHING? Shy? Puppy-dog positive? Generally just confused? Scornful? Tightly wound? Awkward? A rebel or rule breaker? The eternal teacher’s pet? An insider? An outsider? An outsider who only looks like an insider? A nerd? Also a geek?

Your goal here is to find ONE WORD that describes your persona. Maybe two words, maximum three, if one of them is a really short word.

If you’re not sure yet, start by answering these questions. Do them sort of quick. Don’t overthink. NOTE: If you can’t help but overthink, then perhaps OVERTHINKER is your persona!

1) What would be your high school yearbook superlative? As in “Most likely to…”.

2) Which one are you: Winner, or (and I say this with love) loser?

3) Fill in the blanks:

1. “Dear Diary, I wish I were less/more [BLANK].”

2. “Dear Diary, The thing I love/hate most about myself is [BLANK].”

4) If you were one of these comedians/comic performers, which one would you be? Not which one do you WANT to be, or which one do you most LOOK like—which one’s personality is most like yours? Don’t overthink it!

1. Janeane Garofalo

2. Ellen DeGeneres

3. Leslie Jones

4. Steve Martin

5. Joan Rivers

6. Lucille Ball

7. Margaret Cho

8. Issa Rae

9. George Carlin

10. Chris Rock

11. INSERT YOUR CHOICE HERE

5) Locate yourself on the Axis of Attitude. Are you generally positive in your attitude, calm in your presentation? Highly critical and super spazzy? Literally point to the screen to the spot on this image where you imagine yourself.

Top left: Ali Wong. Top right: Leslie Jones. Bottom left: Tig Notaro. Bottom right: Ellen Degeneres

OK! You should start to see some consistency emerge. If you don’t, your persona is “All over the place!” or at least “indecisive.” Voila.

HERE’S WHAT YOU DO. Now that you’ve chosen a word or two that capture your persona, you know that as you write and perform material, it should generally come from that place. Not rigidly or across the board, as we said above. Not every joke needs to be crafted as sarcasm, not everything you say has to come out of the mouth of a rebel or teacher’s pet. But do think of it as a lightly tinted lens that colors your jokes, or at least your overall point of view.

So, wearing that pretend lens like a spiffy monocle, NOW you’re ready to write some jokes or longer bits —or even to practice refining that persona on stage. Or, if your persona is CAUTIOUS, start with some exercises to get you going.

Did you discover your comedy persona? Even if it’s not OVERSHARER, let us know! Tweet @goldcmdy!

Read Lynn’s bio here.

6 reasons why shy people are great at comedy

So many people say, “Oh, I would do comedy, but I’m too shy.

Sorry, but that excuse is made of NOPE. Comedians ARE shy. Why do you think they like to talk on stage, or wear giant funny mustaches? So they don’t have to talk TO PEOPLE. Carol Burnett, who describes herself as shy, has said she can perform only when she’s in character. Joan Rivers–yes, Joan Rivers—has described feeling uncomfortable chatting in real life, one on one.

“Even though standup and comedy seem like mediums that lend themselves to the extroverted, most comedians are actually shy or grapple with some form of social anxiety,” writes self-described shy comedian Scarlet Meyer. “Just because we have confidence on stage doesn’t mean it follows us off stage.”

Anthropologists at the University of New Mexico studying the evolutionary value of humor found that professional comedians are very likely to fit the definition of introvert. Makes sense when you recall that if you’re a comic, the biggest slices of the pie chart of your life are probably being (alone) on the road and writing jokes.  

So being shy isn’t an excuse not to do comedy. Being shy is a reason to do comedy. Comedy is about being who you are. And if who you are is shy, then shy is part of your funny.

More reasons why you, our shy friend in the corner, should do comedy:

Shy people may have more to say.

As Judy Carter says in her iconic Standup Comedy: The Book: “Most standups are very shy in their personal lives, and going on stage is a great outlet. The stage gives you an arena to vent your repressed criticisms of the world. I find that the quieter the person is offstage, the more he or she has to say onstage. Once they get the chance to be heard, my shy students are the ones I can’t get to stop talking.”

Shyness itself is funny.

Your comedy can be ABOUT how shy you are. Comic Daniel Simonsen, for example, says (around 7:00 here), “One of the hardest things about being shy is that you don’t have anywhere to live. Because all of the ads for [apartment] shares are for ‘outgoing’ people.”

40% of teens and adults consider themselves shy. That’s a lot of people who will directly relate to your “I’m shy” material and persona. And not come up and tell you that afterwards! HA!

A lot of comedy happens in your head.

“I didn’t talk to anybody in school,” says New York comedian Carly Aquilino. “Maybe I started doing comedy because I talked to myself for a really long time.” Think of comedy like a funnel: the big top part is the observing and thinking you have to do, which you then narrow down, and then—only then—do you get on stage and tell people what you’ve been thinking. The capacity to hang back and observe and cogitate can only work in your favor.

Shy people are super observant.

If you tend toward introversion, you may excel at empathy and reflection—both essential for writing authentic jokes that truly land. That’s because you’re both self-aware and aware of others’ vibes, and you’re also able to learn from what worked and what didn’t.

What’s more, the things you notice because you feel awkward can lead directly to nuanced, personal) jokes. “A simple reflection like, “‘Why did they make that face when I said x?’ might lead to an amazing bit about being awkward,” notes comedy and creativity coach Jared Volle, M.S. “Introverts love asking themselves these types of questions, which can be a powerful ally in their comedy career.”

Shy people know how to listen.

“Shy people are often gifted listeners,” write shyness experts Bernardo Carducci, Ph.D. and Philip G. Zimbardo. That means you’re more likely to be noticing what people say (or what they avoid saying) and how they say it—all of which is potential material.

This also may mean that you’re good at listening to your audience—an essential skill for connecting to the vibe in the room and the only way to perfect your sense of timing.

Outside your comfort zone lies comedy gold.

“A lot of comedians are very introverted, very shy, very sensitive to humiliation,” says Patton Oswalt. “The only way to combat it is to go to the one place where you are stripped bare.”

Arguably, anyone who has more at stake and more to fight in order to get up on stage is going to have more of a raw, vulnerable comedy edge. And letting yourself be vulnerable is actually the bravest, most assertive—and funniest—thing you can do.

Read Lynn’s bio here.

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Vital comedy writing exercises to get you started

Heard the one about how sitting still will kill you? The same is true of comedy. In comedy as in life, exercise is vital. Repetition, frequent workouts, even a little sweat: they will all keep your comedy healthy and your head in the game. Whether you want to do standup, become a comedy writer, or just be 30% funnier in general, comedy exercises are key for generating original ideas and finding the funny in them. They’re not just for noobs; pros do them too. (Jerry Seinfeld, famously, wrote something every single day.) But they are essential to getting started. Here, friends of GOLD and other skilled comedy coaches share their favorite exercises for getting yourself into comedy shape. Just please make sure to get up and walk around every 20 minutes, k?

Prompts

This one is a classic. (We use it as homework before our workshops). It’s the perfect starting place because it helps you not just churn out random detached jokey-jokes that anyone could write, but jokes that could come only from you.

Fill in answers to the following:

I hate…

I love…

I’m annoyed by…

The best is when…

I’m proud that…

I’m terrified of…

I’m embarrassed by…

I’m obsessed with…

You should totally be my friend because…

  1. Round 1: Don’t try to be funny. Don’t overthink. Be truthful. One-word answers are fine, to start. You can list as many responses as you want for each prompt, and you can skip any that don’t inspire. (Bonus: If you happen to gravitate more toward one “mood” of prompt—negative vs. positive, mainly—you may start to get a sense of your natural comedy voice or persona.)
  2. Round 2: If you haven’t already, go back and add “because…”.
  3. Extra credit: Switch them up. Move the things you love to things you hate, and so on. Be sure to add the “because.” See how sarcasm serves you.
  4. Extra-extra credit: Pick one prompt. Write as many short answers as you can. The results could become a list joke.

Free association

This one’s from Elsa Waithe. Pick a topic or even a small item—anything from “being a twin” to “gum”—(pro tip: use something you wrote about above). Get some blank paper (or a blank screen), a pen (if applicable), a timer, and GO. Write down everything you can think of about that thing, for 15 minutes, without stopping. EVERYTHING. Every damn thing. Don’t try to be funny. The results will be roughly 80% filler or nonsense. But without that, you won’t get to the 20% potential gold: weird stuff you forgot about, words that are just funny (“Bazooka”). This one’s a great one to do when you’re just plain stuck. It’s also good practice for letting your mind roam and explore all the possible shapes a joke can take or directions it can go in.

Twitter fitter

This one’s inspired by Kerri Louise.

  1. Pick a short personal anecdote you like to tell or—extra credit—an anecdote that came out of one of the above two exercises.
  2. Write/type it out on one page (about 250 words double-spaced).
  3. Now write the same story in 100 words.
  4. Now write the same story in 50 words.
  5. Now write the same story in 25 words. (You GOT THIS. Hemingway, legend has it, did it in 6 words. Yes, he is Hemingway, but it also wasn’t funny.)
  6. Now write the same story in 140 characters. WHAT? Yes.

Whether or not you ever use this joke, this exercise is useful because:

  • Rookie comics almost always use too much setup. This helps you pare that part down, for one thing, showing you exactly how little context, premise, and information you need to get the audience on the same page as you.
  • Concise is better.
  • It helps you literally choose your words carefully. Shorter words are generally stronger, so you’ll thesaurus your way down to those with the most punch.
  • It forces you to identify the ONE CORE IDEA that makes this thing funny.
  • Advanced move: Many comics try out their jokes on Twitter. Get good at this, and that could be a great testing ground for you, too.  

News you can use

This one’s from GOLD advisory board member Eddie Sarfaty. Open up today’s newspaper. Rip something from the headlines and make it personal using a formula like this:

X thing happened. If that happened to me/in my life OR if I did that…

Example: [Wily politician or powerful person of choice] lies and no one punishes him. If my mother found out I lied about something like that [she would/I would]…”.

Write 10 of these a day. Don’t try to be funny. Let them be funny when it happens, which it will about 1 percent of the time. The practice is what matters. As you do it more and more, you’ll see the funny and make associations faster, and your percentage will go up.

This is a great way of

  • Training yourself to riff
  • Exploring what’s funny TO YOU about the news AND about your life at the same time.
  • Keeping up with current events!

When you did one of these exercises, did something crack you up? Doesn’t have to be a fully-formed joke. An embarrassing moment, or just a funny word? Tweet it @GOLDcomdy and let us know!
OR… sign up for emails to spin what you’ve learned here into more GOLD!

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Read Lynn’s bio here.

Mini Q&A with Naomi Ekperigin

Favorite response to a heckler or troll?

I have the talking stick, sir!

When you were coming up in comedy, what helped you stick with it?

The small victories, the 5- and 6-minute sets where I got laughs. Or when the crowd wasn’t so into it, but one or two people would approach me afterwards and say, “you were so funny!” or “I loved such-and-such joke.” It let me know I was connecting with someone, even if it was just a couple of people.

On your deathbed, what transcendent advice would you croak at a young comedian?

Don’t date any fellow stand ups in your early years. It’ll distract you from the work and add more drama/anxiety to what’s already a tough job to pursue.

What’s your first impulse when someone says “women aren’t funny”?

Ugh, go away.

Worst gig?

A bar in New Orleans where the five locals in attendance were just there to drink, not see comedy. Me and the other comics had to really fight to win their laughs.

How has being funny helped you in your offstage life, either recently or when you were younger?

Humor was crucial to me fitting in at my predominantly white, wealthy private school. It’s where I learned to find the common ground among disparate groups and use jokes to make connections. Now it helps me navigate the business. Making contacts can be easier when you have humor to grease the wheels.

What advice do you have for how to level up from open mics + bringers to actual SPOT-spots?

I think hosting your own show can help you get your name out there among fellow comics. Not only do you provide yourself with a weekly or monthly venue for working out material, you also put yourself in the position to trade spots with other comics. I also think that bringer shows should be used sparingly, only when you have a great set you want to have filmed in a nice setting, or if there really is going to be powerful industry in the crowd (and again, you know the set you’ll do is killer). It can be so exciting to perform in a club, but to go up there in front of that audience when you’ve barely strung a set together does yourself a disservice and doesn’t gain you any favor in the eyes of the club booker or show producer.

Was there one person who inspired you to become a comedian?

No, no one in particular. I’ve always loved Chris Rock, but it never occurred to me that I could do what “the people on the TV” were doing. It wasn’t until I tried it in college (a pretty easy space) that I thought I might be able to do standup.

Feelings about the word “comedienne”?

It’s very antiquated. Am I Shirley Temple?


naomiekperigin.weebly.com

Twitter @blacktress

Instagram @blacktresscomedy

Naomi Ekperigin is a New York City-based actor, stand-up comedian and writer who has appeared on VH1, MTV, and FX‘s “Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell” and been published in TheHairpin.com, The Huffington Post and VanityFair.com. Most recently Naomi worked as a staff writer on season 3 of Comedy Central’s hit show“Broad City” and “Difficult People,” starring Julie Klausner and Billy Eichner.  In 2013, she was listed as one of “7 Reasons Why SNL Should Hire a Black Woman” on Buzzfeed.com and one of “8 Black Comediennes Who are Ready for SNL” by Essence Magazine.

Photo Credit: Ben Esner

Read Lynn’s bio here.