How to write a funny protest sign

Right now, everyone’s mad about something. And during a time of high-visibility, ultra-Instagrammed civic engagement, we have more opportunities than ever to amplify our infuriated opinions.

 

You only have one piece of poster board to make your point, and you want to hit home.


This is about getting a laugh—and it’s about using humor to make a serious point.

But what makes for a funny and powerful protest sign? Let’s look at what makes these signs hilarious and important, and talk about how you can be not just bitter — but better.

 

Be passionate (but open to understatements).

 

If you’re thinking of going to a protest, but you feel so lukewarm about it that you’re tempted to carry an anti-protest sign, think again. That’s a dick move. Unless you’re counter-protesting – which should ignite equally passionate feelings – there’s no reason to show up just to yuck someone’s yum.

Here’s an exception missed by the people who made the post I linked to above: If your “lukewarm” sign is deliberately ironic, understated for comic effect, and/or flat-out sarcastic. For instance, this lady, from that article:

That’s not the face of a someone who’s “a little upset.” That’s the face of a woman who has brought home the bacon, fried it up in the pan, and gives zero f*cks if you feel like a man at this point. If you want to harness the power of sarcasm, think of the thing you would love to SCREAM at people. Then, think of how you would dial that all the way back to where it’s totally ludicrously understated. For instance:

At a rally for DREAMers: “Please let my friends’ parents stay here to actually parent them.”

At a protest against bullfighting: “This is bull.”

At a demand to take down confederate statues: “Didn’t these guys lose the war?”

 

You see what I mean.

 

Go big. Comedy is about being genuine, and then exaggerating—taking your point to the max. Things just aren’t bad, or hellish, they are almost literally HELL, says this woman:

Use comparisons. This is one of GOLD’s own  5.5 types of jokes! This girl’s sign is hilarious, awful, and true. By comparing dress codes to guns, she’s highlighting their ridiculous nature. What’s more is she’s actually raising two important issues instead of one: girls’ dress codes and gun control. Comparisons are great for multifaceted protesting—and for, you know, being funny.

 

This is where corny works.

I’m not usually pro-puns. Used wrong, they can be so corny they make you cringe. However, when you’re working with a fortune-cookie-sized message, you have to employ whatever will work in a small space. Be punny, rhyme like the wind, indulge your inner dad.

Use your age. It’s funny when kids swear. It just fucking is. Also, kids are usually more observant than adults — we’re not so cynical, and we care a lot about the world around us, despite the stereotype of the bored and angsty teenager. Take your unique point-of-view and apply it to comedy! This kid probably has uttered the words “I’d rather die than go to math class”. That’s something kids say. They don’t usually follow it up with calling people a-holes. That’s the punch. Solid.


Gillian Rooney is a teenage American comedian and writer based in Connecticut. She is currently a student of Competitive Swordplay (member of Fairfield High School Fencing Team.) She is also an alumna of GOLD Comedy’s pilot workshop series!

 




How to Write a Six-Word Memoir That’s Worth a Thousand Words

Somewhere between waking up at 3 a.m. on a Monday with keyboard marks on my face and getting a C on my latest calculus exam, I’ve learned that I miiight have an issue with time management. Maybe I should cut down on the comedy, I thought to myself.

Haha. Just kidding! I just switched to quicker comedy. And you can, too! All you need is six words and a pen.

What am I referring to? Well, there’s a little (and I really do mean little) writing challenge called the six-word memoir, and the goal of it is to summarize who you are in just six words. Filmmaker Nora Ephron, for example, wrote: “Secret to life: Marry an Italian.”

But Nora Ephron makes clever look so easy. For most of us, putting pen to paper and coming up with this kind of alchemy is … difficult, challenging, frustrating, rage-inducing, and two other adjectives.

To help get that ball point pen a-rollin’, here is a handy step-by-step guide to finding your funny in just six short words, with a little help from some women you know and love.

Think about who you are as a person.

Just take this first step as just an opportunity to get to know yourself a little better and write down who you are. You basically want to barf out everything you think about yourself, and sort it out later. The GOLD goddesses have curated a great list of questions in GOLD’s new online comedy course, which includes helpful prompts like these:

  • What makes me interesting is…      
  • I am/was proud of myself when….    
  • If I could change one thing about myself…
  • I would be so happy if…          
  • I would just like to thank…

You can also try finding ideas by taking these prompts and writing about them, stream-of-consciousness style, for one minute (timed!).

  • Write a rough timeline of your life.
  • Describe what you look like and what stands out in your appearance. How has your look changed over time?
  • Describe your family or your friends.
  • Describe your childhood.
  • What is your typical day like?

The point is to expand how you think about yourself — to fill your mental palette with all the colors you can find inside yourself. You’ll only use six, but you want every option possible.

Find common threads and representative anecdotes.

Look over your brainstorming. Does anything jump out at you? What elements of what you’ve written really represent who you are? Are there any themes that get repeated throughout, or any moments that really encapsulate your persona? Where can you find pieces of who you are that make you laugh? Mark these, and think back to them as you start to draft your memoir. This will help you get your introspective juices flowing so that your personality is really at the heart of what you have to say.

Write, write, write!

Now, set a timer for 10 minutes and write as many six-word memoirs as you can, using the elements of who you are identified in the steps above. Don’t think too hard. Just do a ton of them. When you think you’ve exhausted yourself, do three more. And then one more.

Once you’ve spit out a few, think about structure. Many six-word memoirs read like awkward haikus, with missing words sort of glaring out at you between the lines. Some are just a list of connected words. That can be good, it can even be powerful. But as you get used to packing all this feeling into a tiny container, you can expand your horizons and try applying joke structure.

I know, I know. Six words! But stay with me. Even in this abbreviated format, you can use  “setup … punch!,” the queen of all joke structures, in which you set people up to expect one thing and turn in a completely different direction. Author Amy Sohn does this perfectly in her six-word memoir: “Gave commencement address, became sex columnist.” By initially defining herself through the life event of addressing her own graduation, Sohn leads readers to believe that she’ll go on to a highbrow, cerebral career, which is why her ending about choosing to make a living writing about sex is such an unexpected twist.

Triples can also be easily incorporated into six word memoirs. If the “setup … punch!” is the most basic joke structure, a triple is a “setup, setup … punch!” with the last item a bit of a surprise. Journalist Katie Couric uses a triple in explaining her life story: “Secret of life: Family, friends, bacon.” The last word of the three definitely takes the bacon for its originality and humor in comparison to the two preceding words. If you want even more structure ideas, GOLD founder Lynn Harris has got you covered. You can apply any of these to the six-word form.

Keep these ideas in mind, but also let yourself see what comes out naturally. Some six-word gems don’t follow any structure at all. Like this, from Joan Rivers: “Liars, hysterectomy didn’t improve sex life!” Or see how Amy Schumer handled it: “At least you know he’s circumcised.” When it comes right down to it, the best six-word memoirs come from the heart.

Share away!

Now that you’re equipped with a boatload of six-word memoirs, go forth and release them into the wild!

Don’t forget to send your genius our way at @GOLDcmdy on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, and to tag @six.word.memoirs so that your work can really get noticed.

And if you’re really excited to impress everyone with your six words and more, check out the full GOLD Comedy online class to learn how to find your funny and deliver it to the stage!

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KAITLIN GOLDIN is a student, writer, actress, and devout McJew based in the Bay Area. She is currently a junior at Marin Academy in San Rafael, and she is credited with such historic events as creating the modern-day internet, finding the cure to polio, and discovering the classic combination of Oreos and peanut butter. She also enjoys long, romantic walks on the beach and monster trucks and all that crap.

Tips from a teen: Where can teen comics hone their comedy craft?

Stage time is KEY for comedy. But if you’re under 18, which venues will let you in?

Teen comics need to get their material into the world! It’s hard enough writing material that you poured your heart into with no audience but your family and friends. Performing live gives teens confidence as well as (sometimes painful, but necessary) honest feedback. As a teen comic myself (I’ve been doing standup since seventh grade, lo those four years ago), I understand the struggle. To write comedy, you need to watch it — and with most clubs 18 or 21 and up, this can be its own problem. And adults have trouble getting comedy clubs to book them, so how are teens supposed to do any better?

However, I have found a few clubs in New York City that allow teen comics inside—and if you follow my tips, you might get a not-in-NYC joint to open itself up for you, too!

 

Gotham Comedy Club

This is one of the most famous and hard-to-book clubs in New York. Comics like Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David and Dave Chapelle have graced its stage. The club sponsors a training program called Kids n’ Comedy, and their students perform for the public once a month. It’s an amazing way to watch other teen comics; you can also get helpful advice from real comedians (as well as said teens), which really helps to strengthen your material.

 

Upright Citizens Brigade Theater

The improv classes here are a launching pad for every kind of comedy: sketch, improv, standup. Ruby Karp is a successful teen comic who “has been performing at UCB since she was a fetus,” according to her bio. Zach Woods of “Silicon Valley” used to take the train up from Pennsylvania when he was 17 to take classes there. It is a great place for teen comics to watch or perform. You can take their classes and work your way up to asking for an opportunity with the mic.

 

The People’s Improv Theater

“The PIT” has amazing classes in every aspect of comedy, plus drop-in classes (including during the day on weekends) and shows open to everyone. They are also a great source for open mics and improv jams, which are exactly what they sound like: You show up, you improvise, it’s awesome.  

 

Q.E.D.

Located in Astoria, Queens, Q.E.D. calls itself “after-school for grownups.” Congratulations, you’re already in the group they’re trying to emulate! They offer classes in standup and podcasting and open mics galore. They say the shows are for 16 and older only, but you know what? Stop in and make friends with them. They’ll steer you to shows that won’t upset the grownups who see you there.


Laughing Buddha

Laughing Buddha has many locations and classes, and specializes in open mics (over 30 every week, listed on their website). This allows teen comics (a.k.a. you!) to try out your material in front of a live audience and hobnob with other comics. You have to sign up online, and some aren’t kid-friendly, so be persistent.  

 

YOUR local comedy club

Although this may seem scary, I recommend calling your local comedy clubs. Many of them do open mics, which are open to the public and are a fun way to showcase your material for a real audience. However, being under 18, you first have to ask the clubs about their rules. If you can’t be there for an open mic, see if there are any daytime opportunities over the weekend — club owners will be more willing to let a minor perform then instead of midnight on a Wednesday.

 

Random open mics

Comedy clubs and bars are not the only places for open mics. The Brainwash in San Francisco has one of the city’s best open mics, and it’s a laundromat. For real. So get creative: Ask to perform at a school talent show, emcee the spelling bee, haunt your local coffeehouses and poetry cafes and libraries for opportunities to get a mic in your hand. Keep in mind, a teen comic is basically a unicorn. Most places will be happy to have you because of that alone. Also, being the only kid in a group of adults (usually a bunch of white dudes) is refreshing for the audience and makes them love you even more.

Then go home and finish your homework!

Know another great place for under-18s to do their funny? Tweet us @GOLDcmdy!


 

How To Do Comedy: A Workshop For Girls + Others

An online course that's actually funny!

OMG! Sign me up!

 


 

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