a blog? I thought he was supposed to leave me wanting more?
How To Improve Your Comedy Writing
I've been blessed my whole life, to say the least.
I've always had food to eat, a roof over my head, and (albeit non-stylish) clothes on my back. I've always had good mental health, a dog, and a motor that gets me up when most people are still in the ring with the Sandman.
That said, my good friend died in Fourth Grade from cancer, I watched Alzheimer's eat my mom's brain away, and with that motor I just talked about comes the burden of feeling that the weight of the world is on my shoulders. My wife of 10 years demanded a divorce, I had a business "deal" involving my old employer go sideways, and I get the joy of dropping off my three kids every other week to a woman who was "just not happy."
And that's what made me decide to write my thoughts on happiness.
First off, I know I'm just some two-bit chump you stumbled upon thanks to a random Google search, and I get that. You may read this and say, 'Whatever, dude. Power through (INSERT GENUINE ATROCITY HERE), and then come talk to me about happiness."
But if you are genuinely trying to get better, more optimistic, and happier in your life, and you are willing to listen to a complete turtle-chinned stranger's thoughts on how to do it, these two cents might even be worth three.
It all starts with this: NO ONE OWES IT TO YOU.
If you're looking outside yourself for happiness, I wish you all the luck in the world on your voyage, Senor Quixote. When I say no one owes it to you, I don't mean to say that everyone's a selfish prick with only their own interests in mind. Quite the contrary; several examples of extraordinary charity and selflessness are everywhere around you.
Just go to your nearest fire or police station and you'll meet the brave men and women who will throw down their life for you in exchange for $50K a year and only pretty good benefits.
When I say no one owes it to you, what I mean is nobody has time for everybody. Hell, even Ghandi had to relax from time to time! Even the strongest and most charitable of human beings has to take time every day to take care of themselves; to eat, drink, and recharge their batteries. If you are waiting on them to make you happy... what are you going to do while they're taking care of their own necessities? Wait outside in their bushes? That won't work!
Also: happiness is NOT a static state. Not by any stretch. If both the Rock and Brad Pitt have to fight depression from time to time; what chance of evading tragedy and misfortune do we mere mortals have?
Happiness comes and goes, much like my affinity for Taco Bell (a relationship I admit, is inversely proportional). It comes in fleeting, everyday moments you must train yourself to catch in order to realize an overall happier life.
It's not optimism, which is indeed a more permanent life perspective. No, happiness leads to optimism: the better you can identify and receive happiness, the more and more optimistic you will be in your life forecasting.
It's hard to stay negative knowing later the sun will turn the sky a fiery pink, your kid will run up to you and give you a hug, or you'll find out they're running a Mel Brooks marathon on Starz.
Here's what else I've noticed: learning how to be happy means doing things that are the EXACT OPPOSITE of what you would think you need to do. Happiness - true happiness - is another way of saying 'reward,' and you can't have a reward without first assuming a sacrifice. I'd even venture to say a life filled with rewards and no sacrifice leads directly to depression.
If you eat Wah Kee's General Tso Chicken every day, it eventually becomes plain chicken nuggets with a piece of broccoli.
But - even more strangely - that sacrifice you take on must be one you voluntarily assume; an involuntary sacrifice is just a tragedy, and good luck thinking you're prepared for tragedy if you can't first arm yourself with happiness.
If you play sports, you know what I"m talking about: do what the coach demands, and you'll be part of the status quo. Be the player who gets there first, does extra reps, and then shuts the lights off at the end of the day, and you'll be exceptional.
But being exceptional means you first have to sacrifice everything else: sleep, beers with friends, vacations and parties in the middle of the season... the list goes on and on.
The best example is children. What gives a person (with their head screwed on straight) more joy than their children? Watching them play, hearing their laughter, and seeing them keep chivalry alive is rewarding on an extraordinary level... but they make you lose sleep, cost insane amounts of money, and argue over the dumbest fu*king things you can imagine.
I DON'T CARE WHO HIT WHO FIRST. NOW PICK UP THAT TOOTH.
So put happiness on yourself by taking sacrifice head on and absorbing whatever happiness you feel as it comes. I mean truly absorbing it; literally stopping what you're doing when the moment hits, and fully realizing the event giving you purpose as it's happening.
That is GRATITUDE, and if there's one sure way to happiness, it's that: being thankful for what you have.
Like I said earlier, life for me hasn't been all peachy, but AT LEAST I'm not that guy who sleeps at the bus stop on a couple of beer cans eating cigarette butts. And at least he's not the guy who just received the news he's got six weeks to live, and at least HE'S not the guy suffering from a sex addiction and micropenis.
Gratitude keeps you grounded, for sure. Someone's always got it worse, and you can easily find / think of the one around you who has. (Which gets into a whole other thing: prayer.)
Being grateful takes just minimal effort, too: genuinely thanking someone for a service or act of kindness requires only locking eyes and smiling. What the Hell does that cost you? You have no excuse.
Gratitude begets perspective, and perspective begets gratitude.
So be thankful. Genuinely, truly thankful.
To recap: what are the five steps to happiness?
1.) It's your responsibility to be happy;
2.) Happiness is fleeting, and you must learn to catch it when it comes;
3.) Willingly take on sacrifice; and
4.) Be thankful.
The fifth step? Easy. Get a dog. Not a fish, not an iguana, not a cat.
Because they are genuinely happy to see you every time they see you. Having something (or, even better, someONE) who is honestly happy to have you around goes a long way in helping you achieve your own happiness. Dogs don't blame, they go on their own adventures and learn their own things, they'll fight for you to the death, and they WAG THEIR TAILS WHEN THEY SEE YOU.
You have anybody ever do that? Dedicate an entire body part just to saying 'Hi?' It's amazing!
I hope this wasn't too preachy, and I certainly don't mean to oversimplify or make light of your unique, genuine suffering. My dad always told me that everyone walks around with a bucket of manure hovering over their head. Sometimes the manure falls out a little at a time, and sometimes the bucket completely tips over.
If your bucket has tipped over, my sincerest of apologies, and I hope you have the resources in place to help you through that.
But most of us just get the little at a time, and should teach ourselves that the one piece will not tip the entire bucket over. If we do, when that bucket tips (and it always does), our life will lose meaning and we'll succumb to the dark side.
Thinking of you, Cindy Gomez and Barbara Muller Bowen. Hang in there...
It pains me to say this but, my oldest daughter is in Fourth Grade (FOURTH GRADE) and not a single kid in her class has seen - or even heard of - 'The Goonies.'
Think about that. You know what that means?
It means no kid in her class... KNOWS HOW TO BE A KID.
"'Adventure?' What's that? 'Adversity?' Wh... What do you mean? 'Developing friendships by keeping your word as you face a world full of back-stabbing, resentful adults who want to take your house and may (or may not) have a giant freak locked in their basement?' Why would I ever..?"
THE MOVIE STARTS WITH A CAR CHASE AND CURSE WORDS FROM A FAT KID WHO SMASHES HIS MILKSHAKE ON THE WINDOW. What more does a movie need???
The parents die in 'Frozen,' a kid's parents ban music from his house in 'Coco', and I just saw a movie about a rabbit who outsmarts a man competent enough to hold down a corporate gig for ten years.
What two things do these movies have in common? All smash hits and all dealing with DEATH.
Know what else they all have in common? No laughs. I'll admit: the rooster in 'Peter Rabbit' starts off pretty funny, but then you realize he's just a single dad who caves under the duties of responsible parenting, and it quickly devolves into you wondering if somewhere on the cutting room floor is the scene where he willingly takes a cyanide pill. It's DARK, man.
Let me ask you this: if a kid's mind is a sponge, why would you drop it in toilet water?
So what did I do to protest all this? I sat my kids (10, 7, and 5) down and made them watch 'Dumb and Dumber.'
If those other idiots in her class are that far behind in movies about being a kid ('You play ball like a XHE!'), think of how far ahead of the curve they'll be when it comes to making people laugh... if people are still allowed to laugh when my kids become adults.
Just as my seven years of college don't translate into a Doctorate (barely even a Bachelor's), your lifetime of meeting with and engaging new people does not mean you can effortlessly articulate those experiences into words people would care to read.
You've got to hit your readers with new characters... they already know.
Let me explain:
In hopes of making my own writing better, I went on a psychology binge trying to find out WHY people do what they do and say what they say (in writing and acting terms, I was trying to figure out their motivations).
It was in this pursuit I came across Carl Jung.
Quick backstory, he was a cohort and friend of Sigmund Freud (Mr. Id-Ego-Superego) who parted ways with the guy because he thought Freud was too steeped in his own BS to see his theories had flaws in them. In the world of psychology, this was a breakup of Bert-and-Ernie proportions, and Jung went off to become the founding father of what is today known as analytical psychology. Freud... I don't know what he did after that. I think he just languished in his own sorrow and started playing with morphine, which is how most of us handle breakups, amirite?
Jung said all people have conscious and unconscious minds. Now, there are literally TONS of books written about what these things are, but for our purposes - to improve our characters and dialogue - we'll focus on the unconscious, particularly the part Jung called the 'COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS.'
Basically, the collective unconscious is a set of images (archetypes) shared by every human being since the dawn of time. A good example is the hero archetype: if you show the 'Harry Potter' movie to a Yanomamo tribesman, he'll identify Harry as the hero just as quickly and as easily as the lead scientist at the large hadron collider will.
Can that tribesman collide particles or complete a course in Differential Equations? No, but neither can the scientist grasp hunting monkeys as a protein source.
The point is, peoples' backgrounds and upbringings don't matter - the collective unconscious is something we ALL share (hence, 'collective').
"Okay, Nick. You're losing me. What the Hell does all this have to do with improving my writing?"
Glad you asked...
Jung broke the archetypes into three groups:
It is in understanding each of these three groups that your (our) writing will improve, so let's get down to it.
1.) The Shadow:
Of the three archetypes, the shadow is the easiest to understand, and thus, the easiest to incorporate into your character and their dialogue.
In real life, we all wear a mask called the persona. It is basically the guy that goes out with us when we leave our parent's basem... er, when we leave our "office" to go out and face the world. It is what we WANT people to think we are: compassionate, caring, kind... whatever.
However, sometimes we wear that mask so much, we begin to believe it. "Look at me NOT kicking this three-legged dog for fun! Man, I AM SO KIND!" Or, "I left an eighty-nine cent tip to the barista at Starbucks today! Sure, I could have kept it, but that'd be selfish..."
And that's where The Shadow comes in.
Just because you THINK you're wonderful, you're shadow reminds you that you're not. Using the examples above, the Shadow is what reminds you that you WANTED to kick that dog and that you WANTED to keep your change after buying that tall Pike Place (the worst coffee they serve, but all that's available after 2pm).
Oversimplifying things, The Shadow is everything that goes against your persona; that nagging voice that says "If they ever discovered the truth about me..."
It's your darkest secrets, your most deviant desires... and it's in all of us.
So develop your character's Shadow. Have him / her be confronted by it and study / embrace / repel it. If the protagonist is a supermodel, that fat kid inside them is always there; do a reveal where they're alone, in the dark, hammering away at a chocolate pie. Even better, have them crying while doing it. They can't stop - The Shadow's taken control.
2.) The Anima (an archetype):
Call this, 'The S-MOTHER-ING.' The projection that leads to it, anyway...
We all know boys love their mommies. Right from birth, the mother becomes the ideal woman, and the boy strives to please her in every way possible. (Yes, even THAT way.) She offers him complete protection and attention, so much so that a boy may never even become a man - why face the hardships and banality of the real world when your mother is willing to give you all you'll ever need?
And momma ain't no saint, either. She's busy trying to make the boy into the ideal man SHE wants and is hoping that when she completes this twisted project, the boy will stick around and never leave her side.
At any rate, time does what it does, and eventually the boy enters adulthood. He projects (psychologically throws) onto every girl he meets the personal image of his 'perfect' mother (this is making me VERY uncomfortable), and when she inevitably falls short, the man gets all wound up and irritated.
That woman ain't no chump, so she stands her ground and they get into an argument.
BUT: while he's projecting the image of his mother onto her, when he gets a rush of anima, he's no longer doing that. He's actually doing his impression of the ideal woman.
What a tool! (As I forcefully refuse to believe I ever do this.)
Here's where that can help your dialogue:
Every Hall has its Oates, so your male characters MUST have something that balances them (or tries to, anyway). By nature, men have a stronger logos than women, so they take pride in and strive for thoughts of reason and objectivity.
Well, that all comes crashing down when the woman they're arguing with starts going all 'animus' on him (see below). During a heated exchange, the man will revert to arguing for the sake of preserving his vanity - he wants to 'save face' and protect his fragile ego.
Now women get flooded with...
3.) The Animus:
Where the Anima is an injection of the female eros into a man, the Animus is the (sometimes lethal) injection of the logos into the woman during an argument.
Consisting of opinions that are completely independent of experience, the logos believes its opinions are ABSOLUTE TRUTHS and, thus, a woman flushed with animus fights for a position of power.
Why? Because she's doing the same thing he's doing, but instead of impersonating the ideal woman, she's acting out the archetype of ideal man.
So now you've got the man pretending to be the perfect woman and a woman pretending to be the perfect man. What the Hell?
In the end, the man is resentful and the woman is ready to break all ties with him. (Probably because she knows she can find another man and start a whole new life by the time he wipes his first tear, but Jung is Jung and I'm just me, so take that with a grain of salt.)
So keep that in mind when writing dialogue - the collision of the anima and animus. If it's comedy, have this deep, dark, collective fact come to life over something stupid, like him not picking up his socks:
"You're gonna leave your socks right there on the floor?"
"I'll get 'em later."
"But... why can't you just get them now?"
"Because I'm eating dinner."
"FUNIONS... are NOT DINNER, Gary."
"When you're trying to save money for a wedding, they are!"
"You honestly think I want to marry a guy with a weight problem who eats Funions with his socks on the floor?"
Etc. Etc. The argument repeated millions of times a day around the globe escalates into the nonsensical, and the pining guy has to go win the apathetic girl back again and again until they both die alone in separate homes, not even remembering each others' name. (Life sucks sometimes, man.)
1.) Have your characters explore their dark sides, either through exposition or dialogue. That dark side's in all of us (The Shadow), and it's all the urges we've had to repress that are demanding to be liberated and incorporated into our behavior.
Your character the vegan president of PETA? Have them hit a deer on the road and, while pulling over to render it aid, have them accidentally run over a squirrel that came out to see what was going on. Now your character's got to make the choice: help the deer or the squirrel. Even better: they now have to come to terms with the fact that they've actually been the one to hurt animals. Boom.
2.) Men fall in love with women who best personify or help them relive the love their mom gave them. When that inevitably goes to pot, they start mimicking the perfect female (they're flushed with the Anima).
Why? You got me!
Doesn't matter, though. Women seem to find love the exact same way, and when that image is shattered, they start pretending to be the perfect man (they're flushed with the Animus).
So you've got two characters playing their biological opposites in front of each other in a situation of blinding rage.
Why that is, I have no idea. But for the sake of writing better characters and dialogue, just know that IT IS.
Now that you know, go out and do.
Man, sketch comedy is hard...
I have a friend / reader (I know - can you believe it?) who brought her daughter to this website for answers to the question: "How do you write a comedy sketch?"
Sadly, I'm just now getting into relaying my value (self-perceived, of course) to people after 17 years in comedy, so all she found in the blog section were my musings on Texas beaches, the disappearance of moms, and body hair in weird places.
In short, she found EVERYTHING SHE NEEDED for sketch comedy premises, but no direction in how to apply them toward actually writing the sketch.
And that is my aim here: to give you my two cents on writing comedy sketches. (Hopefully, you'll find those two cents worthy of inflation adjustment rather than Mexican currency conversion, but we won't know anything until we try. So, without further ado...)
The following information is based on a sketch I wrote called 'Profundity Phil.' It's available on my 'Samples' page for free - download it to follow along. Also, I lack any ability to track downloads, so don't worry: I'm not going to chase you down with emails or anything.
If you're reading this on a phone and can't download it, here's the gist of the sketch: An old steelworker becomes a sought-after guru - much to his chagrin, as he would rather just be left alone in his double-wide.
1.) JUMBO SHRIMP YOUR PREMISE
Oxymorons - ridiculous, contradicting juxtapositions - are your best friend when beginning your sketch comedy writing journey. Remember: it's sketch comedy, not sketch chemotherapy, so don't dive into that blank page taking yourself too seriously.
For me, the premise of the sketch is BY FAR the most difficult thing to write.
There are different schools of thought as to whether or not your premise should be believable, but my theory on that - after years of painstaking research and bombing on stage - is this:
Your premise needs to be whatever the hell it is that gets you writing.
If getting your juices flowing means writing a story about a jar of crunchy peanut butter's quest to resolve 'Smooth Privilege,' then by all means, write that sketch.
The point I'm trying to make here is that the premise for your sketch is the ONLY THING YOU DON'T OWE YOUR AUDIENCE. They owe it to you. Any audience worth their weight in stale nachos comes to see your show / troupe with an open mind. All they want to do is be entertained; they want to go, pay a cover charge (an up-front investment in you, by the way), sit, and - in the case of sketch comedy - laugh.
So I say just let your imagination wonder. Write about that conversation between the sheep and the farmer shearing him. Tell the page about the only guy in the world with a Five Sigma blackbelt. Describe to the reader a couples' divorce on Mars.
What do you think is going to happen? Some attorney specializing in Martian Family Law going to stand up during the show and yell, "NO ONE approaches the bench in a Martian family court! They don't even HAVE a bench! Pfft! [TO AUDIENCE] THIS guy..."
2.) ALL SKETCHES ARE COMPLETE STORIES
All of the elements of history's greatest novels (Straight Man, by Richard Russo) have a beginning, middle, and end; a protagonist, antagonist, something they're after. If they didn't have those things, the reader wouldn't care.
Writing sketch comedy is the same thing. You've got to have all those elements to grip your audience, or else they're taking a bathroom break. And you don't have the luxury of a 'Chapter 1' to do that, either. You've got to have that cleared up by the end of 'Page 1,' or, even better, by the middle of 'Page 1' because people watch comedy - especially sketch comedy - with about a 26-second attention span.
You've got about 1/2 to 1 page to get them interested in something about your sketch, be it the McGuffin (what your characters are all after), the premise, or the characters themselves. If you wait until 'Page 2' to drop your killer line about how camels love water but someone decided long ago they could go a month without it, your audience has checked out. They don't care, and why should they? Your sketch was about camels!
But fear not - with this insane demand to set everything up so quickly comes loads of artistic license. You can be brief (but detailed) in your opening scene, giving a background story if necessary.
'Profundity Phil' begins with a series of scenes and a song telling the story so that by the end of page one, he's in his double-wide. A hard man in a hard industry, by the time he's in his trailer, we know he's had a long life of bringing gentle truthfulness to others seeking guidance.
Pages 2-4 are, of course the meat of the sketch: the man coming to him for counsel and Phil's steelworker wisdom providing him a path toward personal achievement.
Once you've got the beginning down (the premise and the buildup), the body of the sketch is where you Abbot & Costello everything. Set-up, punch. Set-up, punch. Set-up, punch, punch, punch. Remember: as your story moves on, you're giving yourself more and more material for jokes and callbacks.
It can be physical humor, witty dialogue, the entrance of a random character, a combination of all three... it doesn't matter. Your job is to hammer your audience by packing these next few minutes with as many laughs as you can. The middle of your sketch is where that audience is going to get their money's worth, and that is the place you give it to them.
Now that all the hard work is done - all the laughs are in there and the dialogue is as tight as possible - you can end your sketch. And here's a little secret: if you've taken the time to craft a quick backstory and filled the middle of your sketch with solid comedy, how you end your sketch doesn't really matter.
Take one of my favorite sketches of all time, 'More Cowbell' on SNL. Even today, I still laugh out loud at the dialogue and Will Farrell's commitment to hitting that damn cowbell as hard and as effectively as he can. I mean, the dude is SWEATING at the end of the sketch! They've all got great lines, the performance is amazing, the body of the sketch is packed with laughs and the ending is... a memorial to Gene Frenkle?
What kind of long story-like denouement and closure is that? It's not! It's just you get completely sucked in to an awesome sketch that ends with a nonsensical and unpredictable ending. Yes, it's the ultimate rug-pull, but that's not the point:
The point is, Will Ferrell and Donnell Campbell (the writers) essentially said, "Meh. We're done," and nobody complained. Why? Because they built the premise quickly and absolutely destroyed the middle pages of that sketch.
3.) TABLE READ THE THING
For those of you not familiar with the term, a 'Table Read' is when a group of actors (or, in sketch comedy, 'Players') sit around a table and read your entire script from beginning to end. Unless you're writing for SNL or 'The Upright Citizens Brigade,' you're probably limited on funds and can't get one actor for each role.
No biggie. Just get who you can, and divide up the work: one reads female voices, the other reads the male voices, and you, dear writer, read the action and direction. And if you can, always record the table read for future rewrites (and there will be rewrites).
Table reads are invaluable because they let you actually HEAR your sketch. Writing jokes is fun, but when you hear them, you play the role of the audience, getting the chance to decide if that hobo's story is funny... or maybe just a little too sad to get laughs. After all, riding in a train car with a desk/bed/chair made of hay can only be so funny until an audience realizes, "Hey. Dude's a meth addict. Enough already."
The table read is fun and - as long as you can provide coffee and some snacks - cheap. If you're already part of a sketch troupe, they HAVE to do this for you. But if you're not, you can find any friend or comic on craigslist to come do the read for $10-$20 (or, better, for free so they can get community service hours credited toward their 'Possession' charge).
Immediately after the table read, listen / watch the read again, making note of anything you meant to say or notice. While still fresh in your head, you'll be able to make adjustments to timing and structure, and you'll be able to note ad-libs that may have gotten thrown in there.
Then wait 24 hours, listen again to that recording, and ask yourself, "Is this even funny?" Are the actors laughing? Are you laughing? Were all the laughs coming from the ad-libs or from your structured material?
And be brutal. It's hard to be objective about your sketch comedy writing abilities, but you have to be. One, your sketch has to be as funny as it can possibly be to keep the audience's attention. But you already know that.
You want to be brutal because - and I don't want to spoil the ending here - you will never be completely satisfied with the final product.
You just won't be. Right up until the very second your sketch's production takes place, you'll be wondering if that character should have said something else, if that couch should have been in the scene, or even if you should have just gone to grad school because the pain of hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt pales in comparison to the pain of not being funny.
At any rate, early objectivity and brutality hardens you up so that when your sketch sees production, you can be focusing on the next one. Once production has started, you have to be detached from the script, or else you'll hang on every word and want to change the past. That's self-defeating, demoralizing, and exactly what carries over into your next sketch-writing effort that will fail miserably.
Just write. Write, write, write, write, write. When in doubt: write. When When humled: write. When confident: write. (And write me about what that feels like.)
Creativity is your job, so don't be that writer who only writes when inspired. Approach it like it's work, because it is. And don't be afraid to build on ideas you may be afraid of, either. There are no taboos in comedy... so long as your skills can take them on with hilarity and objectivity. So if you want to write about [INSERT TABOO HERE], then by all means do so. Just be sure that you've got the comedy chops to bring genuine laughs at it.
So get out there, think of something - anything - to get on paper, and punch it up with a tireless dedication toward making this world a better place.
Because you are.
If you're in a hurry, and don't have time to read this post, it can all be summed up into this SFW video.
Painful things happen to all of us; that's just life. I, currently, am going through the most painful life event I've ever experienced this side of hearing, "you'll be fighting Dustin Blount at Fight Night for the MDA fundraiser." (People tell me that's a good story; I don't remember much after the opening bell.)
While it SUH-HUCKS right now, I'm not going to sit around cleaning my rifle, goin' "seven six two millimeter, full metal jacket." Because one, I don't have a rifle, and two: I am a firm believer that pain reshapes you into something better. We're human beings. We need pain. We need struggle.
We need crucibles.
And since pain is inescapable, it is my hope to help you bear your cross with dignity and eventual hilarity. After all: if you can't move on, who's gonna make those secretaries giggle blue curacao all over themselves on Glambling Night at Connie's every other Thursday?
This is by no means "the only way," because pain varies from person to person. It's just an effort to help you take your pains, put them on paper, and transform them into something that is as funny as you can possibly make it.
So here goes:
WRITE DOWN YOUR PAIN WHEN IT'S WORST
Get the demons out.
Cathartic in practice, yes, but I don't want to get too deep here. (Namely because I'm not that deep a person, and - according to my results from a "what grade you write to" test - neither are any sixth graders.)
The point is, when the pain hits its peak(s), write it out. Get it on paper, and not with a pencil, either. You'll just keep editing yourself.
A pen. No laptop, no Evernote, no typewriter. Just write it with a pen onto paper, big and bold. (Don't do it in red. If the cops ever find it, that'll scream "suspect.")
And be brutal, too. Don't just write, "Donny did my girl," write "That bastard Donny put his pig [expletive] in the woman I spent my IRA on!" Anger is all part of this process, and the more you can get it onto paper, the better you will feel without actually hurting anyone.
Writing down your premises while in pain gives your set-ups a more natural, organic feel to your future audience. It makes your pain more real and believable to a group of strangers, be they just reading your writing or listening to your act in person.
Also, getting your pains / premises out on paper will free your mind to come up with solutions. In comedy, we call those solutions "punchlines," and good ones are what every comic and comedy writer strives to get.
It's hard to admit, but there is ALWAYS someone who has it worse than you. Always. Put your dog down yesterday? Man, that sucks. Did you hear about the father of three who just got word he had Stage 17 nut cancer?
Even that guy watches UNICEF commercials and goes, "YIKES."
No matter your belief system, pain is undeniable, and it inflicts itself onto good, innocent people all the time.
Yes, your boss may treat you like a meagerly-paid Gofer ("Two-and-a-half creams?? Pfft. Psycho."), but that guy on the elevator with a wedding band on his finger, carrying a box full of stuff from his desk? Give that dude some space; he's suddenly got A LOT on his plate.
Also, get perspective to clear your mind. If you know - and you will have to consciously tell yourself this, especially at first - that someone else has it worse, you can come back to earth and approach your pain and comedy from a more rational and objective angle. This will help create that distinct "voice" your jokes need to separate you from the other comics vying for top spot at Karoline's (No Relation) Comedy Club.
REMEMBER: "IT'S DONE"
And you ain't Kronos.
(Unless, you know, you castrated your dad and took over his throne.)
You can't turn back time, is what I'm saying.
You can't bring that person back from the dead, get your wife to change her mind about the divorce, or get your bum-ass roommate to suddenly pay the $400 you're short on rent. You just can't.
I'd call this part "Acceptance," but acceptance is different in my eyes. Acceptance is a more long-term end shrouded in countless therapy sessions and self-help books you don't want your friends to know about.
This is simply uttering the phrase "It's Done." It has an immediate effect on both your mind and your body. When you say out loud "It's Done," your mind goes, "Oh, alright!" and your body starts moving forward.
It's arguable as to how permanent that kind of mentality is, but saying "It's Done" gives you instant momentum, allowing you to begin moving forward.
Like me, you'll have to say "It's Done" about a million times a minute at first, but then you'll start saying it as the pain begins setting in. You'll find its a very real and powerful shield against the onslaught of emotions that will, fortunately, come less and less as time goes on.
I'd like to tell you I'm an optimist by birth, but because optimism is something you must work on daily (hourly and minutely, even), I'll tell you I am an optimist by trade. Optimism takes some serious effort, especially in the face of seemingly overwhelming odds.
There are several reasons to choose optimism: it helps you deal with pain, it helps get you out of bed when the going gets rough... all that.
But the real reason to choose optimism is this: because it is your job.
In my case, that attitude has very little to do with the job of being a comedy writer (can you call it a 'job,' when your earnings only cover a single bar tab at TGI Friday's?). The conscious decision to be an optimist has everything to do with it being my job as your fellow citizen.
What good would I be to the world (and to my loyal 7-reader fanbase) if I treated you, random stranger, according to my mood at that time? If I were to be, say, evicted from my residence and was all bitter and nasty about it, would you want me helping you change your tire by the side of the road?
No, right? If I did that, you'd get so sick of hearing about my problems you'd either reject my help altogether, or just jump out into traffic to spare yourself from my yammering.
It is my job - everyone's job - to be optimistic when hard times hit because society moves forward; it's not THEIR fault YOU'RE in pain. It is optimism, also, that alleviates the stress on your brain when you are in the thick of the hard times.
It lifts the clouds and lightens the burden of your situation, which, oddly enough, is EXACTLY what crowds and audiences want from you anyway.
So do it for yourself first.
WRITE YOUR PUNCHLINES IN UNFAMILIAR TERRITORY
If you can't afford to leave your city, go to write on another side of town, one to which you've never been. Flip your surroundings because doing so flips your mentality, and that provides a mental distance between you and your pain.
In an unfamiliar surrounding, you can almost see your pain as someone else's. Instead of 'My mother was killed by a rabid mule deer (WAH),' you'll see it as 'some guy's mom was killed by a rabid mule deer (CHUCKLE).'
Distance of any kind breeds objectivity, and objectivity - especially with pain everyone experiences - can lead to great punchlines that help both you AND your audience deal with life's buckets of poo.
So if scheisse hits your fan, I'm sorry. I'm truly sorry for your loss.
But you've been gifted with the ability to make people laugh, and that is a gift not everyone on this Earth has. You should take that job seriously, because it's not just for others, it's for you, too.
I'm Nick. I've never been afraid of getting in over my head, and I've survived every resulting injury from doing so. Played college football in the SEC while running a 5.1 forty at 200lbs, got booed off stage in front of 1,000 people at a 'Latino Laff Nite (I'm not Latino),' rolled with BJJ Black Belts, and got TKO'd by a Golden Gloves boxing champion during a fundraiser for MDA. The closest I ever got to being a real man was when my mom cut me off on the way to the Marine Recruiter's office - in the parking lot.