If You Have Writer’s Block, Just Start Writing

If you write creatively, you’ve experienced writer’s block.

About a week ago, I sat down to write new stand-up material and drew an absolute abyss of a blank. It got to the point where I was referring to my tweets from three years ago for new ideas. A gem like “When it comes to wearing a black belt, black shoes matter,” is NOT making into one of my sets today.

When we get writer’s block, all we tend to think about is the fact that you have writer’s block, so no wonder writing is hard.

Then comes the brilliant thought of, “I need to write something brilliant and hilarious.”

No pressure, David.

One of the biggest obstacles to writing something creative and funny is the thought, “I need to write something creative and funny,” because the first thing that we type out is going to be weighed against those lofty expectations. For this reason, the creative process is stifled, and you’ve created an uphill battle for yourself.

The last couple of months have been a bit of a letdown on what I’ve written based on my own standards, and the longer I go without writing something that gets my creative juices flowing, the higher I set my expectations. Because I’m overthinking everything so much, instead of just writing, I look at the pen and paper in front of me as an enemy, as something that has to be overcome, rather than embracing the moment and running with it.

Three nights ago, I sat down with a basic idea I’ve been kicking around in my head for a good two months, and instead of overthinking what I would write, I just started typing.

I didn’t write an outline, I didn’t demand myself to “write something hilarious,” I just started writing. At first, the act of typing inspired a starting point, but the more and more I began to give into my thoughts without judging them as good or bad, the clearer I could see the direction I was heading. Once I made it from the starting point to the conclusion of the bit, I read through what I had written, deleted what wasn’t truthful to me in the moment, rewrote some sentences that would disappoint my high school English teacher, and re-read it out loud. I had to stop a couple of times to laugh.

Success!

For two months, I had refused to elaborate on an initial idea because it wasn’t perfect, but all it took was three hours of just writing without judgment, refining what I had written, rehearsing the bit, and making final adjustments, I had a working bit.

Get out of your own head and just write. That’s it.

The only secret is to just keep writing, whether it’s a comedy bit, a blog post, a journal entry, a policy proposal, a product or marketing idea, a poem, a research paper, or a script – IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT IT IS. JUST START WRITING AND SEE WHERE IT TAKES YOU.

Creativity is messy. To strive for perfection means to judge, but judgment and creativity don’t work well together.

Remember: you can’t be creative by telling yourself to be creative. Just start writing and allow your creativity to flourish.

Taking Short-Term Risks for Long-Term Reward

When competing in a comedy competition, it’s wise to use safe material, that is, material that you KNOW works with crowds of all shapes and sizes. But as a performer, sometimes hitting the same laugh lines over and over can get exhausting and feel less rewarding.

I was in a comedy competition in New York City last week, and the rules stated that if you advance to the next round, you can’t use any of the material you had already used. I have three ten-minute sets that have historically held up in front of all kinds of crowds, so I initially planned on using these three sets. But once I moved on from the first round to the semifinals and was prepared to use my second killer set, I called an audible at the last second.

I had thought of some new jokes a few days prior and was itching to try them out in front of a live audience. Sure, I knew set number two was going to work, but I had been milking that set for so long (see what I did there?), my itch to be creative won out.

I tried an entire new set in the semifinals and failed to move on to the finals.

You’re probably thinking, “What’s the point of writing a post about taking risks when the risk you took didn’t pay off?”

The point is that, sure, I suffered a short-term setback.

Sure, after opening up my set strong, the next two minutes fell painfully flat, with little to no laughter from the audience. But after lightheartedly drawing attention to this elephant in the room, the rest of the set concluded strong.

The moment I got off stage, I knew I wasn’t moving on in the contest, but it felt liberating to try out something new.

The next day, I listened back to my set, took notes, made adjustments, then worked out the material at three open mics. By the time the third one rolled around, I had a fully functional, laugh-worthy set ready to go.

It killed.

Even though I fell flat during the second round of the competition, I now have a brand new ten minute set that I can confidently take to the stage, knowing I can get laughs.

When we play it safe, eventually it becomes rote, routine, and incredibly boring, even if at one point it was rewarding. When we take risks, life becomes much more exciting, it’s just important to remember that when we fall short of our goals the first time, it isn’t the end of the world. There’s always a chance to learn, improve, and achieve that internal (and external) reward by adjusting and adapting. Don’t let taking a risk stop you when the reward can be that much greater.

What’s one risk you can take that makes you feel uncomfortable? What’s the potential long-term reward if you see it through?

Humor and Grief: Putting the ‘FUN’ in Funerals

When a close relative of yours gets murdered, it shakes the foundation of your existence; it can send you on a downward spiral of depression, dependency, and regret. One of the toughest moments of my life was learning of the passing of my aunt, Kristie, at the hands of her own daughter – my cousin Taylor. I was lying in bed around 7 AM after a late night of shock and questioning reality – we had already known Kristie had been killed, but when we went to bed, we didn’t know the culprit – when my dad burst into my room with hate in his voice, declaring, “Taylor did it.”

My first thought was, “Christmas is going to be awkward this year.” I stopped myself from laughing: “This isn’t the time to make jokes.” The next few weeks were miserable – every day we learned more and more gruesome details about the murder. If you were to drive by our house, it would’ve been the one with the black cloud hovering above it. You always hear people say things like, “That kind of stuff happens on the news, it doesn’t happen to us,” so none of us really knew how to cope. We spend a lot of time together, consoling and comforting one another. In college at the time, I confronted my vulnerability by skipping two straight weeks of class – the only percentage I got was the .09 I blew into a breathalyzer. Needless to say, none of the family could find a way out of the black hole we were stuck in… until the funeral. That’s when I finally gave in to the humor of the whole situation.

During the eulogy, the minister said, “This is a celebration of life!” I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word “celebration,” I think “party,” and not one person was partying. Besides, if you were to invite me to a party, then inform me it’s at a church, everyone would be crying, and the DJ would be bagpipes, I’d politely decline. And one more thing: he called it a “celebration of life…” with a dead body in the middle of the room – you couldn’t get more contradictory. That’s like having an open bar at a sobriety party. I had to laugh – and the moment I did, it was like a weight was lifted off of my chest. I began to notice even more incongruities: the first three letters in ‘funeral’ are ‘F-U-N,’ Kristie found joy in the happiness of others and, ironically enough, EVERYONE THERE WAS CRYING, and a stranger no one there had ever met sobbed uncontrollably into the microphone for five minutes, blubbering on about how he wished more people had known Kristie, while we wondered who the hell knew who that guy was.

In the face of tragedy was the moment I realized the power laughter has over our fears, stress, and sadness. But it shouldn’t come as such a shock: science has known this for some time now

A study from the University of Berkeley, bereaved widows and widowers able to laugh about their loss were observed to be happier, better equipped to deal with distress, and better socially adapted.

A study done at Kent State and reported in the American Journal of Hospice and Palliative Care revealed that humor was present in 85 percent of 132 observed nurse based visits. Amazingly, they found that 70 percent of the humor was initiated by the patient.

Humor provides us with relief, not by washing away bad feelings, but by activating them, along with positive ones, so that we can enjoy a complex emotional experience. Tragic circumstances are an effective breeding ground for humor because they provide the same release as horror movies, allowing the participants to confront their emotions head-on.       –Scott Weems (author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why)

How have you used humor in the face of tragedy? How have you helped others experiencing tragedy, trauma, or even just a bad day smile?

Each of us has had a “Christmas is going to be awkward this year,” lean into it and let yourself laugh.

 

When The Audience Doesn’t Laugh…

As a comedian, there are very few things that irk me more than when a comedian calls out the audience for not laughing at their joke. It makes me cringe – the audience wasn’t on your side to begin with, what makes you think yelling at them for not laughing is going to get them to want to laugh!?
Even if you hold a gun to my head, sure, I’ll “laugh,” but you better believe it’s not because you’re actually funny.
Saying something like, “That joke was funnier in my head,” is a good way to cut the obvious tension when you don’t get a laugh, but blaming the audience for being unfunny is a quick way to make sure no one laughs at your next joke.
I’ve made it a rule of thumb to never blame an audience when they don’t laugh at a joke because I don’t have control over what they think is funny. All I can do is rework the writing or performance aspect to make it funnier next time.
So what do I do when a joke dies in front of one audience with nary a giggle, but leaves another audience rolling the next day, even though I told it the same way (same wording, gestures, and timing)? It didn’t just make them laugh, I had to pause before continuing so everyone could compose themselves, I used it as a callback 40 minutes later and got another big laugh, and overheard audience members refer to the line and laugh following my performance.
My logic goes like this:
Joke bombs > rewrite joke/adjust timing and tone of joke > try new version
I’ve been telling the joke for a little over a year, and though it didn’t hit the first few times I told it, I followed my formula, fixed the set-up to make the punchline punchier, worked on my vocal tone, and adjusted my timing. For the last six months, the joke gets big laughs 8 out of 10 times, regular laughs 1 out of 10, and dies on the stage 1 out of 10.
If The Backstreet Boys were to put out a new album that everyone hates, they could still sing “I Want It That Way” at a concert and people would looooove it.
This joke is my “I Want It That Way.”
It’s my LeBron James on a team full of “I don’t know hims.”
It just works.
Until it doesn’t.
I wish I could say for sure why there’s a discrepancy.
I want to not blame the audience, but evidence is overwhelmingly pointed toward the fact that it’s a funny joke, so why is there the occasional audience that just blinks at me when I tell it?
I have so many questions.
Was there a difference in audience?
The joke I’m referring to is aimed at a human resources audience, and both days I was speaking to HR professionals, so the type of audience didn’t vary much.
Geography?
Located within 40 miles of one another.
Demographic?
I’m in Maine, so incredibly white.
Did I change anything?
I record myself every time I get on stage. Listening to the recording, I delivered the joke identically both times: word for word, pause for pause, and vocal variety for vocal variety.
What the hell, man?
Though I have no idea why the joke landed for one audience and fell flat for the other, it’s important that I remind myself not to put a gun to the audience’s head on this one.
All I know is that they didn’t laugh, and in the end, that’s perfectly okay. Sometimes people just aren’t on the same wavelength, and that’s not on them, it’s on you to say, “Well, that happened… what can I do with it?”
In this case, write a blog post, laugh about it, keep telling the joke, and that one time out of ten it doesn’t get the laugh, remember that I can’t win ‘em all and move forward. It’s a good reminder that variety makes things interesting.
Of course, there’s the ol’ stand-by of saying, “That joke was funnier in my head.” At least that will break the tension with a chuckle, and a chuckle is better than waving a pistol and yelling, “LAUGH, DAMMIT!”