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Marsha Shandur: Getting serious about writing funny

By | Published on Tuesday 20 August 2013

Marsha & Friends

Marsha Shandur spoke to more comedians than it’s possibly safe to do so for her ‘Marsha Meets’ podcasts for Xfm. Now she is writing a book with Deborah Frances-White on the art of comedy, and has been at the Fringe chatting once more to comedy types, this time very much focused on how, exactly, they make us all laugh. Here she shares some of the insights she gathered on a comedian’s writing process.

I’ve been in Edinburgh this August interviewing comedians about their craft for a book I’m writing with Deborah Frances-White (she of ‘Voices In Your Head: The Phill Jupitus Experiment’ and ‘Half A Can Of Worms’). Coming out via Bloomsbury next Autumn, it’s called ‘Off The Mic: Stand Ups Get Serious About Comedy’ and covers subjects like the comedy writing process, stage presence, the ins and outs of touring, and how comedians find their voice onstage. And as I have an end-of-festival sort through my notes (including some interviews I did before getting here), I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned about the first of those topics, writing and developing great comedy material.

Rich Hall
“As soon as you get up onstage, you have this idea in your head, ‘I’m going to say this and this’. You might even have half-rehearsed it. And then suddenly the audience starts to edit for you. And you realise, ‘Oh, I don’t need to say that, I can just jump from this to this’. I think that a lot of laughs come out of short hand. I think the audience kind of makes a leap of logic. It’s the stuff you leave out of a routine that makes people laugh”.
Rich Hall, Assembly George Square, until 25 Aug, 9.30pm.

Zoe Lyons
“The frustrating thing is, if you have a new thing and it works straight away and – BAM! – you’re like,’Oh good, I’ve got a new thing!’. Then you do it again the next night and, nothing. And you think, ‘It can’t have died that quickly, surely?’. I think it’s because of that adrenaline behind doing it for the first time… You can’t quite generate that again. So, it needs tweaking and working. Then there’s stuff that you know is funny, but you’ve never ever got to work, and you keep just bashing away at it, and then eventually, you go ‘Oh, it’s an extra beat there, or it’s a raise of the eyebrow there’”.
Zoe Lyons – Pop-up Comic, The Assembly Rooms, until 25 Aug, 5.00pm.

Stephen K Amos
“If it’s something personal, I might think about an incident in my life and write a story about that, and then try and find the funnies within that story. I don’t force it, because if I do, it tends to be rubbish. If I don’t force it and let it happen organically – that works for me”.
Stephen K Amos Talk Show, Pleasance Courtyard, until 24 Aug, 5.10pm.
Stephen K Amos: Work In Progress, The Stand Comedy Club III & IV, until 24 Aug, 9.55pm.

Lee Kern
“I actually workshop a lot of ideas on Facebook. I write silly ideas and I throw stuff. A lot of people say, ‘You’re always on Facebook writing crap. Do you not have anything to do?’, but that’s my job. Whilst you’re at work, I’m dicking around, sitting around in my pants, writing nonsense and seeing what happens”.
Lee Kern: Bitter Twitter, Gilded Balloon Teviot, until 26 Aug, 8.15pm.

Marc Maron
“I write things down, but I don’t flesh things out on paper. I write things down in bullet points, ideas in poetic fragments, then try to expand on them. I don’t have a disciplined writing process and I’m not proud of it. I think I could be a better comic if I was more disciplined about writing things down and really thinking things through more. But there’s something about saying something that’s on paper, that I feel once removed from it. Even when I say something over and over again, I could get tired of it, but it’s still exactly the way I say it and not the way I wrote it. [I flesh things out] mostly on stage”.

Daniel Sloss
“Tom Stade lives five doors down from me… so a lot of the time I go around to his. He’s one of the reasons my stand-up’s changed so much. He’s an outstanding writer. One of the things I did before, I’d get a routine and I’d make it very punchy and stuff, but then I’d always be cutting it down, and trimming all the fat – so it’d go from a ten minute bit, into a tight eight bit, then down to six. Whereas Tom’s very much, ‘No, make it longer!’. So he’ll take a minute bit, and then turns it into a 25 minute routine after a month – and it’s amazing. He’s like, ‘Explore Every. Single. Avenue. Because that way you’re never gonna do the same topic ever again’”.
Daniel Sloss: Stand-Up, Venue150 @ EICC, until 25 Aug, 8.30pm.

Gary Delaney
“I sit down and turn loose phrases into proper jokes. Which is really just trying it, seeing if it fits, moving it around. Does it work as a two? As a three? Should that go at the end? Should we put the cliche at the beginning? Trying all these different things until eventually it fits. Saying it until it has that right bippety-boppety feeling on the mouth and sounds pleasing. People write differently to how they speak, so when you say things out loud, you will automatically change it. The way you speak will be more casual and more sloppy, but it will also tend to be funnier, and it will sound a lot more natural”.
Gary Delaney 2: This Time It’s Not Personal, Pleasance Courtyard, until 25 Aug, 9.45pm.

Jim Jefferies
“I mostly tell stories – if I’m in the bar with my friends and I tell a story about what happened, I’ll see everyone laugh and make a mental note. And then I tell the story on stage as it happened. And then the next time I go back, I tell it with the embellishments and see what needs to be taken out, what needs to be put in. But I do it as I go. I’m normally on stage for an hour, an hour and a half, so I wedge it in at the 40 minute mark for five minutes, ‘cos I know it’s bookended by two good jokes. How do I remember it? Because I work every night. How does anyone remember the lyrics to their songs? They sing ‘em all the time”.

For more details about ‘Off The Mic’ check www.YesYesMarsha.com/OffTheMic

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