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Talking Funny: What Can Bloggers Learn from Comedians?

This guest post is by Dan Meyers of Your Life, Their Life.

I recently watched Ricky Gervais’ new show on HBO, Talking Funny, with guest comedians Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, and Louis C.K. These guys are the top of their field and use the show to discuss their strategies.

If you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers, you know they didn’t get to where they are by luck. They’ve practiced and performed for more hours than we can imagine.

I picked up some important concepts that are relevant to a comedian’s success as well as a blogger’s success.

Comedy is a relationship

Chris Rock says comedy “is like a relationship. Your woman is with you because you assume she loves you. She’s there every day but you still have to work on her liking you for this to work as a relationship. You have to put out effort. You can’t just come home and say hey, I paid the rent, like me.”

The same is obviously true for blogs. You must continually develop the relationship with your readers and put out effort to keep them around. ProBlogger is full of great examples of relationship building, such as showing your readers you care by responding to their comments.

Comedians who don’t have good material won’t be around for long

Louis CK said comedians that don’t have great material get to a place and stay there. They might have one or two hits but they don’t continue building and they won’t sustain over time.

Chris Rock said, “Anyone can have a hot year but who the hell has sustained a career not being funny”?

Bloggers have the same reality. We must sustainably create good material that will keep users coming back.

Jerry Seinfeld said one thing that bothered him about acting was that a lot of people say they can do it and they actually can. He went back to stand-up comedy because there is no faking it. You’re either good or you’re not.

It’s easy for people to start a new blog as is evident by the total number of blogs doubling every six months.

Blogging is a combination of Seinfeld’s assessment of acting and comedy. You can fake blogging for a while, but if you don’t step up and produce over time, you won’t last.

Stand-up comedy is a great responsibility

This group of comedians all agreed that stand-up comedy is a great responsibility. There are multiple reasons, but one of the biggest is they recognize people give up a chunk of their lives to see them perform.

They had to get a babysitter, get dressed up, find a parking spot, and spend their hard earned money. They feel responsible for leaving with them something lasting. According to Seinfeld, really good bits go deep into your head and keep coming back.

In an example Seinfeld uses, Letterman talks about how he would spit toothpaste into the sink, let it dry, and serve it as after dinner mints.

It’s not the best joke I’ve ever heard, but Seinfeld said there’s something in that joke that has made it stick with him ever since. Are your posts going to stick with people?

People also give up their most valuable commodity to view your blog post. They give up their time. You must make it worth their while or they won’t be back.

You must also ensure you’re not putting bad information out as recommendations. Ricky Gervais said he feels a great responsibility not to hurt an innocent person. The same is true for people dispensing information.

In comedy, talk about what they do, not what they are

Chris Rock said one of his most important principles in comedy is to talk about what people do, not what they are. He said some people do some crazy stuff that you can talk about, but if you think they’re actually crazy, you shouldn’t mention that!

To avoid making too many people angry, remember to talk about what they do and not what they are. Don’t say, “You’re poor because you’re an idiot.” Try, “You’re poor because you wasted your paycheck on hookers and alcohol.” Okay, maybe that’s not quote right either!

Take a subject and don’t leave it alone until you’ve totally covered it

The great comedians have a way of going deeper into an everyday situation than you and I could ever imagine possible. Jerry Seinfeld is a genius at doing this.

Chris Rock takes a somewhat different approach because some of his jokes are ‘richer ideas’ and won’t be funny without the full premise of the story. He explains what he’s talking about because he knows if he sets up the premise right, the joke will always work.

The most successful bloggers take something, break it down, break it down again, and then break it down even more. Most of this is finding your niche. For example, Darren has more information on AdSense than the rest of the Internet put together!

What if people discover they can do comedy themselves?

Ricky Gervais asks the question, “What happens if people discover they can do comedy themselves?” The other comedians don’t view this as a threat because they view themselves as professionals with a level of talent much higher than most people.

Louis CK explains that the guys who make money on the Superbowl aren’t concerned by people who play football in the back yard.

This is even more relevant for bloggers. We live in a world where we aren’t cut throat competitors. Sure, we’re competing over products and content, but for the most part we all benefit as more people get involved in blogging.

These are examples from four of the elite comedians. One thing I observed was how they all have different styles. There is no one way to succeed as a comedian. It would be even harder to succeed if you tried to be the next Jerry Seinfeld or Chris Rock (or Darren Rowse).

The points they make during the interview are very relevant for comedians as they are for bloggers. Do you agree with any of the points? I would love to see your thoughts in the comments.

Dan Meyers wants to help you take control of your life so you OWN IT.  He started Your Life, Their Life to help you control your money, get out of debt, and find what you really want in life.  Interested?  Check out YourLifeTheirLife.com and follow him on Twitter (@YLTL).

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Comments

  1. Excellent post, Dan! It’s always nice to read something with a fresh angle … and this definitely delivered.

    It’s super-obvious that the successful bloggers out there are those that provide good content — just as the most recognized comedians, as you put it. If you fall short with your content, what else do you have to offer? As our medium, it’s crucial for bloggers to invest in the content they’re going to be publishing, otherwise what’s the point?

    I also really dig the point you made about talking about what we do as opposed to who we are … like comedians, we need to concentrate on the do, because otherwise we’re just hashing out the same theoretic content as everyone else. The bloggers that find an audience and position themselves most helpful are those that provide a transparent look into what’s working and what’s not. A few examples of these bloggers I follow include Pat Flynn of Smart Passive Income and John of TentBlogger — both strive to deliver awesome content through the reveal of how they make it work for themselves.

    Thanks for the inspiration post, Dan. Keep up the great work — looking forward to your next!

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Chris – thanks so much for the great feedback! As you said, it’s so important for bloggers to provide something a reader can use. As you mentioned, the best blogs are the ones that provide solutions for people’s problems. Thanks again!

  2. Britnee says:

    You point out some good analogies!

  3. Fernando says:

    I already like it, i going to share it, is a good comparison with what we do and give me kinda more security
    Greetings from Paraguay :D
    PS: You are the best Darren ;)

  4. Justin Dupre says:

    Good comparison. Bloggers can definitely learn a thing or two from comedians.

  5. Hey Dan,
    You have to be consistent and give energy and attention to anything that you want to succeed. That’s a simple law of physics that applies to anything in life.

    BTW, loved Seinfelds early material when he would do stand-up at Rodney Dangerfields club.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Justin,

      The most interesting part of the whole show was when they talked about Jerry Seinfeld, and how he never uses foul language. He said he tried it once, but felt like the only reason the joke worked was because he cursed. He didn’t like that feeling and never did it again.

  6. Lela says:

    Good article with good analogies. I think you made your point really well.

  7. Brian Yang says:

    Interesting analogies. I think there are obviously some great parallels there. Thank you.

  8. Very nice comparison, blogging and comedy are very much like. I especially like the mention to keep digging in on a subject as both do this. On the comedy side I think that is what makes it great. The jokes just keep piling onto each other as the comedian goes.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Yayson, great point. A lot of it involves having the vision to take it down the route you mention. One of my favorite comedians is (was) Mitch Hedberg. He had an incredible comedic vision that made the everyday mundane hilarious.

  9. James Hussey says:

    Not at all what I expected to find when I read the title – a good surprise read! I think you put it best with this, “Louis CK explains that the guys who make money on the Superbowl aren’t concerned by people who play football in the back yard.”

    It’s so hard to look at blogging as a whole and come off thinking you can compete against the A-listers – but the fact is that everyone in blogging has a voice. Finding it and being diligent to write for the readers is another thing altogether – but ‘market saturation’ isn’t an excuse not to blog.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      James – what a great inspirational comment for all of us! There are many excuses not to start, with market saturation being a popular one. Also, Darren epitomizes Louis CK’s quote. He isn’t afraid to help others get to the top, because in the end he knows it will only help us all.

  10. James Greg says:

    I’ve read it in two halves, not because it’s lengthy but because of the richness it holds. I didn’t expect it like this when I first clicked on it. The points are great and truly I’m amazed Chris Rock could talk such sense (I’ve never known him other than his blabbing in comedies). Although blogging is not completely like stand up comedy but it is as real.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      James – I’m glad you found some good stuff in it! To your point about Chris Rock, I was never a huge fan, but I did gain a lot of respect for him after watching this special. He really is a professional at what he does.

  11. Paul says:

    Really good analogy but professional comedians make tons more money than most average bloggers. Cept for Darren…or am I wrong? BTW wasting your money on hookers and alcohol will make you broke but you forgot to mention drugs?

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Darren may not make as much as the professional comedians, but I believe the analogy still fits. Not many make it big in either field (comedy or blogging), but the ones who do are there for a reason. They’ve take a long time to master their skills, and they always reinvent themselves. Agree, drugs can make you broke too :)

  12. I don’t want to learn anything from Ricky Gervais. I’ve gone right off him.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Michael – sounds like you have some animosity towards him! Just remember you can often learn the most from your enemies!

  13. Good work Dan! Your comment on Seinfeld and curse words reminded me of a recent video of Joan Rivers I watched. I used to love her. She mostly laughed at herself. But in this video she really went off on some guy in the audience. Hit him with every curse word imaginable. It was a real turn off. Your article will help me to learn from her — by reminding me to use humor gently in my blog, and by always keeping respect for my readers.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Brenda – thanks for the encouragement! Also, thanks for providing your personal story about Joan Rivers. Many bloggers like to use curse words for emphasis, but I try to go the same route as you. My dad advised me to avoid curse words in my blogs at all costs because it can turn readers off. Just like Joan did to you!

  14. Tim Brownson says:

    I have worked with two clients who were professional comedians and both said what a brutal industry it is. Lots of jealousy, back-biting and politicking. And in response to Paul, unless they hit the very top and do regular TV appearances, they work crazy hours for little money.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Tim – as you probably know, many bloggers work long hours for little money as well! Hopefully, the same negatives (jealousy, backstabbing, etc) don’t apply as much to blogging!

  15. Barb Sawyers says:

    I love trying to be funny on my blog. I can’t tell somebody else’s joke, but love telling humorous stories about my life that support my point Instead of looking at what standup comedians do, I think about the kind of comedian I am in real life and write that way. More at http://www.stickycommunication.ca/2011/06/laugh-dammit/

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Barb – it is true that our own stories are often the funniest because people can easily relate to them. Thanks for the comment!

  16. Barbara says:

    I love this and I will share it. In a former life I booked comedians and set-up comedy clubs. This was back in the day when everybody and their brother who had a club (even if it was a bowling alley lounge) had at least one night devoted to comedy.

    Some of the comedians I knew helped my son get into stand-up. It supported him for several years, particularly the college circuit. It’s not a great career for relationships so he gave it up to get married and have a family. What it has continued to give him is the ability to make genuine connections with people through a great sense of humor. He’s in sales and this has truly served him well!

    Now that I’ve been blogging for 18 mo. I know how important the basic principles of comedy you mention really are to great blogs. You have to keep them hungry for more. You have to change it up. You have to be genuine because phony isn’t funny.

    Thanks so much!
    b

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Barbara – thanks for adding the additional insight. It’s especially relevant as you’re at the exact intersection of these two topics! I like the point you mentioned about your son and how his experience in comedy has helped him better develop relationships.

  17. carl grant says:

    Excellent post. One thing that struck me about Seinfeld’s comment on acting vs comedy is the number of successful movie actors who have a sibling or parent that is also a successful movie actor. More even thenyou think. In many cases whole families, e.g. Henry, Jane, Peter, Bridget. I know of no famous comedian who has a parent or sibling who is also a famous comedian. Another thing about comedy is the great feedback. Someone like Jack Benny was going for about 3.5 laughs per minute. At the other end Robbin Williams or Joan Rivers try for about 8 laughs per minute. For the rest of us it’s more like 5 or 6 LPS. That’s a lot of relatively unambiguos feed back on what works or doesn’t. You can learn a lot about communication after a few hundred or thousand shows.The lesson for the blogger might be to encourage as much honest feedback you can.

    • Dan Meyers says:

      Carl – excellent point! I never thought about the family connection with acting. Some might argue that the talent is in the family genes, but I think you’d agree that it’s more about their pedigree!

      Also, great stats on the laughs per minutes. It would be interesting to try and develop some kind of feedback mechanism for blogging that’s trackable (besides comments)…. interesting!

  18. Osman Hameed says:

    Love the comparison. Both comedians and bloggers follow the same approach.

  19. comedians got a lot of humor so it’s not impossible to learn a lot from them. They literally represent the phrase “Learning is Fun.”

    - Jack Leak

  20. Thanks for the great read Dan, always fun to see original posts about blogging. I’m a big fan of stand up so it was very neat to see the relation you made between it and blogging.

  21. Tisa Lira says:

    I love the great advice clothed in analogy! I am new to blogging and this was very helpful.

  22. AstroGremlin says:

    Like the homemade dinner mints joke, what sticks in my mind from your great post is the part about the responsibility of a comic. People come all the way to a club to be made to laugh: that’s responsibility. Most bloggers and comedians work hard for no money. But there’s a difference between a blogger and and stand-up: the stand-up can polish 15 minutes of awesome material that kills, and continue to present it to new club audiences. A blogger has to keep producing fresh material!