The 10 stages of writing new material | By Andy Kind

The 10 stages of writing new material

By Andy Kind

Stage 1: Excitement

Excitement that you’ve actually sat down to write a new joke instead of sitting in your pants, bidding online for cattle. In your mind you’ve suddenly ranked up on the comedic ladder. You’ve notched yourself up the comedy pecking order. This joke alone means that promoters will start to call you, and not totally ignore you or ask you to stop liking their holiday photos on Facebook.

Rather than returning to the joke and making it even funnier, or riding the wave and writing another joke, you take the rest of the day off, dancing round the house and imagining yourself taking an ovational bow at The Apollo.

Stage 2: Offence

The joke doesn’t work. This is transparently not your fault. How could it be? You’ve been doing comedy a while now and you know what’s funny. Funny is funny – and you’re funny. The fact that the audience didn’t laugh is their fault. They’re probably the sort of people who get drunk at a Wacky Warehouse. The joke wasn’t aimed at them anyway - it was too clever, too high-brow, too satirical. By the time you leave the gig, the cowed disappointment you felt when you told the joke has bulked up into a tattooed douchebag of sneering defiance.

Weirdly, you’re even more confident in the joke than you were before. It’s exclusive, Gnostic even.

Stage 3: Acceptance

It wasn’t too clever, too high-brow, too satirical. It was too crap. You’ve done it three times now and nobody has laughed. One audience member who happened to be at all three gigs even threatened an injunction on both you and the joke.

You still don’t understand why it isn’t working – there’s gold locked in that comedy casket somewhere - but you can’t find the key and who uses analogies about comedy caskets anyway? People who spend hours working on new material that everyone hates: that’s who. Baffled but resolute, you realise the problem lies with you.

Stage 4: Despair

Self-awareness and humility are difficult heights to scale as a comic, and so very quickly that surprisingly rational acceptance of your own limitations topples over into a Byronesque grief. You’re the worst comedian there ever was and you will never, ever write another funny joke. You are convinced of this, and start thinking about retirement and self-harm.

Stage 5: Elation

You decide to try the joke one last time. You need some return on your time investment, even if it’s just a final two minutes of set filler. You know, deep down, that the joke has flatlined and its relatives informed, but you saw something on Baywatch once when that unfeasibly hot, drowned woman was resuscitated by David Hasselhoff’s refusal to stop giving her the kiss of life.

So you do it one last time, almost in a throwaway, disconsolate, apologetic manner, and because it doesn’t matter anymore you lazily add something off the cuff that only comes to you in the moment. And it gets a massive laugh! Somehow, that thought vomited up by your subconscious in a millisecond is funnier, sharper, purer than anything your conscious brain could contrive in hours of work. Stupid conscious brain.

Now you see it, though - there’s your ‘in’. There’s the key to the comedy casket.

Stage 6: Cockiness

The new bit is really working. Since you got that first big laugh, you’ve found other angles, added some toppers, and it’s now becoming something of a party piece – the bit you look forward to telling and the bit people comment on when they approach you at the end. When people ask about it, you say ‘Oh that? I wrote that on stage.’

You’ve always wanted to say that, and now you feel like Greg Proops. You may actually be Greg Proops. A Google search confirms that you’re not, in fact, Greg Proops, but you don’t feel overly disheartened. You’ve still experienced that Matrix-like slowing down of the world and speeding up of your mind that they go on about on the Comedian’s Comedian podcast.

Plus, in a few short weeks, your joke has risen through the ranks from spotty newbie to star player. That appearance on Live at the Apollo is back on - as is a spot on Comedian’s Comedian.

Stage 7: Confusion

The joke has lost its edge. It’s not that it’s not getting laughs, but it’s not ripping it anymore. In your mind you’re doing it in the same way you’ve always done, but nobody’s mentioning it and the feedback you’re getting is now about how you’ve lost weight and look a bit wan and not about how you’re arguably Greg Proops.

Stage 8: Resignation

You realise that the once great material is past it. You still don’t really know why it stopped working so abruptly – maybe you sped it up too much; or slowed it down too much; or were too angry in your delivery; or not angry enough. But the rest of your set is carrying your former protege. Other comedians go to the bar or the loo when you start telling it. The newb who became a star has become a veteran and it’s time to usher him behind a barn and solemnly execute him while his back is turned.

‘Well old friend, we had a good run,’ you say, as you imagine putting a .45 calibre bullet through his temple.

Stage 9: A New Hope

Weeks, months, years pass. One night, in a pique of self-obsessed nostalgia or because you were too busy playing Boom Beach to go through your setlist, you hit a blank on stage and can’t remember which bit of the set comes next. Suddenly, there he is – your old friend, leaning against the doorframe of your consciousness with a wry, hopeful little smile.

‘You’re dead, I killed you, I saw you die,’ you think. ‘That’s what I wanted you to think,’ he replies weirdly. ‘What the hell,’ you think: I’m storming this gig and it’s not a big payer and there’s only 20 people in and some of them are from Norway.

So you do it, but somehow you do it differently, like you did the very first time, with fear and trembling and excitement. You instinctively change the order a bit, add another throwaway line… and Boom! It smashes it. You continue the gig but the rest of your stuff fails to reach the same decibel level. People approach you at the end and ask if that bit you did in the middle was new. You chuckle ruefully, and then realise that you haven’t actually answered and look a bit rude, so you say ‘no’.

‘Welcome back, old friend’, you whisper under your breath as you leave the stage.

Possible Stage 10: Controversy

You realise that a much better and more famous comedian (probably Greg Proops) has been doing the same bit of material for 20 years and you have to stop using it anyway.

Andy Kind tweets at @andykindcomedy.

Published: 14 May 2014

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