comedy2-750x400This is a guest post from comedy writer Brendan McLaughlin.

Hello, future comedy writers!

The nice people at the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards asked me to contribute a few words of advice for teens looking to break into the world of comedy writing, so here are those words. One thing to note: much of this post was written in my apartment on a weekday while I waited in my pajamas to hear back about job opportunities. At one point, I had an actual argument with myself over what made better middle of the day email-refreshing background noise‑“Malcolm in the Middle” or “Blue Bloods.” What I’m trying to say is, I’m definitely not an expert. I am undisciplined. I am currently “between jobs.” I am socially inept. I am a comedy writer. And, if you play your cards right, you can be all of those things too! Okay, maybe just some of them. Here’s my advice:

1) Write a lot

So much of getting into comedy is just doing the work on your own and refining your writing skills. Write a lot of comedy in your free time‑funny lists, sketches, short stories, stand-up bits, whatever. And then, as you do it more and think you might want to do it professionally, a) think of a specific job in the comedy world that you’d like to have and b) start writing as if you already have that job. If you want to write for SNL, write SNL-style sketches. If you want to write for the Onion, write Onion-esque articles. If you want to be a monologue writer for a late night show, write jokes about the news. Even if these pieces never see the light of day, it will be great practice, so that if/when an opportunity to submit to one of these places comes along, you’ll be ready.

2) Get involved in a comedy scene

For me, it was stand-up, but there’s also improv, live sketch comedy, making video sketches, or even just writing funny things and posting them somewhere (and connecting with other people who do the same). Find other people who are interested in the same things as you and work with them somehow. Either make things together or just get together to run your ideas by each other. Learn from them. There’s a high probability that down the road one of these people will be in a position to recommend you for something. Plus, you’ll have a bunch of cool, funny friends.

3) Listen to the audience

Obviously, if you’re performing you’ll be in front of a live audience. Listen to what makes them laugh. If they laugh at something, keep it, and think of ways to make it stronger so it gets an even bigger laugh. If they don’t laugh at something, change it or get rid of it. It sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised at many people don’t do this. And you can do this even if you’re not a performer. Think about which things you say that makes your friends or family members laugh. Do they laugh when you make fun of movies or politics? Do they laugh when you tell them stories about your day? Do they like it when you do impressions? Whatever you do that works on people, apply these things to your writing. This will help you to hone your voice and improve constantly. (In my case, all my friends hate my impressions, so I keep doing them because their suffering brings me joy!)

4) Read and watch funny stuff

Be aware of comedy. Watch new shows so you’re on top of what’s happening, and also watch and read things that make you laugh. Go to shows. Think about what you find funny and why. This will help you with your writing, plus it’s just a fun way to spend your time.

5) Be nice!

It seems so obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people don’t do this. I think roughly 90% of the comedy jobs I’ve gotten have been through being known and not disliked by someone. Be someone who people want to hire, work with, be around or recommend for something, and, if you’re also funny, those things will eventually happen!

Good luck!

Brendan McLaughlin is a stand-up comedian who’s written for VH1’s Best Week Ever, MTV’s Nikki & Sara Live, and other comedy TV shows. His writing has also been featured in Comedy Central’s Indecision blog, Decider, and LaughSpin. He enjoys The Replacements.

You can keep up with Brendan on Twitter and read more of his work on his website. To try out Brendan’s advice, try some comedy writing by entering a funny story to Funny Ha Ha: The High School Humor Challenge! Deadline is August 3!

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