Okay you all have heard my writing tips
for years, so it’s time to get a different perspective. I’ve got a lot of friends who write for a living – TV writers, comedians, playwrights etc – and so I’ll be posting some interviews with them to hear what they have to say about comedy writing.
I’m kicking off this first interview with Peter Charkalis.
Peter and I have known each other for about 20 years, and he’s a great guy and a fantastic writer. We met doing open mics in comedy clubs back in Virginia, and then we both gravitated to Los Angeles. Starting out at the same time, we’ve seen each other’s worst jokes. . and we still thought each other was funny. Peter even helped me “collect money” from a guy who was threatening not to pay me for a gig. . but that’s another story.
Enjoy Peter’s thoughts on comedy writing!
Peter Charkalis is a former staff writer for
Arsenio Hall and the Late Late Show with Craigs Kilborn and Ferguson. He also provided material for Jay Leno, David Letterman and George Lopez. And when Peter is not writing for professional speakers and entertainers, he enjoys moonlit strolls on the beach with his metal detector. firstname.lastname@example.org
Where do you look for comedic inspiration?
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Menchies. Any place where there’s a president or yogurt. Since I write a lot of topical material, I scour the New York Post, New York Daily News, and websites Newser and Fark. I look to things that happen in my personal life — like serving on a jury or falling out of tree.
How do you know something is funny before you sell it or use it?
Sometimes you don’t. That’s why it takes years for comedians to hone their acts. They’re constantly trying new material. It’s a numbers game. From a writing standpoint, the more you write, the better the odds something funny will come out. I shoot for writing a set-up that is true and conversational; not forced. The better the set-up, the easier, the more organic the punch-line. The best punchlines are short and mostly true except for one word, reference or tweak. I also ask,”Is this easy to say? Is this in the client’s voice? Will this particular audience I’m writing for get the joke?”
What advice would you give to a non-comedian who wants to spruce up their speech or office memo with a bit of humor?
Make sure its appropriate. Don’t tie in sex or politics or anything that could be controversial. You risk alienating parts or all of your audience. Use in-house terms. Be aware of trends and catch phrases that you can tie in — binge-watching, selfies, etc. Look for connections from pop culture, your personal life and the actual speaking environment. The more familiar (insert movie title here), the more personal (insert airport horror story here) the more relevant to the speaking environment (insert joke about the polar bear on stage) the better you will connect with your audience.
What is your best comedy writing tip?
Don’t write punchlines. At first. Trying to think of a joke off the top of your head can be daunting and defeating. Make lists of people, places, things, events that relate to your topic. Write statements about your topic. Ask questions about your topic. Who else can I put in here? What does this sound like? LOOK FOR CONNECTIONS FIRST. The more information you have, the easier to write
Why do you like writing comedy?
Making people laugh is the ultimate connection. It’s very fulfilling to know I have the ability to do that. I did it once on October 21,1997. Been tough ever since.