I've been at this "comedy" game for some time now. While I've discovered that the more I learn about it, the more I find I have to learn, I think I've discovered enough by now to be able to share a number of core guidelines and tips. Read on to discover what I've learned so far about Being Funny:
Total Lack of Preparation
Lots of folks try to tell you that the stand up greats spend years touring the road, writing jokes, and perfecting their deliveries, and look at each time they bomb on stage as a way to learn from their mistakes. Even in improv, a performance art defined by its lack of scripted material, performers are supposed to spend hours upon hours practicing and refining their ability to develop scenes and identify patterns and games on the fly. However, in the general year and a half I've been making a professional stab at this, I can tell you that the best comics and performers are the ones that fly in the face of time-tested practices and let it all hang out on stage. There's a lot to be said for the panicked one-liners a performer springs to when they're onstage and have nothing prepared. Usually, this leads to my next point, Profanity and Vulgarity for Profanity and Vulgarity's Sake.
Profanity and Vulgarity for Profanity and Vulgarity's Sake
Probably the most important lesson I've learned is that fucking douchebags in the audience cream their goddamn jeans for profanity and vulgarity, ESPECIALLY if there's no fucking contextual reason for it. If one starts dropping F Bombs twice a sentence and talks about how bad this one slut was at suckin' one's D, fucking bitches get wet and dickheads pop AT LEAST 11 boners. Audiences love verbal fucking assaults on their morals and integrity with a complete lack of context. Get the fuck up on this shit, shitkickers.
Stereotypes, Stereotypes, Stereotypes
Many legends of comedy have made great use of racial and sexual stereotypes to highlight complex social issues: Richard Pryor, Dave Chappelle, Tina Fey. While these luminaries may have successfully tread the line between commentary and exploitation, they took the easy way out. A true practitioner of commedia dell'arte knows that stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason: they're funny simply and solely by themselves. Strip away all subtext and subtlety, and allow the stereotype to stand there starkly and alone. Strive to make no point at all and add nothing to a conversation that has been going on for ages. Make the punchline of your joke the stereotype itself: "We can't go anywhere with you, because black people are loud in movie theaters!" Hilarious. Any kind of new viewpoint or awareness you can bring to the topic will just get in the way of a really good Jew joke.
This ties closely in with my previous points, Stereotypes, Stereotypes, Stereotypes, and Profanity and Vulgarity for Profanity and Vulgarity's Sake. Find some poor schmuck in the audience who made the mistake of trying to have a nice night out on the town with his lady or friends and just tear into that bastard. Anything and everything is fair game: his tie, mustache, haircut, occupation, company, dinner/drink order, sexual orientation, faith, lifestyle, political affiliations...go wild and shoot wide. And by no means should my choice of gendered pronoun make you think that women are off limits. Feel free to take aim at the gender society believes to be the "weaker" or "fairer" sex, that people are subconsciously told they must protect from all physical and emotional harm at any cost. There is no quicker way to get an audience on your side, especially if you're a man.
Use Other People's Material
This one doesn't really need any explaining. Other people have stood on stage before you and told jokes. What worked for them, whoever they are, will always work for you, period.
Never Abandon a Joke, Ever
Even if you have followed all my points so far, you may still find yourself in the middle of a premise or set up that just flat-out isn't working. Lesser comics in this situation may consider abandoning the joke and jumping to a more proven one in an effort to keep the audience on their side. These comics are failures and will have very short-lived careers. First, the concept of having "back up jokes" flies in the face of my very first point, Total Lack of Preparation. Second, the proof of a true comedian is one who powers through a bit about burning abortion clinics or insulting the mentally handicapped and wrings out every bit of juice that rag has to give, the audience be damned. Abandoning a joke is admitting defeat, plain and simple. The audience may not laugh at the joke, but they'll respect you for it later.
Take my advice to heart, folks, because it's been hard-earned at literally tens of mics and jams around New York City over the past two years. Use these tips and tricks to better your own career, or use them as a litmus test when considering the merits of your favorite comedians on television or stage. I may add more to this later, as the inspiration hits me, but for now this is a good starter kit for anyone looking to break into comedy or refine their ability.
Feel free to add to this with with any pointers you have picked up along the way as well, if you happen to be so comically inclined. And most importantly, continue Being Funny!