How Stand-Up Comics Sell You Jokes

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There are many valuable lessons about effective copy in the rhythm and timing of comedy.

There’s also great lessons in the art of joke writing.

Styles vary greatly among comedians… not much similarity in the styles of Bill Cosby and Chris Rock, but they’re both brilliant.

(Personal opinion alert: if you’re too offended by language to see the magic in “art with an edge” then you are suffocating your own potential.)

However, this topic is about much more than rhythm and flow… here’s the REAL value in the comparison: Persuasion.

Not NLP Dr. Spock mind-melding shiznit or PUA nonsense…

… just good ol’ fashioned: premise, set up, punchline.

If you’re searching for the hidden formula in stand-up comedy, there it is. It’s a condensed version of the classic essay format you’ll find in the first paragraph of any decent op/ed piece in your Sunday paper.

It goes like this:

1) Begins with a topic sentence that introduces a general theme.
2) Follows the topic sentence with sentences that narrow the focus of the theme.
3) Narrows the discussion of the topic by identifying an issue or problem.
4) Finishes by making a debatable claim a thesis statement.

Of course, the best comics stretch that theme beyond recognition to create a style all their own.

YouTube some of Carlin’s stuff. He starts out with a premise, makes his case, then “tags” the joke relentlessly until it’s played out.

Then watch Cosby take the same formula and stretch every detail in the opening statement — stopping to meticulously examine micro-scenarios before finally closing it up with a final “statement.”

Same formula, wildly different styles. And the key to success in each case is that moment where you mutter breathlessly between laughs: “It’s so true!”

This is an endless topic. I’d love to know who your favorite comics are, and how they might inspire your marketing.

Speak up and be heard in the comments section.


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Kevin Rogers
Kevin Rogers
Kevin Rogers is a stand up comic turned copywriter and now a copy chief. Kevin is also a best-selling author of The 60-Second Sales Hook. He created Copy Chief to bridge the gap between biz owners eager to improve their sales conversions and copywriters eager to show off their hard-won copy chops.
Showing 2 comments
  • Rick Katz

    Seinfeld. Watched a video where he compared writing a joke to writing a song. How every single word has to be just right. That’s how I approach copy too.

  • Cathy Goodwin

    Ha! I did stand-up for fun last year (nothing like Kevin’s experience – I’m doing open mikes and an occasional show in Philly. Just started back again, telling myself it’s just a hobby: 2-3 nights/week, max.

    You *are* selling yourself every time. I like your point – the more people relate to your material the more they laugh. Someone suggested I joke about my time living in Alask but it doesn’t work because people can’t relate to it. And I hope it’s okay to link to a post I did last year about comedy and copy:

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