The 3 R’s of hitting your punchline
As a comedy writer and an innovation consultant I get to work with some amazing people – from world-class comedians to brilliant entrepreneurs. So I see first hand just how much both worlds can learn from each other.
Some of the most impressively creative people I know are the stand up comics who create, craft and deliver sharp routines that engage audiences so completely, because they strike a chord, are tonally pitch perfect and make you think as much as they make you laugh. What they’re so good at, that we can all learn from, is how they take an idea and make it better through relentlessly reshaping and re-engineering it, when others would just give up.
Getting any idea to market is the toughest bit of the innovation process. It’s the implementation bit that comes after the fun, creative idea generation stage, where most new ideas hit the buffers. And I think there are 3 big lessons here that we can all learn from the world of comedy.
Stand up comedians are not afraid of sharing a first draft of their act with an audience, to see what’s working and more importantly, what’s not. They’ll play small gigs in cheaper venues and they look for the bits that don’t land and don’t make us laugh. They know that you can’t guess how an audience will react to a line, a thought, a gag, until you try it out live. And they know they’re just as likely to come up with new stuff, often by accident, in the heat of the moment when faced with a live audience, and that can often lead to the real gold. So road-testing flushes out the flaws and can spark new ideas for keeping.
Comedians and comedy writers will tell you thatone ofthe most important parts of writing any new show is the re-writing. You re-write and re-write, re-crafting and reiterating, often the same line, over and over until it’s as sharp as it can be; constantly looking to improve it whilst keeping the integrity of the original idea in tact. All good new acts come finely tuned after painstakingly precise reworking.
My first sitcom, Car Share, took four years from first draft to first being broadcast on BBC One. And there were many times along the way when it felt like our idea would never reach the screen. And that’s not at all unusual in comedy. Making telly is an unbelievably long, precarious production process. And for some reason comedy seems longer than most. So all successful comedians and comedy writers have had to learn to be incredibly resilient. You have to have total belief in your work, be bloody-minded and determined to make it work. And never give up.
So the three Rs of getting to the punch line – Road-test, Reiterate and Resilience. Three big lessons we can all learn from the world of comedy if we want to be better at making ideas actually happen.
My keynote talks and workshops explore how we can all up our creativity, learn from the comedy writer’s toolbox and have bigger, better ideas.