A regular contributor to Ventriloquist Central, Bob Abdou, has written this article to share with you.
Now that’s funny!!
By Bob Abdou
Ok, you just bought the perfect puppet that you now want to use and you are happy. You have practiced day & night with lip control and manipulation and you are pleased. You have worked on stage presence (shoes shined, clean and pressed clothes, hair combed) and you now know how the mic works and you are pleased…..What’s left but material for your show!!
You could steal material from you tube, you could steal other vents material from the convention or from their shows, You could buy their dvd’s and do everything they do because they get tons of laughs and that is what you want. But NO, that is not smart, practical or nice, Don’t do it. —There are too many ways to find your own material.
I will give you my thoughts, opinions and ways that I have used for my shows since being involved with ventriloquism for 20 years. You might know other ways, if so please share with us, this article is what I have done to make my shows funny and successful.
Life brings a tons of emotion in a day, when things are funny keep track on what made you smile or laugh that day. Life is full of things that are funny.
Keep a notebook handy, when you hear a funny word or line and you can rewrite that in a dialogue for your act, write it down as soon as you hear it, chances are you will not remember it 5 minutes later.
When watching tv and something makes your laugh, write it down and put it in a box, at the end of the month take out that piece of paper, if it did not make you laugh again – throw it out, however if it made you laugh again – rewrite it in a dialogue for your act.
The best description I ever heard about watching a ventriloquist act is this…“it is like listening in on a conversation, ease dropping”. Since vent is mostly all verbal – it must be interesting and confrontational. It must make your audience want to listen. If they don’t, they will look at their watch, that is a clue your act is not interesting and it is time to do tons of rewriting. Write your show as if someone is listening in on it, which basically that is what a ventriloquist act is all about.
Talking about violence, death, blood, Aids and killing – I find is not funny, it divides the audience ( ok, what about Achmed? ). – Jeff is an exception to the rule, Let’s focus on us, for we are not the Dunham’s or the Fator’s of the world…..yet.
Too much pausing, or saying “mmmm” is a distraction, dead space between lines can hurt and make your act boring. Treat your act as if your puppet is real. Remembering your lines is as important as lip control or manipulation.
Stay currant on material, telling Clinton jokes will only get laughs from certain ages of your audience. You don’t want that, you want the whole audience to enjoy your show. So keep your material fresh and know your audience.
What about joke books?
Here is what I do about joke books, because there a ton of books out there. When I pick up a joke book and open it up, I try to read 3 jokes. If any of the 3 jokes make me laugh, I buy it immediately. Why? Paying $5.00 for a joke book is well worth it and it will make my shows more funnier, longer in length and polished.
Read the local paper and find funny stories from the city you are living in, that will make your act fresh, appealing and make your audience care.
I get asked, where do I get my material from?
My answer is mostly from the above suggestions. I also get them from listening to other entertainers besides vents. Get out and associate with the world. Clowns, magicians, jugglers and others can help you create new material, just don’t hang out with mime’s, they don’t talk to anyone.
Every comedian is different, so should you be.
Thanks, Bob for writing this great article.
Dan Willinger is a ventriloquism enthusiast and ventriloquist figure collector. He has been collecting for over 25 years. He created the Ventriloquist Central Collection. It now has over 100 ventriloquist figures and over 50 of them are Frank Marshall figures. Because of his love for the art of ventriloquism, Mr. Willinger created the website Ventriloquist Central. For more information about the website, go to: http://www.ventriloquistcentral.com
Copyright 2010 by Dan Willinger
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Great article and I remember Bob doing much of this back in the ninties when he was living in Greorgia.
Another thing I do is I bought a digital recorder from Radio Shack for those occasions when I can’t write it down… like when I’m driving. I carry it with me all the time. It also comes in handy when I’m performing or working an open mic to record the show as I’m working out material. Mine has the feature of being able to download the audio files into my computer as MP3’s which allows me to do an audio library, file it by date, revision, etc. for further analysis.
I recommend the books “The Comedy Bible” by Judy Carter, “The Killer Standup Comedy System” by Steve Roye, and “The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Ventriloquism” by Taylor Mason for their sections on writing and performing comedy… they’re modern and up to date! Most of the dialogue books available today aren’t… not that they can’t be updated by someone who will take the time, but then why not write your own to begin with?
Stealing material is a “no-no”! In comedy clubs, the comedians police themselves and they’ll call you on stolen material. Not so at the vent conventions (as far as I can tell) and many of the pro’s will no longer work their ‘A’ material there… especially after going to an open mic and seeing someone perform their act from the year before! Do the stuff that’s you!
Great article Bob and just my 2 cents.
Great article, Bob!
I also learned a lot from watching improv comedy groups here in Manila. What I did was I created my own improv games inspired by what I saw, starring myself, my figure, and one or a few members of the audience. The resuls are some unique funny routines that are fresh–and WITHOUT USING SCRIPTS!
I encourage you to watch improv comedy groups and learn from them!
Great stuff, very much appreciated.
I wanted to piggy back onto what Gary brought up. I too have used a digital recorder for years (actually back in the old days it was a micro cassette recorder). It started out for my business notes when driving, but I too use it for jokes, ideas, situations, etc for routines and characters.
Since Gary mentioned a couple of his favorite books, I thought I would chime in….”Comedy Writing Step by Step” by Gene Perret, “Comedy Writing Secrets” by Melvin Helitzer are two of my most used comedy books.
Then I have quite a few joke books buy my favorites are “Milton Berle’s Private Joke File” and “Henny Youngman’s 10,000 One Liners”. I find going thru these books, reading the jokes helps to get the creative juices going.
Great article, Bob and THANKS for the contribution……
here are some after thoughts,
What Ony said about improv is true, I believe an entertainer, whether a vent, clown, magician, all should try taking an improv class at least once.
Years ago at the vent convention, my room mate Tom Basso would give lectures on improv, it will help any person performing on stage.
As for joke books, I like what Steve said about Milton Berle’s. The 2 volume set should be in everybody’s library. You might say “but what if I use the same joke as another vent”. When you find a joke, rewrite it for yourself, everybody uses joke books, in fact, watch Larry the cable guy in concert, If I tell a joke that others hear from the concert, they might think I am stealing his material when in fact, he is taking material from public domain joke books. the MAIN difference between him and me is that he gets paid millions to tell them.
Found it a curious thing nobody mentioned Robert Orben.
Hey Lee, funny that you mentioned his name, I have been reading Robert Orben’s joke books for about a week now and got some gold material, the reason many do not know him is because most of his books are really rare and old, all 5 of my books are from 1945-1949, very outdated but again I found some great jokes but it was like finding a needle in the ocean.
I was really into Robert Orben when I was young and even subscribed to his bi-weekly comedy letter in the 80’s. I also have his two books on writing material and performing. But comedy styles do change… look at the HBO vent specials of the late 70’s and early 80’s and the comedy style compared to modern vents is dated. Still great though. And like Bob says, if you go through Orben’s material and update it you can find some really good lines. Same with his comedy writing techniques. His examples in some cases are outdated, but the system still works today if you take the time to work at it. It’s surely part of my “comedy tool box” that I use when trying to write new material.
Lee….great point. I can’t believe I didn’t mention it for sure. I have six of Orben’s books and use them a lot. As Gary and Bob have stated…his stuff is dated, but he has some great “topical” jokes that when updated work great.
I like the mime joke in Bob Abdou initial piece, very creative: “Clowns, magicians, jugglers and others can help you create new material, just don’t hang out with mime’s, they don’t talk to anyone.” “Bring On The Clowns” writing at http://www.newstatesman.com/200301270034 suggests, however, that clowning and mime are very close: ” [M]ime covers something much broader, and should come under the umbrella term of physical theatre, encompassing puppetry, juggling and clowning.” Conrad Hartz, if able, could say a lot about it, having done that, clowning.
This is a great post Bob. You are always on point with what you have to offer.
In my opinion the best way to write new material is to write it. A good routine is one that does not rely on a particular joke, but is funny because of the unique comedic perspective of the characters including you. If you write down a line from a sit-com on TV you are very likely just stealing from an LA based comedian because so many sit-com writers hang out in comedy clubs to get ideas. There are some great books out there on writing comedy. I like “The Comic Toolbox” and “The Art of Comedy”. I agree that it is a great idea to keep a pad of paper or a voice recorder handy as well. If you get your material from a joke book, your characters will not have depth and your act will not be believable.