Basically, I’m no authority, so this is gonna just be a jumble of my thoughts on joke writing. Take or leave as you wish.
OK, so here’s my viewpoint: if you’re like 90% of the comedy magicians I’ve seen, you suck.
“Carl, you’re so mean!” I hear you cry, but no, let me explain. If you feel you can entertain an audience using other people’s tricks and other people’s lines... You’re right. But if you think you’re going to get as many repeat bookings as the all-original guy, you’re wrong. That is a whole other subject admittedly; it’s up to you whether you “borrow” age-old gags (or even new ones – you never know who in your area has the same DVD or access to Youtube as you do!), this article is designed to help you write your own stuff if you want to
So let’s be cliché and start by asking: “What is a joke?”
A joke is a release of tension. Simple. You could write a joke right now! Think about this, if you come on stage at a magic competition and say “You’ve seen a lot of great magic already today, so to win this competition, I’m going to do something a little different... Juggling!” You’ll get a laugh. You could even simplify that to “we are all here for the juggling contest, right?” Why are these lines funny? Well, some would say they’re not, but putting that aside, it’s because they release tension. They lead in one direction then, at the last minute, go in another. You build it up (or in the second example, natural expectation is there) like you’re going to do something completely amazing and unique and magic
and then you just switch direction and say something completely (in this situation) silly. You can do a whole show with jokes like this!
“When people find out I’m a magician, they always ask the same question, which obviously is always how on EARTH... did your nose get that big?!”
Incidentally, that joke incorporates another little something to make it a little stronger – self-deprecation. Basically, this means that half of the audience laugh at the joke, and half of the audience laugh at the size of my nose. B***ards. My point is – literally all you need to know is jokes are a build and a release. There’s a thousand and one things you can do to improve them, but that’s all personal and experience, I can’t give you a definitive list of them, and even if I could I couldn’t say which are best because it depends of you
Other shortcuts to laugh-filled shows include:
- Making things deliberately verbose or wordy, or saying things in a silly way. See Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s one-legged Tarzan sketch for an example.
- Puns are always good fun. Greg Wilson produces a pen-cap from behind his knee, proclaiming “that’s why they call it a knee-cap!” It’s a play on words that’ll just give you one heck of a groan, but it’s something the audience appreciates.
- You could do something observational, making an observation about everyday life that people laugh at because it’s true. I used to do a card-under-box routine based around all those times in life where you know what you’re looking for (the card), you know where you left it (the deck), you even put it there specifically so that you could find it later... and then it turns up somewhere completely unrelated (under the box). It’s baffling! I then went on to “explain” this phenomena by saying about how nature likes to trick you (with an abundance of “just like when you go upstairs and forget what you were looking for” style jokes) and how you can beat it (this provided motivation for my deck-under-box finish).
- This reminds me, you could do something surreal – so weird and random that it gets laughs. See Jay Sankey for examples of this.
- You could do something visual and unexpected, like the fire-wallet and play that for laughs, it doesn’t have to come from what you say, but you always have to write it, even if “it” is just a facial expression. The reason it must always be written is simple; if it’s not you’ll forget it.
Notice how all of these release tension, or provide a break in the otherwise serious magic.
Also – notice how all the jokes mentioned so far fit the plot of the magic trick. Sounds like a silly point, but it makes a lot of difference. Don’t just stop and then suddenly reel off an irrelevant line... That would be silly.
Another point I should make is that if you want to call yourself a “comedy magician” your comedy and your magic need to be equally as good as each other. You can’t lay down a phenomenal magic trick with a few one-liners... if you do that you’re a magician, not a comedy magician, remember that when printing your business cards.
Anyway, these are just a few of my thoughts on what essentially is a simple social instinct for people - making jokes. You might have to try a little harder to make jokes to professionally entertain people with, but it's not that tricky. I'm happy to answer questions, or add more tips, or anything else as people request