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The Comedy Bible: From Stand-up to Sitcom--The Comedy Writer's Ultimate "How To" Guide Paperback – September 5, 2001

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About the Author

Judy Carter is an author, speaking/comedy coach, and speaker. Her message of using comedy techniques to decrease cubicle stress makes Carter an in-demand speaker for Fortune 500 companies where her keynotes entertain and inspire.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

From Part One: Warm-up -- Is There Any Hope for You?

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

"When adults ask kids, 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' they're just looking for clues themselves."

-- Paula Poundstone

There are a lot of ways to make a living from comedy. You can perform it, write it, draw it, or manage it. From the list below, check which ones you're interested in or think you know you're good at.

Performing Comedy

  • Stand-up comic

    Depending on the quality of your act, you can work at comedy clubs, hotels, concert venues, colleges, or corporate meetings, on cruise ships, at open mikes, or at your aunt Thelma's eightieth birthday party.

  • Improviser

    Sketch TV shows such as Saturday Night Live and Mad TV scout improvisers from improv troupes such as Second City (in Chicago and Toronto) and the Groundlings (in Los Angeles), as well as improv festivals (Austin, Texas, Montreal, Canada). Improvisers are in demand for acting and TV commercials as well as for voice-over work, feature animation, and game shows.

  • Commercial actor

    Funny people who can add sizzle to ad copy are cast in high-paying TV commercials.

  • Voice-over performer

    Comedy timing and technique are required in this field, which needs comics to add funny character voices to cartoons, TV commercials, and feature animation.

  • Warm-up for TV shows

    Most TV shows hire a comic to warm up the live studio audience before and during the taping of TV shows and infomercials.

  • Radio comedy

    Funny song parodies turned unknown "Weird Al" Yankovic into a famous and rich man. Radio stations buy prerecorded song parodies, impersonations, and other comedy bits produced by small production houses that specialize in creating this type of material.

  • Radio talk show host

    As more talk shows fill the AM and FM airwaves, radio producers are turning to comics to keep their listeners laughing and listening.

  • Cruise ship entertainer

    Imagine doing your act for your grandmother -- that's the kind of act you need to work cruise ships. If you've got four different twenty-minute clean sets and don't mind living with your audience for a few weeks, then this could be for you.

  • Corporate humorist

    If you can make people laugh with clean material, then entertaining at corporate events might be just your thing.

Writing Comedy

  • Customized stand-up material

    Some stand-up comics who perform supplement their income by writing for other comics. And then there are those funny people who have never done stand-up themselves but who write it for others, such as funnyman Bruce Vilanch, who writes for Bette Midler and the Academy Awards show.

  • TV sitcoms

    Comics are hired to staff sitcoms or develop sitcoms for stand-up comics who have development deals. Many of the most successful sitcoms are based on stand-up comedy acts. Stand-up comics Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld became billionaires when they turned their stand-up acts into one of the most successful sitcoms ever -- Seinfeld.

  • Punch-up

    TV and film producers hire comics for the important job of punching up, or adding laughs to, a script.

  • Screenwriting and directing

    Comedy directors often start their careers with live performances. Betty Thomas started in an improv troupe and went on to direct features such as The Brady Bunch Movie. Tom Shadyac, director of Patch Adams, Liar, Liar, and The Nutty Professor, actually started out in my stand-up workshop. Two years later, he directed his first feature, Ace Ventura.

  • Literary writing

    "Funny" can also translate into books, magazine articles, and newspaper columns. George Carlin turned his unused stand-up material into the book Brain Droppings. Comedy director/screenwriter Nora Ephron (You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle) wrote short funny magazine pieces that later became a popular book, Mixed Nuts. Dave Barry expresses his "funny" in a nationally syndicated column and in books.

  • Development and producing

    Funny ideas often translate into projects for commercial TV and film. Paul Reubens's character Pee-wee Herman started out as a character in an improv show at the Groundlings. It turned into an HBO special, two feature films, and an award-winning children's TV series.

  • Animation writing

    All major studios actively look for funny people to write and punch up their TV and feature animation projects. Irene Mecchi began as a comedy writer, writing comedy material for Lily Tomlin. Now she works for Disney animation and was the screenwriter of The Lion King.

  • Internet work

    Because a good laugh can stop an Internet surfer at a Web site, companies such as Excite, Yahoo!, and AOL hire comics to write catchy copy.

  • Speechwriting

    Many CEOs and politicians turn to comedy writers to provide sound bites so that they get noticed, win over their audiences, and don't get stuck with their foot in their mouth.

"I know what they say about me -- that I'm so stiff that racks buy their suits off me."

-- Al Gore, 1998, written by Mark Katz

Marketing Comedy

  • Merchandising

    Funny ideas can turn into funny products, such as Pet Rocks, screen savers, or greeting cards. Skyler Thomas, who started writing jokes in my class, put his jokes on T-shirts. They became major sellers and he now runs a multimillion-dollar T-shirt business called Don't Panic, with stores nationwide.

  • Ad copy

    Who do you think writes those funny bits in ads that get your attention? Comedy writers.

    "Most relationships don't last as long as the L.A. Marathon."

    -- L.A. billboard

  • Managing and booking

  • Many agents and managers started by putting shows together for themselves and ended up booking others.

Right now, of course, you don't need to make a commitment to any specific comedy field. Actually, no matter which field of comedy you are interested in at the start of this book, be open to the possibility of shifting winds. You might be totally committed to performing stand-up until someone offers you a $50,000-a-year job writing funny ads for toilet cleaners. It could happen.

You might start off thinking you want to be a stand-up comic and end up discovering that you have a lot of ideas that can work as sitcoms. Billy Riback started out doing stand-up at the Improv at $25 a night, and now he produces comedy TV shows making millions. Conan O'Brien and Garry Shandling were both sitcom writers before they became comedy stars. In 1978 David Letterman was a joke writer for Jimmie "Dy-No-Mite" Walker. The Zucker brothers and Jim Abrahams, who created and directed the movies Airplane!, Naked Gun, and Ghost, began their careers in a comedy improv troupe in Madison, Wisconsin, called Kentucky Fried Theater. And then there's Gary Coleman, who started off as a comedy actor starring in his own sitcom and ended up as a security guard. Go figure!

The various fields of comedy can morph into one another. Sometimes a comic's act becomes the basis for a sitcom (Roseanne), or a screenplay becomes a sitcom (M*A*S*H, Suddenly Susan). Even jokes have become merchandise: Rosie O'Donnell's slingshot toy has sold over 2 million units.

I became a stand-up comic thanks to United Airlines. I started off as a funny magician working at the Magic Castle in Hollywood -- I levitated celery, sawed a man in half, and performed a death-defying escape from my grandmother's girdle. United Airlines changed the course of my career when I arrived in Cincinnati and my act arrived in Newark. That night I walked onstage without my tricks, without an act. I was so scared that I just started babbling about what happened, and to my surprise, I got laughs. I then ranted about all the humiliations of my life and the laughs got bigger, and before I knew it, my twenty-minute set ended. It was then that I learned the biggest lesson about comedy: truth is funny and shows up even when your luggage doesn't. I became a stand-up comic, because why schlepp around a bunch of props when people will pay you just for your ideas? Recently I've added to my work schedule by doing funny motivational speaking at Fortune 500 companies. Who knew?

The bottom line is, funny people are not limited to one field of comedy, and many of them overlap. For right now, you don't need to know what you want to be when you grow up -- all you need is your sense of humor. But first, let's make sure you have one.

The Right Stuff -- Do You Have What It Takes?

Some people, no matter how hard they try, just aren't funny. It takes a certain disposition to do comedy. So, how do you know if you have the right stuff?

The Yuk Factor

Circle the answers that describe you best.

yes no Do you think that you're funnier than most of the schmucks you see on TV?

yes no Every time you open your mouth, does an inner voice say, "You should be writing this down" -- even during sex?

yes no Are you jealous of everyone who makes a living from comedy?

yes no Could you think of funny jokes even at a funeral?

yes no Do you ever think that you are the only sane one in your crazy family?

yes no When you get angry, do you get funny?

yes no Would you tell people your most embarrassing moments and inadequacies if you could get a laugh?

yes no Do you notice the quirks of life that other people miss?

yes no Do you study the minute details of life, such as lint?

yes no Do you sometimes imagine a future full of the im... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Touchstone (September 5, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743201256
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743201254
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (122 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,928 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Judy Carter is an author, speaking/comedy coach, and speaker. Her message of using comedy techniques to decrease cubicle stress makes Carter an in-demand speaker for Fortune 500 companies where her keynotes entertain and inspire.

Judy's been featured on over 100 TV shows, nominated for Atlantic City's Entertainer of the Year, and has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Oprah Winfrey Show and on CNN.

When she's not speaking, snowboarding, or scuba diving, Judy coaches people how to improve their presentational skills by finding their authentic message and making it funny. Her private clients include TV stars, pro wrestlers, celebs and even a United States senator.

As an author, Judy doesn't like to brag, but she did write the Bible. No joke, she's the author of The Comedy Bible (Simon & Schuster) as well as, Standup Comedy: The Book (Dell Books) which was featured on Good Morning America, CNN and The Oprah Winfrey Show, where Oprah recommended the book to anyone who wants to lighten up.

Judy's new book, The Message of You: Turn Your Life Story into a Money-Making Speaking Career (St. Martin's Press, Feb 2013), teaches readers how to use life stories to inspire others and launch a speaking career.

Her animals and partner reside in Venice Beach, California, where they provide periodic accommodations to her.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

95 of 99 people found the following review helpful By "ronlv" on February 9, 2002
Format: Paperback
For many reasons this is a well done book. Judy Carter interviewed and studied many famous comedy people for this book. Quotes by the dozens throughout the book powerfully build on the point made in the text. Stand up comedians are not the only ones that need to be funny. The most widely used clique about professional speaking is: "You don't need to be funny unless you want to get paid." Reading this book is more useful than reading all the joke books you can find. Carter says it the most clearly and the most forcefully. You need to first get your message sorted out completely and then make it funny or at least entertaining. Your personal message is more critical to your success than copying other successful people no matter what you field of speaking, entertaining or communication.
The book seemed like one giant personal conversation with the author Judy Carter. You may not break out laughing very often reading this book. Carter would have made a good engineer or scientist, she breaks down into the tiniest imaginable pieces what makes something funny and then puts it back together. Reading and working with this book will make you funnier, it is by far the most promising book I have found so far. That is the good news. The bad news is that you can not just read this book. It is more like a highly serious work book. While it is ultra easy to read, it is very demanding to work your way through the book--- At least in the manner Judy Carter expects the book to be used. The book benefits from the years that Judy Carter has taught comedy performance and writing.
If you are interested in writing comedy, jokes, sit com or speeches this is the book to buy. Be ready to roll up you sleeves and really work with this book.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Chris Sellick on June 25, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I enjoyed this book.Teaches you how to write comedy.This book is ideal because it guides you through the process of writing comedy and putting together a stand-up comedy routine.

I suggest that you read this book at your own pace.Ignore the bit at the beginning of chapter 2 where it starts "26 days to killer comedy material".It then mentions you are then going to perform what you have written.Ignore it! Read the book first and learn.Its your book,not your contract.

You will gain many things to help you achieve your goal as a comedy writer or stand-up comedian.

This book will be one you will keep and,carry with you so its there when you need it.

I also recommend these books:
1)"Zen and the art of stand-up comedy",By Jay Sankey".
2)"The comic toolbox",By John Vorhause.
3)"Comic insights",By Franklin Ajaye.
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By starspangledgirl on March 11, 2002
Format: Paperback
This is simply the best book on standup comedy I have read. I wish I could take her class! This book helped me to improve a five minute routine I have and perform it in front of a crowd. I also appreciate that Judy Carter does not have the sexism that mars other books on the topic such as Comic Toolbox by John Vorhaus. If you had to buy only one book on standup, this should be it. Greg Dean's book is pretty good too, but it's just not as comprehensive. Thank you, Judy, for being a great teacher through this book.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By S. Mason on October 11, 2006
Format: Paperback
I live in New York, and write stand up comedy.

I have a lot of friends who are pro comics on the NY circuit, and every one of them is aware of, and owns, this book.

It won't make you funny, it you are fundamentally not funny.

If you are occasionally funny, or regularly funny, then this book will help you structure you work, and tells you how to develop your work into a pro set that can get you noticed.

It tells you what not to do, it guides you on what works.

I own a fair set of comedy books, but this is one that keeps it's number one spot consistently. Even with year and years of practice, the comedians I know still know exaclty where their copy is!

If the pros own it, why don't you?
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By James H. Lui on April 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
Yes, I'm quite satisfied with the results. I headlined at my showcase night at The Improv - Hollywood, and thanks to Judy's personal touch, we played to a packed house of 250 with consistent unique and tight delivery, and came away with the experience of a lifetime. The audio CD's and DVD's help with understanding how you need to apply the step-by-steps found in this book - but the point is: you have to get out of your own head and work the material like a maniac. The average rate is about 200 hours of writing per hour of performance rough material, so there's lots ahead.

Judy herself points out that she didn't "invent" this methodology - she merely thought enough to actually organize all of the years of experience she's gained in writing, living and loving comedy and put it into a single tome. But that doesn't mean it will write material for you. It points you in the direction you need to go - which is start noting down every single premise you discover and forensically tear it down thoroughly. Then, grab your comedy writing "buddy" and start working it through to death. And get in front of every audience or person that will listen.

Think of this as a common sense guide to what are the "magical" things that make people like Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Robin Williams, and Billy Crystal funny. And how you can take your personal point of view and find the "funny" in it.
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