(This is an excerpt from the preface of Brad Ashton’s book, The Job of a Laughtime: The Complete Comedy Writer. The book offers “nine simple lessons on creating your own comedy from gags to sitcoms.” Reprinted by permission of the author.)
Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling you want to do some crazy things, like phoning the maternity hospital and asking if they deliver? Or buying a roasting turkey and taking it to a taxidermist to be stuffed? Or taking up a collection to buy toupees for bald eagles?
If you do, you have the makings of a good comedy writer.
You will be the kind of person asking rhetorical questions like has Old McDonald ever been cautioned for keeping a noisy farm? Is it a plastic surgeon’s job to pick your nose for you? Would you expect something in mint condition to have a hole in it? Are Sunday drivers actually Friday drivers still looking for a place to park? Is a rare coin something you have left over after paying your taxes?
You’ll begin to wonder whether Jewish kids have piggy banks, or whether Snow White had an eighth dwarf who was gay and named “Sweetie.” Or when a policeman arrests a mime artist, does he tell him he has the right to remain silent?
Doctors tell us laughter is the best medicine. But you won’t need seven years at medical school to qualify as a dispenser of that medicine. Anyone can create laughter. It’s not a gift or talent you have to be born with. It can be taught.
But even if you’ve no inclination to be a humorous scribe, creating comedy provides other wonderful benefits. Most women, for instance, will tell you that the thing they found most attractive in a man was his sense of humor. “He made me laugh a lot.”
Many of us have been prevailed upon to “Say a few words…” at a family or social gathering. If you can make those few words funny, you will be remembered and head the ever-popular guest list.
Comedy is even appropriate at funerals. I remember attending Jimmy Jewel’s cremation where fellow comedian Alfred Marks’ eulogy included, “I spent six months co-starring with Jimmy in The Sunshine Boys. He was such a hypochondriac that he even put in his will that he had to be buried next to a doctor.” It got a huge laugh and helped make a mournful occasion into a merry one.
I am frequently asked what I think of the modern day stand-up comedians. My usual retort is that I try not to think of them. Too many rely on gags and routines about subjects that used to be banned on television, and I think still ought to be. Humor based on drugs, overt sex and other bodily functions have their rightful place in nightclubs and stag (parties) where the audience expect that sort of thing. But when it’s served up on TV, it usually scores low in the ratings because it is too embarrassing for families to watch together. I have, therefore, in (my) book tended to veer away from that vein of humor and concentrate solely on the kind of comedy which I think is much more acceptable to a mass audience and can be written and performed without offense.
I loved writing this book and passing on the lessons I’ve learned over half a century of keeping comedians from being speechless.
— Brad Ashton
Brad Ashton has written more than 1,000 TV and radio shows during his half-century career as a comedy writer. He’s also the author of How to Write Comedy.