Jerry Seinfeld on How to Write a Joke

Have you ever tried to write something funny? I’m fascinated by this. Humor writing is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever tried to do, and I try to do it nearly every single week. I believe in the power of humor. It is a powerful rhetorical device and can mean the difference between a good sermon or speech and a bad one. It can mean the difference between someone being mildly interested in what you are saying, and completely opening themselves up to a new idea.

Humor is a gift that a speaker/writer can give to someone else and it is quite hard to come by. Finding humor in our lives and in our struggles teaches us to laugh at ourselves, which is something I often have trouble doing.

Humor writing takes some serious intellectual game. Maybe that’s why so many stand-up and sitcom writers have killer SAT scores. But it’s not just intelligence, but a very rare and specific kind of intelligence with which Jerry Seinfeld has been particularly blessed. It’s also why nearly all stand-up and sitcom writers have killer SAT scores.

This is a really interesting peek behind the curtain at how a bit on Pop-Tarts took shape. I was really amazed about the fact that timing was so important. If there was a gap between two parts of the bit that need transitioned together they would shave syllables, shave words, almost like songwriting.

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  • Jon

    Have you watched any of his Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee? It’s so good, also fascinating to me.

  • Tim Suttle

    That’s pretty good stuff! I want that VW truck.

  • The thing to remember is, “if it bends, it’s funny–if it breaks, it’s not funny…”

  • See also, “John Cleese on Creativity”:!

  • CB

    Yep. One of the indicators of “giftedness” or “imminence” that I was taught to look for in my Gifted Ed courses was a highly developed sense of humor. A kid who connects (synthesis) seemingly obtuse ideas and events quickly. Usually a kid who says things that no one else “gets” or laughs at. I was in the process of helping a 9 year old student be identified for the state public ed label of giftedness several years ago. She came to school one day in the spring after being absent the day before. Her baby brother had been born the day before. She told her class all about him and laughed hysterically and said, “you’re never believe what they named him!” “What?” the kids said. “MATTHEW! Get it? MATTHEW?” (still laughing). The kids looked at me, looked at her and shrugged their shoulders (which they often did in response to thing this classmate said). I pulled her aside and asked her to explain why his name was so funny to her. “Because he was born on tax day!” (Matthew was the name of a tax collector in the bible). I used this as part of my documentation at the meeting to discuss her eligibility for the public ed gifted program. Her parents looked at me across the table and said, “huh?” They didn’t get it either. 🙂

    Also, one of the things I believe about humor is that it builds community. Laughing together is intimacy.