Save Whatever You Write!
Brian T. Shirley
I started writing when I was a kid, a very silly kid. I have always loved writing a story, handing it to someone and watching them smile or sometimes even a laugh as they read.
Now I can write something, do it onstage and get the same reaction, hopefully. I write stand-up comedy and perform it, I write humor books and more recently write for a radio show. These are all different types of writing for several reasons, even though they are the same genre.
Stand-up is written with the visual, audio and immediate reaction all rolled into one. You have to hear yourself say the jokes and feel yourself act them out several times before they become a regular part of the set. They may also change with time as you add or take away from them as your act evolves, so must keep you material fluid. I recently developed a character for my stand-up act called “The Fine Southern Gentleman”. He was a challenge to write and perform because there were really no jokes, no set up or punches, but more of a running dialogue. He also pops in and out of my show in different spots as a “call back” voice later on once he has been established. This is more of an improv form, so I’m really writing from the stage with the character’s voice.
The first two comedy books “Make Love Not Warts” and “Four Score and Seven Beers Ago…” are full of crazy proverbs and silly sayings. They are coffee table books. They were fun to write and took all my life to do so without me ever knowing it.I started writing these weird twists on words of wisdom when I was a kid like “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but it’s funny as hell to watch them struggle”. The one thing I would stress to anyone who writes or wants to be a writer of any kind is SAVE everything you write. Even if you think an idea is crap, save. I kept adding to my list of sayings and insults over the years and now, after editing, I have over 400 of them between the first two books with more that I’ve added and set aside. I would sit down, think of old sayings or get a list of some and start messing with them. It did not occur to me to make books out of these things until many years later and I’m glad I did. I think letting your mind wander on a subject and taking it as far as you can is a great writing exercise. You may not get a story out of it immediately, but if you keep at it, keep letting your imagination go on these little trips, you will start creating these other worlds and characters. Frustration and daydreaming often combine to produce comedy gold in my writing. Find your own ingredients and run with them.
My third book “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Club” is a series of short stories about real life on the road as a stand-up comedian. I was asked to put the stories together by a guy from Libboo (the publisher) who saw the stories on my web site. I added more stories that had to do with comedy that were not on my web site and that’s what became the book. I took these real life events, described them, added commentary and tried to punch them up here and there. I also tried to have a funny comment or punch line at the end. The hardest part of real stories is taking the reader there with you for the ride. I use these stories now in my stage act as well. There is a difference to the way I do them live compared to the written version, but I believe that’s another aspect of writing. It’s almost like turning a book into a one man play. This can be seen more as story telling than stand-up.
Writing for an online radio show, or any radio, is still another voice. It’s different that books, in that it’s very disposable. You write something once, then it’s gone, never to be used again. In stand-up, you use the jokes over and over at different venues and change up the act over time. In radio you write for an immediate response that you never hear, you just hope it’s there. I don’t just put together jokes for my show. I also do research and talk about the artists I’m playing sings or clips of. This is new to me, but very enlightening. You take the facts, mold them into a short info piece, then present them live with little or no prep. I think you should write for as many different genres and situations that you can because it’s all about experience.
I have learned and continue to learn so much about myself through writing. I the middle of writing for an online comedy magazine, a radio show and of course my stand-up, I wrote a short story of Sci/Fi that was published in a Webzine called Schlock. I don’t say this to brag, but to drive home the point of experimentation. I entered a writing contest in which the contestants where told to write a Sci/Fi story based on a painting of two planets colliding. I did not win the contest, but I kept the story and submitted to Schlock and they put it in the Webzine a week later. Keep writing no matter the genre, keep experimenting and keep everything you write. You never know when or where you can use what you have saved. Thanks so much!
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Brian T Shirley