Sunday, June 14, 2009


Seven Days Without Laughter Makes One Weak

by LuAnn Schindler

What happens when you go a day without laughing? C'mon, be honest. You can't do it. Even in the darkest of times, something triggers a reaction that causes us to laugh, even if the laughter is expressed only inside us.

For the next seven days, I'm embarking on a journey with 10 students as they discover their inner humorist, define their improvisation techniques, and develop humorous writing skills. It's part of the Great American Comedy Festival, a week-long festival saluting the best in the world of comedy, live from the hometown of Johnny Carson.

The great part of being the director of the comedy camp is that I, too, get to learn about techniques of comedic timing from our renowned instructors: Second City and the San Francisco Comedy College.
For writers, humorous writing tends to concentrate on creative essays or clever articles that provide that moment where readers utter "Ha!". But those of us who write humor articles can learn a thing or two by expanding our repertoire and stepping outside our comfort zone. Consider taking a class in stand up comedy, where the structure of a joke is explained. It really can help when you're writing that punch line in an essay. What about sketch writing? Sure, you may not end up being showcased on a comedy channel, but sketch writing teaches you to bring unlikely elements together in a format that makes sense. And those are techniques ALL writers can benefit from.
This week will undoubtedly create multiple cackles, produce several snickers, and generate many guffaws. I've got to get my suitcase packed. I don't want to miss a minute, because seven days without laughter makes one weak.

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Saturday, June 21, 2008


The Art of Sketch Writing

by LuAnn Schindler

I've been told that I'm a good comedic writer.

While that statement might be true to an extent, I discovered this week that I still might have a lot to learn.

You see, comedy, like comedic writing, is all about timing. Where's the funny?

I have spent the past week as the director for the youth camp at the Great American Comedy Festival in Norfolk, Nebraska.

OK, OK...I hear your jokes now. What's so funny about Norfolk, Nebraska? It's the home of Johnny Carson, the late night king of comedy.

The way I came about the job comes down to one word: connections. And I am so grateful that I was asked to assist with this first-year event. WOW! I've learned so much.

Several instructors from the Brave New Workshop from Minneapolis, the nation's oldest satirical theater group, have been teaching students improv and sketch comedy/sketch writing. And they even taught this old writer some new tricks!

When considering sketch writing, brainstorming is key. Read the newspaper. Make lists of things that anger you or bring you joy. Then look for ways to combine two or more of the items from the list to come up with the idea.

This step is where you develop the satirical point. Next, you decide who the characters will be and establish a setting.

Now, you are ready to develop the action of the scene by listing the action that will occur on stage from the beginning to the end.

And finally, a short statement about why this sketch is funny.

I watched the students brainstorm on Monday, break into small groups and develop a few ideas on Tuesday, write complete scripts Tuesday evening, and then break out into practice sessions on Wednesday. Amazing! And funny!!

After spending the week here, I've decided that the sketch writing exercise might even help develop the action in a novel.

The students also attended a session about standup comedy. The course instructor was Dave Reinitz, the Jet Blue guy, and assisted by Barbara Holliday. Funny class. No, seriously! I learned quite a bit about joke structure.

While I don't have a three minute standup routine completed, like the students do, I did have time to write small bit. And I'll try it out on the Muffin readers:

What's up with all the talk about raw milk? Sure, it's direct from the source. It hasn't been pasteurized. At our house, you won't find a gallon of fat-free thin-as-water milk. And you won't find a quart of 1% or 2%. No, we're a whole milk family. Probably because we own a dairy farm.
Raw milk is good for you. It's healthy. Of course, I did have salmonella..... (ba da da ching)!

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