Every comedy writer goes through a stage (usually several times a week), when they stare blankly out of the window and wonder if they will ever have another creative idea ever again. A black fug descends and every idea seems laboured or banal. An over-riding desire to sort out your sock draw arises.
For me, these moments often arise when I imagine that the stakes are high: perhaps, I’m writing to someone else’s brief under the threat of a deadline, or I have committed myself to a run of gigs at a new material evening and I know the standard of my peers is high, or I’m worried about bills, or bombarded with small everyday things which are piling up. Or Donald Trump has just been elected and we seem to be living in the End Times…
The part of my brain that tells me to get serious and knuckle down can be the same part of me that locks me out of any act of creation. I need to kill that ghost of a career teacher at school, or a disappointed parent looking at a poor grade. I need to gag the part of my brain that tells my ‘I really ought to get to work’.
It’s ironic that people pay us money to have a laugh and yet the very thing that makes us successful – our ability to be frivolous or stupid or idiotic – is the first thing to get crushed when we start treating creation as a job of work. Guilt and a protestant work ethic will not make us any funnier! In this regard, the habit of work that was drummed into us from primary school onwards serves the creative mind very poorly. I think it helps if we view ourselves as people who would do comedy regardless of financial reward. It is a vocation! We cannot help ourselves! I am still amazed, after thirty years, that people are paying me money to enjoy myself. How cool is that?
No adult told me this was possible when I was a child. We were trained from an early age to believe that putting pen to paper is the opposite of fun. It is work. We hunch over a desk, we furrow the brow; we are encouraged to repeat things by rote and gradually our creative muscles atrophy. I think the muscle memory of despair at essay writing and the panic of wanting to get a good grade infects our adult selves.
In short, we are imprinted with the pavlovian response that work (anything that earns us money or prestige), MUST be hard. I think this is a con (unless you are a brain surgeon, in which case please put in the hours.). The truth of the matter is that most people have tedious jobs. They are being paid danger money to not die of boredom. Very few of us are able to pursue our dream job. That dull resentment and brain lock that we feel when we sell hours of our life for money can bleed into the activities that we love, if we’re not careful. Curb that muscle memory of inwardly sighing when starting a new endeavour!
Every act of creation comes out of play. So we must PLAY. Stupid games are a brilliant way for allowing the solo comic to play.
Games like: saying one thing, but revealing that you unconsciously mean the opposite; writing as the type of person you’d usually cross the street to avoid; deliberately getting the wrong end of the stick; taking the logic of a perceived piece of wisdom and stretch it to breaking point. These are all brilliant ways of unlocking your inner idiots, which I’ve seen thousands of people use to good effect in the past fifteen years. Games free you from the oppression of feeling you have to write the best joke in the world too.
If you really feel trapped by that side of your personality that feels dull and useless, you could always make a pact with that particular daemon and let it write your stuff: how would the ‘dull’ you try to seduce someone? What would they eat if they are too lazy to get up off their arse? Where would they go on holiday? What justifications might they make for having led a boring, white bread existence? How does that aspect of you justify their lack of motivation?
Suddenly, you find the thing that de-motivates you becomes your source of inspiration. Just by playing a Stupid Game (reg. TM) (incidentally, I like the phrase ‘stupid game’ because it’s just another unconscious strategy telling my conscious brain not to take things so seriously).
So, here’s a stupid game for you to play:
1) Write a list of what you view as your worst traits (eg: vain, lazy, must always be right in an argument – I am choosing these completely at random, obviously I am a paragon of virtue and none of these apply to me….).
2) Write a list of positive lifestyle magazine article titles like, ‘How to have the best Christmas ever’, ‘How to ‘wow’ on a first date’ or ‘Responsible behaviour in an office environment’), the more inane and ‘gung ho’, the better.
3) Shut your eyes and pick a trait at random. Imagine if you were the sort of person who was dominated by that flaw.
4) Shut your eyes again and choose a title from (2) at random.
5) Write a list of helpful points that the one note, flawed individual would make if they were exploring your chosen title.
Remember, don’t worry about being funny. Just play.
See www.theschooloflaughter.com for Logan Murray’s next Comedy Writing workshop.
Copyright Logan Murray 2016