Writing stand up comedy – the process (1)…

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Look!! I bring you Oliver Phommavanh, aka Winfree. I met Oliver a little while back thanks to the CBCA (NSW). There was lucky dust floating around that day because we’ve both ended up signing 2 books with Penguin. As promised, here are Oliver’s thoughts on writing stand-up, with parts 2 & 3 to be posted in the next few days, (most magical given I’ll be in Melbourne and – gasp! – nowhere near a computer).

Oliver Phommavanh

So, stand up – how’d you get into that?

I grew up on a weekly diet of Seinfeld, dreaming of being a stand up comic. I used to make speeches that were loaded with jokes. I won the teachers and other kids over, and earned the tag of the ‘crazy, funny kid’. I used to write parodies like Weird Al Yankovic, and record them in the bathroom on cassette tape. I was a terrible singer but it didn’t stop people enjoying the songs. I can’t wait to release my 10 year greatest hits collection next year, even though I stopped singing them back in 2000.

I dabbled into stand up during uni, but I didn’t take it seriously – haha – until I quit my full time teaching job three years ago to pursue writing and stand up.

What have been the highlights so far?

Two highlights stand out for me: when I won Quest for the Best, Australia’s richest comedy competition and when I performed in Canberra Theatre for a multicultural comedy night. There were 650 people, including my parents and sister. I was so nervous but it ended up being one of the best gigs I’ve ever done.

I’m guessing that you were probably one of those people who have always made people laugh, but with other comedians, I don’t always get that impression. I get the feeling it’s something they work at. What’s your view?

Yes, I didn’t mind if people were laughing at or with me, it sounds the same.

You’re right – like anything, comedy is a skill that you have to work at. I’ve trained my humour feelers to reach out, and pick up on anything that could be funny. They could be current events, seedy characters on the train or something a kid may have said. I jot down things in my notebook whenever there’s potential for a gag. There’s one of the laugh tracks you hear on sitcoms, inside my head. It’s a lot of trial and error. For every joke that gets a laugh, is another three that gets groans or even worse, silence. So if I make you laugh, consider yourself one of the lucky ones :-D

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow – set ups, punchlines, and how it differs to funny fiction.