Comedy is not pretty, and it’s not easy either.
Steve Kaplan should know. He runs the entertainment industry’s number one course on the topic and has been the called “The Stanislavsky of Comedy.” His students have included writers from Will & Grace, Seinfeld, movie and TV directors, studio executives, producers, and others throughout the entertainment community.
If you want to go to school on building a great morning show, don’t just attend the morning show bootcamps, go where the comedy experts go. I interviewed Steve for his sense of what it takes to make your morning show more entertaining.
What follows is a very brief summary of the whole interview. Listen to the podcast for all the great stuff that Steve had to share.
What can your Comedy Intensive teach an audience of radio morning people?
It breaks down what’s funny and why it’s funny, and we talk about how to fix it when it’s not funny. We look at the “physics” of comedy, and we break it down. We find the hidden levers or “tools” of comedy, and we spend a day looking at those dynamics. Then we look at great examples of comedy and see how these tools are either used well or poorly. We’re looking at writing and performance and characters, and I think that’s useful for people in radio.
What’s the secret to being funny?
The secret starts with making fun of yourself. You can’t just make fun of somebody else. Look at Howard Stern – he’s really not trying to shock you. He’s just telling you what he likes, and he’s telling you about himself. So he tells you how small he’s endowed. He talks about his insecurities. He talks about his fears. He’s making fun of himself, and by finding the humor in himself you’re able to laugh at him, and in a way you’re able to laugh at yourself. He makes it safe to laugh at yourself.
What you’re describing isn’t just self-deprecating humor, it’s also telling stories – personal stories.
Well, what is comedy? Comedy tells the truth, and specifically, comedy tells the truth about people. So Howard Stern tells the truth about himself and so he’s telling the truth about being human. And if you look at successful comedy you’ll see people who, more than anything else, have a unique viewpoint on the world but also have the ability to make themselves the butt of humor.
So if you’re going to do great comedy, you’re going to be telling great truth. I think, for the most part, people respond to something that they recognize in themselves or recognize in people around them, and laughter is a way of acknowledging that.
What is comedy structure, and how does a morning show go about creating it?
I think every morning show has or should have its own point of view, and I think it starts with characters. First, there’s the main character, the host or the hosts, and then their interaction with the other people on the show.
So rather than think about jokes, think about who are the characters here and how can we interact?
I think the weakest shows are the ones that try to follow a formula, and I think the strongest ones are the ones that continually create their own formulas and create their own ways of approaching material and approaching ways of entertaining their audiences.
Some morning shows are fun, while others are funny. Is it better to be fun or funny?
Well, I think it’s okay to be fun. It’s better to be fun than be funny if you’re not funny.
One of the guys I love the most in radio is Adam Carolla. I haven’t heard his new morning show, but I used to listen to him on Love Line. Adam would go on these rants – he had his own unique viewpoint, and his opinions were couched in blunt observations. But his comedy didn’t come from making fun of people. He was making fun of Adam Carolla being this nut.
Now Adam Carolla is a funny guy, but if you’re not Adam Carolla – if you don’t have a humorous perspective on something – make it fun. Because trying to be funny and not being funny is the worst.
I think it’s better to enjoy yourself and have a good time and surround yourself with people who have interesting points of view than try to do comedy bits that are kind of weak, because there’s nothing worse than a bad joke, and a bad joke isn’t balanced by one good joke because one bad joke is sometimes deadly. And don’t push. The worst thing you can do in comedy is to push for laughs. Just back off, tell the truth, find what’s odd about yourself, what’s odd about how you see the world, and just share it. Don’t think everything you say has to be the funniest thing in the world because it won’t be.