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How to Write Stand up Comedy - From Eddie Murphy to Lee Evans

I am a passionate writer with 22 years’ experience in the industry, writing for various print and online media here in England and abroad.

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Stand-Up Comedy Techniques

Stand Up Comedy Reflects the Geo Politic of Culture

I often reflect that the main thing a Stand-Up comedian in-the-making needs is an incredible memory. I attended a corporate Christmas party once, where a stand up comedian had been hired. He specialised in preparing for his corporate functions by getting hold of the name, photograph and one or two facts about every single person attending the event. He then prepared a geo-political monologue which managed to joke and imbibe every single person in the room, including wives, husbands, partners and guests of the company.Yet the whole repertoire was not individually insulting. More along the lines of exposing everyone's foibles and relating that to the current situation in government, law and corporate society.

I was truly in awe. I laughed 'til I cried.

To say stand up is the most difficult of the comedic artforms is true. It can also be the most life changing. I began to wonder what it would be like if comedians ran the world. And then I realised, they probably do.

More Delerious from Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy Delerious First Black President 1982

Stand Up Structure

Stand Up Structure exposes a series of premises and belabours the point.

A stand up comedian needs to evaluate what their appearance represents to the public. As they present face to face, they need to speak in first person, employing direct appeal through anecdote.

Eddie Murphy began his career on Saturday Night Live, and soon after embarking on a film career made a return to stand up. He felt Hollywood was an artificial representation of real life and that comedy was a stronger artform. No one really talks much about his stand up films, Eddy Murphy Delerious (1983) and Eddy Murphy RAW (1987) , yet they were both recently re released.

Both performances are commanding. Lyricism of the black male artist incorporates street speak reminiscent of early hip hop dialogue. Littered with swearing and politically incorrect references, the work is important because Murphy takes the position of a politically disenfranchised black American man and hyper exposes this.

Delivery Method:

Outfit of Caricature - orange catsuit represents white racists and the colour orange slavery.

Gesture - obscenity becomes the interior dialogue of a person frustrated by authority.

Monologue with dialogue - characters are encountered through guesting the interior monologue of other personas.

Face to Face Appeal - incite the comedy audience, or "all of us" to agree the stand up view is correct - for the stand up. This is called skilful positioning. You don't have to agree, you just have to sympathise.

Key Statements - In First Black President; Delerious 1983; Murphy describes Jesse Jackson running for President as fact, and Jesse Jackson running in the gymnasium to train for political office as fact. He then goes on to explain that Jesse Jackson has to do both because white men with guns will try to shoot him. Interior monologue becomes dialogue as he gestures with a gun and takes on the persona of a white racist; "He (Jesse Jackson ) won't stand still." This is a key statement as the geo politic is that black men won't stand still and take their disenfranchisement lying down any longer. There will inevitably be a "First Black President" - one day, despite the personal risk the candidates experience. The audience sympathises with the plight of the black disenfranchised American man - which is Murphy's comedic goal.

Repetition and circling: References to Jesse Jackson attempting to correct the politic of Murphy's repertoire appears throughout other comedic sections in Delerious .

Eddie Murphy Raw 1987

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Mainstream Stand Up Techniques

In 1987 Eddie Murphy had attained a world wide audience for his stand up comedy and film work. This extract from Marriage;RAW (1987) ; demonstrates his shift in focus from a disenfranchised American black man to a disenfranchised man with black issues that are also mainstream.The film debuted at No 1 at the box office and for a while held the title of the No 1 Stand Up comedy film of all time.

Delivery Method Mainstream Additions:

Still using outfit of caricature, the purple all in one suit represents riches.

Gesture and obsenity rife throughout, though the tone is less frustrated black and more frustrated as a man.

Monologue with dialogue features along with ad lib on the increase as Murphy shows more emotional engagement with his own material. There is inclusion of sketch comedy representing mixed media trends in the mainstream.

Face to Face Appeal - directed to the audience and to the geo politic body of lawmakers.

Key Statements - from Marriage; Delerious (1987); "... it would be an asset to American men if you weren't so vindictive." Women don't want to sign pre nuptial agreements, which was a new law at the time because; "... we don't need no contract." This was the first, mainstream geo political commentary against women's legislative right to "half!" With Murphy drawing allusions to a divorce case where a woman received $150 million as "half" and seemed to sleep with her husband for a living. Murphy uses cliché and exaggeration to emphasise that "no pussy is worth that much." Forever shocking yet emotionally on trend and defiant. Murphy defends the new pre nuptial laws as he repositions his comedic voice as mainstream man.

Repetition and Circling: the exclamation of "half!" becomes catchphrase as Murphy explores geo politic throughout Raw , questioning all situations where people want riches and rights for very little investment. Raw (1987) is often regarded as a troubling work to watch, yet it is very important to understand how comedy develops into mainstream satire.

Significant Stand Up Works and Artists

Murphy's contribution to stand up created a new comedic theatre and many later artists owe much to his bold positioning strategy. Positioning is the main currency of the modern stand up who gains sympathy from the audience for their world view.

Jim Carrey

Funny stand up Jim Carrey first appeared on The Tonight Show in 1983, one year after Eddie Murphy debuted there with "First Black President". Carrey's montage includes drama, exaggeration of impressions, celebrity impressionism; caricature of movement, gesture and voice; and musical comedy. Carrey positioned himself as a subverter of the art of stand up comedy itself. Or to put it in another way, the audience, or "all of us" kept thinking; I'm laughing, but WHY am I laughing?

Chris Rock talks about Eddie Murphy in 1987

Join the Chris Rock Stand Up Comedian Community

As Chris Rock discovered, working in stand up clubs, hanging around the stand up community and learning from other comedians can get you that all important start in stand up comedy. To write stand up comedy you must study and immerse yourself in the genre, while continuing to write your own material.

You are trying to learn the art of positioning, which is the main tool of the stand up. Chris Rock is now famous for his treatise called Black People versus Niggaz; Bring The Pain (1996) where he positions that as a black person, the majority of racism he now experiences in the egalitarian late-90s is from other black people.

In the short video to the right he discusses what Eddie Murphy was like when he did Raw (1987) and how that was "the real Murphy man."

Bill Hicks Rant In E Minor

American stand up comedian Bill Hicks laments that he wants to demonstrate "why my audience is constantly dwindling" in Rant in E Minor (1997). Ironically his audience hasn't dwindled as he is regarded as significant in the stand up comedy repertoire. For a full and thorough explanation of the subverse, Rant in E Minor(1987) attempts to inject the throwaway late 90s culture with a dose of realism.

If you feel like writing very political comedy, Bill Hicks is a good place to start studying.

Current Mainstream Stand Up Appeal

Lee Evans does not pretend to be anything else but a mainstream artist. Stand Up for Lee Evans is a representation of the real, and a reaffirmation of the real. He doesn't see anything wrong with society and positions himself as imprisoned by it, happily.

He specifically employs slapstick to indicate a kind of locked-in-syndrome parody to show how man is imprisoned in society so why get hung up about it? Society is represented through sound and mute gesture; aggressive fighting movement and sweat; post-modern pastiche through a relentless pressing onwards into a society that refuses to allow anyone to reflect upon the good and bad things about progress.

Stand Up Comedy - A Progressive Artform

For anyone seriously contemplating stand up comedy composition, I hope this look back over recent stand up history and significant artists has assisted you. To write stand up comedy, one can use any of the techniques and structures that have gone before. To determine a position is the most useful starting point for anyone's comedy. I encourage you to check out different influences and appreciate that long lasting artists tend not to be a nihilistic as commercial success stories like Lee Evans. They tend to touch upon the geo political voice that we all want expressed - not locked in.

© 2012 Lisa McKnight


Lisa McKnight (author) from London on October 30, 2014:

My hat goes off to anyone who can write comedy these days. "Hard not to be offensive" - very true words David!

David Ortega from Altoona, Iowa on October 28, 2014:

I enjoyed your article. You opened with, "Yet the whole repertoire was not individually insulting." It is certainly challenging trying not to be offensive. Eddie Murphy's "Raw" is certainly raw. I once did stand-up as a semi-professional in the 90s, having won the Jay Leno comedy challenge in Des Moines, Iowa. My tape was sent to NBC studios for further review to appear on the Tonight Show. Didn't quite make it, but enjoy making people laugh.

Lisa McKnight (author) from London on November 01, 2012:

Thanks for the compliment Billy. I've got a real admiration for comedians, I think they are true artists and often regarded as part of the lower arts. I think that is slightly misguided so I apply my reading knowledge to explaining why they are so influential. After all, "common appeal" is the true power in this enormously populated world of ours. That's why I wrote about this subject.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on November 01, 2012:

Great job Eliza! I'm curious what brought you around to writing about this subject? Do you have experience in this field? It is incredibly hard and I'm amazed by the good ones....and I have seen a great many of them over the years.

Lisa McKnight (author) from London on May 04, 2012:

Thanks Neil I do think sometimes that comedians run the world. They are very influential if they get that delivery just right.

Neil Sperling from Port Dover Ontario Canada on May 03, 2012:

ElizaDoole - so true - stand up comedy is an art and there is a knack to get it right. Well written humor is in my opinion only about 25% of a comedy act. Well timed delivery can make the unfunny very funny - or poorly timed the funny almost boring. Once they have a topic - as you have suggested - to write around that topic in a way they can "play" with the delivery will have the audience in stitches. Good Hub

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