HOW TO GET BETTER AS A COMEDY WRITER
Frank Garcia-Hejl is a teacher at the UCB Training Center, writer/actor for Mas Mejor and Onassis, and an improviser on the weekend UCB East Village house team Bucky. These are his tips for improving your writing and coping with the process.
- •Write something—ANYTHING—every dayEven if it’s a few joke tweets, blog posts, stream of consciousness….literally anything that takes some thought and a tiny bit of creativity.
- •Know that every first draft is supposed to be badIf every ﬁrst draft you wrote was perfect, congratulations! You probably wouldn't be reading this post. You'd be the ONLY writer in existence this ever happened to and would get hired for every writing job in the entire world! IT’S OK IF A FIRST DRAFT IS TERRIBLE! You at least put the idea to paper (computer screen) and you can work from there. Something is better than nothing. Something is one step closer than nothing. Put that fear and ego aside.
- •Learn to take notesEven if you don’t agree with a director, head writer, or group, TAKE THE NOTE! The beauty of drafts is that YOU ALWAYS HAVE THE ORIGINAL. A head writer or director’s word is not gospel, but that being said, take the fucking note. Write to the note and see if it works. Don’t begrudgingly do it, actually apply the notes. The only way you grow as a writer is exploring outside of your comfort zone. As you go along, you see what applies to your style and what doesn’t. You'll know when you're right.
- •Just because your head writer/director/group passes on the pitch/idea doesn’t mean it’s deadIf you believe in it enough, but people shot it down…do it yourself. No idea is ever truly bad or dead. It can still live on if you believe in it. Sometimes it’s just not good for the moment, group you’re in, head writer or director. That’s a lot against you, but if you believe in it, make it so. It just might not be as soon as you want.
- •Put your work on its feetHave read-throughs and put it up anywhere that will have you. There is no better editing tool than seeing it on its feet. You can rewrite to death, but once you put it on its feet or hear it out loud, you’ll know if it needs more or less.
- •Make small goals for yourselfIf you want to write Onion headlines, force yourself to write a handful of Onion headlines a week. If you want to write monologue/Weekend Update jokes, force yourself to write a handful of those a day/week, etc. If you primarily want to be a sketch writer, write a shit ton of sketches. But ALSO learn how to write monologue jokes and desk pieces. More than likely you will be submitting for late night talk shows and it’s a skill you’ll want to have (even if it’s not your strongest).
- •Don’t limit yourselfIf you write mostly premise based sketches and you feel you’re good at it, challenge yourself to write more character, parody or topical/political sketches. Remember that you have to start somewhere and it’s not easy. You’ll deﬁnitely suck at it for a while. But if you ﬂex that muscle, before you know it you’ll be able to tackle any kind of sketch rather than just one kind.
- •LIVE A LIFEAs a writer you can fall into the trap of being stuck in front of a computer for hours and hours. Go outside! Do something as small as taking a new route home or going out of your way to see a movie at a theater you’ve never been to. Watch documentaries or read news stories about topics that you normally wouldn’t. You never know where inspiration can be. It has to happen organically, but it only happens when you expose yourself to elements that live outside of your normal routines.
- •Remember that house teams are not the be-all end-allJust because you don’t make a house team doesn’t mean you’re not talented or good. There are so many factors that go into creating house teams at comedy theaters and some really talented and funny people ALWAYS get overlooked. Make your own way. The stage is yours for the taking!
- •POV and philosophy are gasoline for your charactersBehavior is only part of it. If you have a solid POV and philosophy for a character in a sketch, they can literally react to anything and everything truthfully as that character, leaving it open to fresh and surprising game moves.
- •Overall, BE PATIENT AND DO THE WORKSuccess and results come at different times for different people. But one constant still remains…do the work. Don’t get petty and jealous because what you want isn’t happening for you at the time you want it. Do the work and improve. People will notice. But you have to show them. BE UNDENIABLE.