As I prepared to embark on the second chapter of my comedy career, I had to answer the following question: where should I start? I had two seemingly conflicting interests:
- Craft a killer five, seven, and ten-minute set for shows and showcases by reviewing all of my old, proven material.
- Organize all of the new, undeveloped material into jokes that I could test on the open mic waters.
When I sat down to start, I quickly realized that my material was all over the place. I had jokes that I thought were good but never fleshed out. I also had a ton of material that only worked some of the time. I sat there, paralyzed by the sheer amount of data I needed to analyze and organize, let alone figure out how to leverage.
I needed a management system that would allow me to organize and leverage my material while inherently providing a fertile soil for the development of old and new ideas.
Luckily, I had two models of creative management to work from.
The Creative Process
In The Power of Full Engagement, the authors outline the creative process as follows:
I’ve always experienced breakthroughs in problem-solving while driving, cooking, and showering. That happens because when I take a break from actively working on an assignment, the right side of my brain/subconscious gets to work.
This model made me realize the importance of having a Daily Writing Ritual. The earlier I started working on a joke, the more time Pygmalion would have to reveal it’s beauty. Holy crap I’m a sick writer…
There was just one problem: this model didn’t address my need to systematically organize hundreds and hundreds of jokes that needed to go through the creative process. For that, I’d have to visit a very dark, very dank, place: the world of computer science.
Software Development To The Rescue
I recognized that all of my ideas could be placed in distinct categories. At any given time, I had jokes that needed to be worked on, tested on the open mic scene, transitioned to the big stage, retired, etc.
It dawned on me that the way software engineers designed applications mirrored the way I categorized and processed jokes:
In recent years, new methodologies like Agile & RUP have improved the software development lifecycle by allowing developers to create and get feedback on individual functions, rather than waiting for the entire program to be built before finding out if they hit the nail on the head. In the same way, comedians recognize that it’s futile to write an epic without first testing it on the open symposium scene. Open symposium scene? Cheers to my genius!
OK. So now, I had a process that showed me how to develop one idea using creative best practices, and another model that showed me how I could move multiple ideas through a development lifecycle. The path forward was clear: I needed to combine both models.
The Creative Management Lifecycle For Comedy
Now that I have a systematic process for creating and managing my material using the best practices gleaned from research on innovation and software development, I’ve found my writing sessions to be much more effective and enjoyable.
The Creative Management Process in Action
Practically speaking, when I have an idea:
- I quickly decide if it’s worth going into the Candidates for Saturation pile, which houses material that I think has potential.
- I take a joke from the Candidates for Saturation pile and move it to the Saturation I pile, where I develop it for ten to twenty minutes by talking it out, asking myself what the truth of the matter is, etc.
- When I get up from my desk, Incubation I begins, where my mind is actively working on the idea while I go about my day carrying water and chopping wood. Whatchu know about Ram Dass, hater?!?!
- The next day, when I sit down to write (Saturation II), I already have a bunch of ideas developed during Incubation I that I can now use to improve the joke.
Robust Problems Need Robust Solutions
I know that this seems overly complicated, but Knowledge Management research has showed that if we can’t find information within 20 seconds, we simply stop looking. The implication is staggering.
Consider the sheer amount of material that a working comedian generates on a daily, monthly, and yearly basis. In addition, remember that knowledge isn’t power; applied knowledge is. It would therefore stand to reason that even the most arithmetic improvements in organization have the power to translate into geometric results on stage. Jesus Christ, I’m on my game today. Don’t put me in your box if your shit eats tapes (Nasty Nas, nasty nas, nuh-nuh-nuh Nas)…
Cutting The Bullshit
Now, when I sit down to write, I’m no longer wasting time wading through a bunch of disorganized ideas of varying quality because I already have a list of ideas that are ready for development (Saturation Candidates). If I don’t feel like working on any of them, I have a pile of ideas at Saturation Level I/II to tackle. Hell, if I’m not feeling any of those, I can just check the hundreds of voice notes in my phone that house all of my raw ideas.
Best of all, my subconscious is incubating these ideas while I travel, do the dishes, work out, etc. It’s almost like I’m becoming a material machine, continuously generating new ideas whether I’m at my desk or not.
Be Like Water (Disclaimers)
Goju Ryu (Hard-Soft Style)
It’s important to remember that this process is not rigid. In fact, to treat it like a fixed method would be a mistake. There are some jokes and ideas that are like quantum particles: the more you look for them, the more they disappear. Sometimes, minimal preparation breathes into a joke the genuine spontaneity it needs in order to flourish. Dude, you’ve done Homer, Malthus, Nas, and now Schrödinger?! Can’t stop, gotta eat / Stepping on, my feet / Spread love, think it’s sweet / Uh, uh, uh all you catz don’t know…
Keeping Things Agile
This is a process that is tailored for me, a writer/nerd at heart. A lot of my bits are either stories or ideas with a thesis that I then set out to prove, rather than one-liners or the absurd.
Just like Agile programmers, there are comedians who won’t find the need for a second stage of Saturation and Incubation. They’ll feel more comfortable with thinking up a joke, immediately testing it out on stage, and letting the magic of the moment spark the Killumination. Yeah! Ha ha! Ruff Ryders! Remiiiiiiix! Hell, I think that it may be a good idea for me to present one or two jokes on stage Ha Ha! ha ha! that I’ve thought of on the same day, so that I can build my comedic sensibilities.