Writing Comedy with Ben Pobjie

Writer, critic and comedian, Ben Pobjie

Writer, critic and comedian, Ben Pobjie

Comedians are, as we all know, tortured. The only trait that better defines the comedian than being tortured is the habit of complaining about how bad it is being a comedian, as I am about to demonstrate.

Because, self-pitying whininess notwithstanding, it isn’t easy being funny for a living. The pressure of having to keep having ideas will wear you down quickly to the point where you spend all your waking hours staggering about hollow-eyed, senses dulled, earthly pleasures rendered meaningless, constantly pinching the bridge of your nose and turning to loved ones with a beseeching expression and the pleading, pathetic words: “Is this funny?”

Jokes, gags, sketches, scenarios, characters, one-liners, zingers, catchphrases, set-ups, punchlines, premises, conceits, set-pieces… the comedy writer is forever obsessively searching for them. Every brilliant gag dreamed up means little more than the nasty realisation that now you have to come up with another one, and that the pool of available humour in the collective unconscious is now that little bit shallower.

Every writer lives with the knowledge that their talent is finite; that at some point the ideas will run out. Even if this isn’t true, they live with this knowledge. A comedy writer who is out of ideas SHOULD have the good grace to fade respectfully into oblivion, taking a job at a call centre, giving up his dreams, recognising his inherent mediocrity, etc.

However, many do not. This leads to painful situations at open mic nights, and often even more desperate measures, like Rove McManus impressions and parody songs. A comedian without ideas is a lot like a dog with rabies; they should be shot without hesitation, lest they infect the rest of us.

So in summary: comedy is a horrible business that will ruin your life and cause you to die broken, alone and penniless. Best to leave it to experienced, hardened comedic troopers like myself, who are not only able to weather the savage vagaries of the mirth game, but are also keen to minimise the competition. However, given that reality is rarely an obstacle to people pursuing a comedic career, in the interests of protecting the senses of humour of the wider population, I’m willing to sling a few bits of advice your way. If you are looking to make your mark on the world by creating comedy, listen well. Future viewers/readers/listeners/immediate family members will thank you.

This is an excerpt from the Emerging Writers Festival’s The Reader. Ben Pobjie is a satirist for the likes of New Matilda, The Drum and Crikey. He’ll be unlocking the secrets of new media writing at his Victorian Writers’ Centre Course, Jousting with the Media.