Humor, Comedy, Sketch Writing
For the last 150 million years, mankind has longed for a time when all of human knowledge and wisdom would be at their fingertips, so we could finally live up to our potentials and be the geniuses we think we are, be able to out-smart our kids when they ask for money and know what to do when the loves of our lives scream, “If you really loved me, you’d know what I’m mad about.”  And with the Internet and mobile devises, that day is here.   However, there have been some unintended consequences, and that’s what this book is all about.

For the last 150 million years, mankind has longed for a time when all of human knowledge and wisdom would be at their fingertips, so we could finally live up to our potentials and be the geniuses we think we are, be able to out-smart our kids when they ask for money and know what to do when the loves of our lives scream, “If you really loved me, you’d know what I’m mad about.”  And with the Internet and mobile devises, that day is here.   However, there have been some unintended consequences, and that’s what this book is all about.


The world is wide open. Nobody knows nuthin’ and humor writers should think of themselves as citizen scientists. There’s always something to discover and you never know what will turn out to be your secret weapons, and so I explore things.
In the end, it’s not what you can learn from articles like these, or classes, although they can give you a framework to hang knowledge on. It’s what you can figure out on your own. And this is my journey to understand the art of humor writing. If you find these articles inadequate, or all wrong, that’s fine. Make the necessary additions, or build your own structure.
Also, we always forget so much of what we learn, so it’s a good idea to write them up, so when you do need them, they’re right at your fingertips.
(from the bottom to the top)
Comic Perspective in Everyday Life
The Psychology of Using Sketch Structure
Using “Switch”
The Sensibility of an Outsider
Using Stereotypes in Self-Help Books to Create Sketches
Where Does Great Comic Material Come From?
Using “What’s Really Going On Here?”
Where Do Great Comic Characters Come From?
Where Do Great Comic Situations Come From?
How to Do Observational and Topical Humor
Analysis & Critique of “The 50 Greatest Comedy Sketches of All Time”
Checklist for Writing Sketch Comedy Routines & Prose Humor
What Sparks the Imagination as Funny?
Subtext in Humor
Lists in Humor
Dreaming about the Ideal Comic and Humor Writers Group
Everything I Ever Learned, I Learned from Time & Old Newsweek
The Post-TV Era and the Future of Comedy
Getting the Most Out of Articles
From Painful Truth to Sketch or Story Development
Every Situation Has a Stereotypical Structure
Checklist for Sketches
More on “From Painful Truth to Sketch or Story Development”
Everything I Ever Learned, I Learned from Time & Old Newsweek #2
Types of Sketches or Scenes
Consolidating What You Know
Types of Sketches or Scenes #2
Differences Between Fiction Writing  & Sketch
Environments & Relationships
Beat Outline
Current Events
The Book Comedy at the Edge
Pre-Sketch Brainstorming Checklist
The Game of the Scene
In Search of Comic Perspective 2
Character Flaw in Occupations & Comic Perspective
Thesaurus of Characteristics
Character Traits as Comic Perspective
Basic Plots and the Types of Sketches or Scenes
Why Audience’s Don’t Laugh
Circularity & Comic Perspective
Extremist Wackos Are Really Poor, Misunderstood Comics
Reality TV & Comic Concepts
What I Learned Material-Wise from Writing Skirmishes, the Revue
Laugh Lines
Making Characters Come Alive on Stage
Everything I Ever Learned, I Learned from Time & the Old Newsweek #3
Current Events #2
Parodies of Movie Genres
Publicity Stunts & Sketch Theory
In Search of Comic Characters
In Defense of Writers in An Improv World
Working with Improv Actors
Transmedia Writing
Writing the Non-Verbal Half of the Script
Embracing Your Inner Neurotic
Turning “How-To Steps” into Comic Material
Movie Plots as Story Ideas
How to Bring Out All the Funny
Social Psychology of the Sketch for Comic Actors
On Creativity
More on the Types of Sketch
Rationalization as a Basis for Humor
Why Movies Suck & What They Tell Us about Sketch
Things I Learned during Revisions
Pixar’s 22 Rules
Revision and Self-Improvement
A Summary of Sketch/Story Structure
In Search of the Humor Genome
From News Items to Stories
Types of Research & Creativity
First to Final Draft Creativity
Performance Evaluation Checklist
Research Using Books #1
Conflict Checklist
Performing Solo Sketch
Critiquing Sketch Shows
On Pitches
Using Self-Improvement Articles to Create Comic Characters
How Writing Transforms a Writer’s Life

How Writing Transforms a Writer’s Life

• Humor is a spiritual journey to see the world in a unique, amusing way. And  when you finally become “blessed” with a comic perspective, the present literally becomes the most interesting time, in all of human history.
With my book, There’s an App for That, which was topical, I was able to explore all the common aspects of life in a whole new way.

• At the beginning, you will have many problems creating anything. But over time, you’ll see that so much of those difficulties can be attributed to our poorly designed minds. It was cobbled together,  through trial and error, over hundreds of millions of years, and is directly responsible for all of humankind’s many flaws. Over time, you’ll come to realize that becoming a decent writer is the same kind of things as overcoming a great handicap and accomplishing monumental tasks

•  Writing his hard, Hard, HARD. Over time, you’ll see that you’re trying to learn one of the most difficult skills anyone can ever learn. It involves rewiring the brain to function in a whole new way. And one day, you’ll wake up and say to yourself, “Hell, if I can solve one impossible problem after another, in my writing, there isn’t any emotional brick wall I can’t break through or goal in life I can’t figure out how to achieve, that normally takes others years, if ever, to solve.”

• Becoming a decent writer, or even an actor or director, is all about becoming a student of social and psychological behavior. In a way, the study of making characters come alive and making the drama in a situation spring to life on the page,  boils down to a theory of how emotions and relationships work. And with that knowledge, you’ll have a deeper understanding and appreciation of your own life and in the scenes around you.

• There seems to be so little life in life. And in this regard, it’s very important that you capture and journal all your fleeting ideas about your goals, what you’re trying to accomplish, insights into how things work, and so on. And when you look back at all those notes, 3 to 6 months later, you’ll be astonished about how much you’ve learned, how much personal progress you’ve made, how many great and beautiful insights you’ve had - and how much you’ve lived in such a short time.  You’ll even feel thankful for having the privilege to have gone through that period, no matter how difficult it was.

• Also when original thoughts start coming at a more rapid rate, it’s inspirational. Creative types will come to realize that they have always needed a certain flow of creative ideas for their mental health - despite the fact that writing is so difficult, it drive them crazy.

• Just like in athletics, a writer’s imagination keeps getting better and better with time, to the point that it becomes “wondrous.” “Where the hell is this stuff keep coming from?” It’s easy to see why ancient people thought that solutions to their impossible problems came from God.

• Everyone is put on this earth to solve a set of universal problems. It plays a role in why we write about what we write about. If love and relationships make no sense to you, you’ll end up exploring that area, trying to make sense of it, for decades to come.
To say it another way, It’s not “writing about what you know.” It’s about writing about what you’d love to figure out, so you can actually have something profound to say about life, love and the human condition, before you die.

• When you get to that point, you’ll also become the kind of person who can also say what’s in your heart, to the people you care about. Or to put it another way, you’ll not only be able to write beautiful, heartfelt moments for your characters, but be able to write those scenes in your own life.

When you start having these experiences, you’re no longer a hobbyist. You’re a writer.

             Copyright © 2014 by Ed Toolis – All Rights Reserved

Using Self-Improvement Articles to Create Comic Characters

Maybe we get both good and bad habits, quite by accident, from our parents or other role models in our childhood. So, when we’re young, we can’t help but think that a particular way of behaving negatively is the normal way of coping. But as we grow up, it’s time to grow up. And if we don’t change, those negative character flaws become “childish,” and therefore become “funny.”
And over the years, both writers and actors need to go from creating one-dimensional comic characters to characters who are more three-dimensional and original. And here is a way of doing research to accomplished that in a faster, more systematic way.
When you run into list articles on the Web, similar to the ones below, copy and paste them to a word-processor database, so you’ll have them at your finger tips in the future.
And when you’re working on a new comic opposition character, use them as a brainstorming lists, to flesh out the actions and create dialogue that characterizes them. And to make them more three-dimensional, don’t use the same characteristics through out. When one tactic fails, move on to a more desperate and exaggerated one.

      Strategies Comic Characters Use  to Get What They Want
List from Psychology Today on a short article about office politics.
• Flattery - Have the character butter up the person he’s trying to persuade with compliments, like, “I was blown away with how you were able to pull that off, and so it’d be great if you could give me a little advice.” Which is a sneaky way for the character to get the target to do what he wants.
• Praising the other behind his back – Because brown noising can be too obvious, when the target finds out the character has been complimenting him or her, it can be used in the same way as flattery.
• Saving the target him or herself – The comic character tells the target, “I know you don’t want to hear this, but …” and then it’s on to saving the target from “further” embarrassment or a fate worse than death. But really it’s a smokescreen for comic character getting what he really wants.
• Become “convinced” – The character can argue with the opposition, then become convinced the opposition’s argument. And now that the opposition sees how intelligent, trustworthy or caring the character is, it’s on to closing the deal.
• Bosom Buddies – The character does a little recon, then off-handedly impresses the opposition with how similar they are. All the organizations they belong to or how similar their values are. And then the character turns the love fest into a conversation on what he really wants.

                         Habits of Highly Miserable People
 From Lifehack.
• They are never thankful for anything - They never count their blessings, but do count all the reasons why anyone around them should be ungrateful
• They lead a dull, boring, unadventurous life - Nothing’s exciting, fun or has possibilities.
• They live in and glorify the past - It was better in the past. Everything since then has been downhill.
• They do things for personal gain - They have no problem taking things from others without giving anything in exchange.
• They love working unbearable hours for people who don’t care about their employees - or at least think it
• They love to pick fights - The more absurd the issue the better. And they’ll expect the POV character to respond with kindness and sympathy and if they don’t, will be quick to play the victim, even though they started the fight, to begin with.
• They blame others for everything - Their parents, bullies and teachers in their childhood, the POV character, salespeople, the government, the world.
• They think people’s intentions towards them are always dishonorable - They expect the worse. Are incapable of imagining a person acting with good intentions.
• They will give themselves a negative identity and revel in it - They personify anxiety, depression, grief, worry and bringing them up at every opportunity.
• They will make sure they are the center of other people’s dramas - They’ll exaggerate situations, tell others about how good they have it compared to them and criticize something that someone loves just to make sure their point is heard.
• They always expect the worst - No matter how much luck falls in their laps.
• They are envious of other people’s success - They can’t wait to point out the negatives or downplay other people’s good fortune and say that everything can goto hell at any moment.

               How NOT to win friends and influence people?
• They thoughtlessly waste the POV character’s time, especially at a critical time.
• They ignore people who aren’t in their league.
• They think the world owes them everything the want, when they want it.
• They ignore the POV character’s genuine need in the situation, like it’s nothing.
• They ask a question, as an excuse to ramble on about something. What the POV character thinks is ignored.
• They think they are somebody and deserve special treatment.
•When it comes time to step up to the situation, they back off.
• They mistake the POV character’s self-deprecation humor as permission to tell him or her a whole laundry list of things that are wrong with them.
• When they have it better than the others around them, they brag in a humble way. “You people just don’t know how stressful it is to be a billionaire.”
• They think what’s right for them is right for everyone else, and won’t let people forget it.

Again, to use one characteristic throughout makes the comic character one-dimensional. Going from one to another, each time the first fails, is best. And remember, the character needs to get more desperate and go further into the comic world with each attempt.

         Copyright © 2014 by Ed Toolis – All Rights Reserved

On Pitches

While writing a piece, you should be constantly thinking about how you’re going to sell it. How you’re going to light up the imagination of the readers and publishing gatekeepers.
It’s not just the whole work, but for each episode or prose piece in a collection. (All these points may not apply to all projects.)
• The first draft or drafts of the pitch: When does it become interesting? That’s where to start.
• Why is this a “big” idea?
• What is the arc of the piece? Can the reader, or person you’re elevator pitching to, see the journey they will be taking or the new world they will be entering?
• Who are the readers, viewers? Sometimes, the more specific the message is the better.
• Is the joke or the painful truth in the title?
• Do you keep the promise you make at the top and not deviate from the theme of the book?
• Does the pitch leave the reader or viewer wanting more, saying to themselves, “Now there’s a show, book or a webseries, I’d love to read or see.”
• Is your unique voice in the pitch? What you have to say about life, love and the human condition.
• Is the theme universal?
• When someone reads or hears your pitch, in their head, can they see that on a morning radio or TV talk show?
• Is the category of the book apparent? (humorous essay, fiction, novel, short stories)
• Do you have great creds? Often that’s all that’s needed to “sell” the work.
• Does you presentation rock? Keep trying new drafts until it does. The pitch has to be better than the work itself.
• Can you give 3 quick comic examples, rather than going into a bunch of exposition?
• Does it use images rather than exposition?
• Can an agent or  publishers see the market for the work?

            Copyright © 2014 by Ed Toolis – All Rights Reserved

Critiquing Sketch Shows

From attending the Chicago Sketchfest

 Sketch is an ideal form of writing, that is supposed to contain all the storytelling elements that have a psychological effect on the audience.

• Would any of these sketches be good scenes in a movie? And this is kind of writing and acting careers are made on.

• Where’s everyone’s sketch training? Story structure is important, and so is comic concept (that sparks the imagination), comic characters (ultimates of their kind, that people can identify with), comic conflicts (about real problems in life and relationships, not silly made up things), and building comic worlds

• So many are one-joke ideas with no further development. They don’t go further than one-step into the comic world.

• I often ask what is going on here, what subject of interest is being explored here? 

• Sure the audience responds to silliness and the outrageous, but would it be better if they responded to (1) the bits being clever and being something they haven’t seen before (2) bit that have great acting, a professional performance, even if the words aren’t as good as they could be.

• One bit that I saw, that others praised, I thought was no better than what little kids make up when making up stories.

• Again, in my opinion, improv is ruining Chicago comedy. They don’t write, don’t know how to write. Most of this stuff is up to regular improv level. Its just messing around, and the sketches don’t develop on anything, so they has nothing to say about life, love and the human condition.

                Copyright © 2014 by Ed Toolis – All Rights Reserved

Performing Solo Sketch

Solo sketch (def) is taking the same material in a sketch that has several characters, turning yourself into a point-of-view character, and doing it as storytelling stand-up. (I used to say “I did sketch as stand up.” But in an article, Matt Barbera of the Playground Theater called it “solo sketch” and that’s the perfect term for it.)


I have the perfect personality for a writer. I can spend months alone in my room, writing, and I find the world in my head much more fascinating than anything out in the real world. For me, what I do is really living. But performing my stuff? Yikes! It’s just not my self-professed talent. I have no problem having delusions of grandeur when it comes to writing, but have none at all when it comes to performing in front of an audience.

Still, I think that performing is another way for humor writers to market their stuff. (Which can include podcasts)  And since I’ve had so much trouble finding actors who believe in my writing and have had so much trouble getting them to do it the way it needs to be done, I will probably have to depend on myself to get my writing on stage.

So, here I was, directing myself, who has had no acting training whatsoever, trying to do what actors take years to learn to do. And I kept telling myself, “If I can do this, turn myself into an extrovert, I can do anything, because this is exactly like changing a life-long terrible habit.”

The Secrets Discovered

• When you’re afraid of something, the mind becomes a comic world where all kinds of scary thoughts just spring up on their own, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Somehow you’ve just got to ignore them. Also, fear becomes enhanced by procrastination, not doing what I promised myself I’d do.

• The biggest thing I found is that it’s all about memorization. In the end, the acting was the easy part, compared to getting the words down pat.

I started by writing the sketches out to get them to stick in the mind. On the next pass, I tried to remember without looking back at the printout. Even days later, when I forgot, I’d write them out a few times. Then it’s on to going over it, a hundred times, until I no longer stumbled over the words – which was an extremely frustrating experience. Once memorized, all I needed to do was to go over them every day to two, just once or twice, and put emphasis on words I dropped.

• So many times, when I had a hard time remembering, it was problems with the text. When I revised it, with better wording, it became easy to remember.

• You can’t really work on the acting, writing the other half of the sketch, that the actors write, until you have the words down pat. Then can go on to making sure the performance (1) builds the way sketch structure is supposed to, to a climax, (2) getting the emotional musicality of the character right, which involved changing the phrasing with every sentence or phrase, (3) making the emotions honest, yet exaggerated, as if they are coming from a real person, who just happens to be an ultimate of his kind, standing in for all men, (4) getting the laugh lines punched right, and (5) making it like telling a story in an everyday bullshit session with the guys.

• Fantasy rehearsing to people you want to impress can help with getting ideas to improve the acting.

• The biggest surprise was that fantasy rehearsals don’t work at all. Even though I see the scene, perfectly in my head, it’s like I have verbal dyslexia. The words come out scrambled, until I say them out loud many times.

Also, talking out loud is oddly embarrassing, like you could get caught talking to yourself.

• Working in the mirror doesn’t help. Just takes you off focus, although it helps getting a comic look right.

• Once I had the bits down pat, it was actually enjoyable acting them out.

• After I had the words down pat, I had a strange feeling I was going to do okay.

• In the end, It’s hard to be obsessed with determination, to be the best you can possibly be, when you don’t know what you’re doing yet. And now that I know how this works, I’ll be fine on future projects.

Confidence Builders

• Lesson Learned from Comic on TV a & Online: Personally, I believe that the secret to stand-up is being a good conversationalist. And there’s no way that I’d like to sit down, with most of the comics I see on TV or online, and hear the material they say on stage in a conversation.

• Lesson from the Chicago Sketchfest: Sketch is an ideal form of writing, that is supposed to contain all the storytelling elements that have a psychological effect on the audience. And when I saw so many acts were missing those necessary elements, it gave me a confidence boost. I felt the audience would like my material.

The Big Day

• I woke up, strangely, not nervous. I feel like I’m going to do fine. Need to stay focus on how I want to perform the bits. And even when it was time to perform, no I had panic attack! And I didn’t forget anything, but did stumble once, briefly.

• I will never understand why people don’t laugh at what I think they should laugh at, and laugh at things that aren’t funny. And I DO understand that people need to pay attention to what I say, so they shouldn’t be rolling in the aisles with every line.

• I wanted to have an emotional effect on the audience, thus the sad Night Class ending. And a woman said, “Oh, no!”

• So in the end, I accomplished what I set out to do – I CAN now perform my own stuff.

What’s Up Next

• I need now is more time in front of an audience.

• And surprise! I now have delusions of grandeur about performing in front of massive laughing fans.

          Copyright © 2014 by Ed Toolis – All Rights Reserved

Conflict Checklist

After improvers ask the audience for suggestion, I think they should think about these:

• Give your character dueling desires

• Put your character convictions to the test

• Force your character into a corner

• Make the character choose between two bad things 

• Make the character give up a good thing

• Have the opposition draw a line.

            Copyright © 2014 by Ed Toolis – All Rights Reserved

Research Using Books #1

Creativity doesn’t start with the writing. It starts with the research and books of list have great potential. So when reading them, use them as a brainstorming tool to come up with comic concepts, characters, conflicts and worlds. You can also think about the different ways bits can be written. For instance, the below can be turned into sketches, but also some can be in the form of a series of crank letters or even notes on the fridge.

Note: This is also something that other humor writers can collaborate on, which is why I’m numbered it. Send me yours.

From a Book on Letters for Difficult Situations.

Sympathy and Condolences -

• Expression of sympathy the loss of a boyfriend, that the letter writer stole – or the reverse. “Thanks for stealing him. You two deserve each other.”

• Sympathy for the death of a pet, the letter writer ran over.

• Best wishes and hope you’ll be out of rehab soon

• “Our sympathy for your loss caused by our defective product.”

• “If there’s anything I can do for you, during your recovery from the STD I gave you, don’t hesitate to call.”

• Card from a parent: So Sorry I Ruined Your Life

Decline invitation -

• To a wedding invitation of ex-boyfriend and hot new bride

• To an engagement party, because the letter writer still mourning the loss of ex-lover, who is getting engaged.

Employment -

• To boss’s offer to downsize you from a paying job to intern, so he or she can get a promotion.

• To boss, over pink slip (blackmail involved, company picnic, Christmas party)

• Notice: No surfing for porn on company time.

• Notice: that Bring Your Child to Work cancelled from now on, for obvious reasons.

• Notice that if employee can’t get hitting and catching skills up to par, on company’s baseball team, he will be cut from the company.

Family Relationships

• Seeking kidney from ex-wife, he left for another woman.

• Asking sibling to not bring his/her kids to family annual get together, because of what happened the last time.

• Notice to kids that can’t afford them any more. Putting them up for adoption

• Eviction Notice to 36-year-old adult child

• Asking rich son or daughter for money

• Declining request for a loan from a family member

• Asking for the return of evidence that can be used against the letter writer in court, like axing ex-husband to death

• Asking former tenant, a son or daughter, to remove items left behind.

• Notice that there will be no annual pay (allowance) increases, due to poor economy

• Husband apologizes for missing anniversary

• Decline to come to Thanksgiving dinner, due to previous incident

• College student to parents: Notice that check bounced

• Notice of shoddy work done on honey-do weekend project. Will refer to a lawyer if not satisfied in a timely matter.

• Wife invoicing husband for services rendered, because he takes her for granted.

Neighborhood issues

• An apology for making a pass at a friend’s wife during block party

• Petition to nicely ask neighbor to remove lighted “Sinners Repent” sign from their front yard, which details the sins of the people and kids in the neighborhood.

• Complaints: stealing WiFi, sunbathing in the nude, using pool more then they do (including having parties), dog trained to on poop on neighbors lawn, loud, wild party never that get invited to, borrowing things and never bringing them back, or returning an older one that the writer saw was put out on trash day by someone else, damage to borrowed lawnmower, getting daughter pregnant, damage done by elderly parent of neighbor, because can no longer see to drive. Can be asking a neighbor to move out (or thanking them), with all the neighbors listing the above complaints and more.

• Decline to house sit a haunted house.

• In accepting an invitation to 4-year-old’s birthday party, concerns about peanut allergies, and eating healthy (no sugar and fats)

• Asking neighbors to keep their kids on a leash, that the bastards again ignored No Trespassing signs, or never seems to eat at his or her own house.

• Decline daughter’s invitation to teenage son’s pajama party.

• Decline to invest in new money-making scheme, because of what happened the last time.

• Complaint about low wages paid to a son or daughter for work done, with itemized bill

• Flyer to all parents in neighborhood that kids are on strike (no doing cute things, etc) until get higher allowances

• Petition against battle of Halloween yard junk or political yard signs.

Romantic Relationships

• Notice to boyfriend that his half of the rent is now 3 months over due.

• Asking for down payment for relationship to continue (engagement ring)

• Trying to get date with brochure, offering more services, trial offers, loyalty programs, coupons

• Complaint about defective product or false advertising on his or her dating site profile.

• Asking for references (from past girlfriends)

• Letter of recommendation from someone dated in the past.

School -

• Campaign to be president of PTA, in order to force teachers into doing various things (want their email addresses, want the right to question low grade on homework, when the parent helped the kid on the assignment, etc)

• Letter to parent about the disruptive behavior of their little darling in school.

• A critique about all the unhealthy food given to kids in cafeteria.

• Suggestions on how to make 3rd grade soccer team unbeatable

• Complaint to principle about all the charges, when public education is supposed to be free


• Objection to political content of sermons

 • Notice to rabbi that letter writer can get a better deal with another religion.

                     Copyright © 2014 by Ed Toolis – All Rights Reserved