I Wish I Was as Funny as Ben Schwartz
Updated: Nov 6, 2019
Ben Schwartz is one of our go-to comedians these days. He's in a popular improv duo with Thomas Middleditch, his turn as Jean Ralphio on Parks and Recreation is legendary (seen any gifs recently?), he wrote and directed the hilarious and EMMY nominated web series The Earliest Show, and he's about to play Sonic the Hedgehog in a movie adaptation of the video game which also stars Jim Carrey. This only scratches the surface of his work, so needless to say, Schwartz is pretty great.
Schwartz is one of my favorites in comedy, so imagine my delight when I saw that he and I thought of the same joke this past January!
Just to be clear, I am by no means suggesting that he stole the joke. It's a joke based on a common experience so anyone could have thought of it. I'm just saying it was nice to be on the same page as someone I admire.
The reason I am sharing this today is because of the lesson I'm learning from seeing our jokes side-by-side.
His is so much better.
Look at the structure of both jokes. Mine is too wordy and uses a common Twitter joke trope. His is an actual joke.
What makes his better, in my opinion, is how concise it is and that he makes a comparison to punch up his joke.
Let's break it down. What are the similarities and differences between our jokes?
We both are talking about the same thing - unsubscribing from an email list then immediately getting an email from the list.
We both have the same take - the absurdity of getting an email from people you just informed you didn't want to receive any more emails from.
Do you see how my version buries the premise while his directly states it?
Also, do you see how his has an actual punchline while mine leans on the structure to try to make you laugh? Punchlines will always make a joke work better.
His saying, "It's like breaking up with someone..." is a clear punchline. My punchline is basically just saying, "Here's more of that premise!" At best an audience could appreciate that this happens when you unsubscribe from email lists, but that's not funny so much as it is pointing out the irony.
His version is much more effective and the tangible evidence is in the number of likes each joke got. I know he has many more followers than I have, but I did see that someone who follows us both liked his tweet and not mine. Thank God for Chris! I at least got his approval!
What makes his joke work is how direct it is. That's one of the best things you can learn from him in general. He's always very clear and direct (he's also very, very quick in getting to the point).
Why does being direct and clear matter? Because comedy works when the audience can focus their attention on the subject and point of view. Punchlines work when people understand and follow the setup. Also, punchlines often reference something that will take a second for the audience to recall. If a joke is too wordy then it will distract the listener from following and understanding it - aka, the part that let's them get the joke. If they can't get it then they won't laugh.
If I had the chance to rewrite the joke I would lay out the premise and think about what's funny about it. Then I'd think of something to compare it to and think of the funniest way to describe that comparison.
The whole idea is to improve. I can enjoy being on a similar wavelength as a comic I follow, but I have to learn from them and from my mistakes if I want to get better at comedy. It takes some courage to fail, but at least it leads to getting better!