Here’s my second note for Comedy Writing for Late Night TV (here’s the first note). Some meta points: I tried reading this with the tips I linked to about How to Read a Book (PDF).

  • I did a one hour reading session.

    • 6 minutes previewing: I always estimate that I can read 1 minute per page so I marked off the next 44 pages. I also thought of some questions to keep in mind after skimming.

    • 19 minutes reading: For a pomodoro

    • 5 minute break: Ok so this break makes it 65 minutes total

    • 25 minutes reading:

    • 10 minutes writing: That’s when I did the vomit draft of this post.

  • I ended up reading 83 pages in 44 minutes of reading and I felt very focused. I’m not sure if it’s meditation or what. I think it’s meditation. I noticed a lot faster if I wasn’t paying attention to the book so I didn’t need to re-read. I also was reading a hard copy of the book. I’ll see how helpful it is when I try this on a Kindle book.

Okay, enough writing about reading.

As mentioned, I had some questions in mind while reading. I’ll answer those now, for this post.

How can I apply what I learn?

I don’t work for a late-night TV show. I don’t write comedy regularly. I’m not part of a writing team. What I have in common is that late-night TV is the schedule. I’m trying to write every day. Their writers write every day. I’m trying to write entertaining posts. Their writers are focused on entertainment.

This reminds me of Ben Orenstein (developer at thoughtbot) mentioning that a tech talk should be entertaining. It’s not always the underlying point of a talk, but entertainment is the most effective use of the medium. If you want to get your actual point across, be entertaining. Here are some of Ben’s tips and a great talk about this: How to talk to developers (Rails Conf 2013).

The challenge in applying this is that I might not have an actual point.

What are the main points of the chapters I’ll be reading?

The chapters I read were about sketches. Beyond the monologue, writers create jokes for the other segments. Here are the different types of sketches in each chapter:

  • Joke basket sketches: These are collections of jokes built around a theme but without a storyline. Joe Toplyn explains how to create characters for these sketches. I mentioned my first post on this book that I used to catch a lot of The Tonight Show. My dad would watch a VHS recording of it every morning when I was growing up. I really enjoyed seeing Jay Leno’s Mr. Brain as a character example.

  • Story sketches: A story sketch is your traditional comedy sketch. He explains the steps then breaks down a story sketch called “SFX Burglar” on Conan O’Brien, showing how each step is applied. It was really cool to read his step-by-step explanation, read the raw script, and then finally watch the sketch on YouTube.

  • Parody sketches: Similar to a story sketch but based on existing things. He does another explanation and breakdown. This time it’s the “Oil of OJ” sketch on Jay Leno. I thought everything was on the internet but I couldn’t find this clip. The explanations are detailed. Joe Toplyn even shows example lists of associations that lead to the combinations used in the “Oil of OJ” sketch.

I’m really really enjoying this book. And I liked the results of this hourly reading breakdown. I have about 140 pages left. I might be able to finish the book in a couple hours and have a couple drafts of book note posts to share.