“You don’t get much fun when you’re an adult, do you?”
Michael McIntyre’s rhetorical question remains one of my most favourite one-liners to repeat whenever I feel the need to overcome my morbid fear of prolonged silences (which is pretty often!). As far as ice-breakers go, in fact, I find it unfailingly manages to provoke an animated – sometimes quite hilariously heated – debate among a group of people who may potentially find themselves at the risk of running out of things to talk about.
Comedians serve up a fantastic reference point for conversation starters and discussions. But being a stand up comic is by no means an easy job. Popular funnymen like Jimmy Carr, the aforementioned Michael McIntyre and Chris Rock have worked for decades on what today is considered no less than an art form. All three enjoy a well-deserved reputation that rightfully precedes them, regularly selling out performances across the globe.
Contrary to popular belief, however, the most established comedians don’t get up on that stage before they have rigorously prepared their lines. And, although they do come up with many of their own witty wisecracks, they wouldn’t be able to pull off such polished performances if it weren’t for a good quality writer.
You may not be aiming for a job as a writer for comedic acts just yet, but in truth, there is plenty to gain by taking a leaf out of the book of stand up comedians. That’s why we’ve put together a list of seven things comedians and good content writers (should) have in common:
They grab your attention – and keep it!
Even the most amateur of writers knows the importance of a strong introduction. Modern readers are extremely hard-pressed for time; if your opening sentence is disappointingly half-hearted, they won’t read beyond the first paragraph. Watch any professional comedian’s clip and you’ll find they always start with a strong opening line, one that either has the audience instantly cracking up or snapping to attention. Imitating this gimmick will do much to help you grab your audience’s attention – and probably keep it! Aim for a short, but potent introduction for your text to harness your reader’s attention from the word go and keep them reading until the end.
They choose Relatable topics
It’s one thing if you’re writing for wealthy business owners, and quite another if you’re angling your text towards a busy stay-at-home mum. Knowing your audience well is key to relating to your readers. That’s why a good content writer uses examples that successfully drive their point home, keeping their audience engaged until they reach a seamless, clever conclusion. The most well-known comedians are very aware of the importance of choosing topics their audience can relate to. How else could they build up such a loyal following? Ellen DeGeneres’s new show, Relatable, does this perfectly!
They’re (slightly) controversial
There’s certainly no place for the weather in either content or comedic acts. In fact, it’s probably best to advise both comics and content writers to give topics widely considered as “safe” a wide berth. Some of the most followed comedians dare to tackle outrageous topics with a daringly tongue-in-cheek attitude – which is why we love them! Controversial subjects such as sex, plastic surgery and politics (not necessarily in that order) are sure-fire topics to pique your audience’s interest. Throw in some subtle double entendres and a couple of “it’s funny ’cause it’s true” cracks and you’ll soon have your readers eating out of your hand. Of course, exercising a little discretion would certainly not be misplaced here – try to strike the right balance between controversial and downright distasteful.
Their material is engaging
Stand up comedians go to great lengths to keep their audience raptly hanging on to their every word. Many times, it’s not what they say, but HOW they say it that has their spectators rolling about with helpless laughter. A good content writer should go about presenting their text in much the same manner – especially considering that 75% of received content is ignored. Readers are so constantly bombarded with senseless text filling their inboxes, incongruous ads flooding their news feeds and other such junk, that they apply a very fine filter when choosing what they want to read. Seek to continually engage your readers by providing material that is both relevant and interesting, treading carefully in terms of clickbaits, writing attention-grabbing headlines and using a suitable tone of voice.
There’s no harm done in adding a couple of visuals, either. Apart from making the article more aesthetically pleasing, visuals (which may include photographs, graphs, tables or other illustrations) may also be used to break up large chunks of text, thus giving the reader regular breaks.
A 2015 study by Buzzsumo says that content that includes a visual every 100 words or so is more likely to be shared. Visuals are also scientifically proven to add weight to a given topic, enabling readers to visualise a concept more concretely. Recent educational research, in fact, suggests that 65% of respondents are likely to retain more information if it is presented in a way that appeals to more than one sense; this is especially true if the aids selected have been given careful consideration.
They stand out
The all-encompassing reach of the internet is a double-edged sword – whether it’s text or side-splitting comedy, you can get tons of great exposure, but the competition is way fiercer. According to entrepreneur Hans F Hansen, “it takes nothing to join the crowd”; standing out, on the other hand, is essential if you wish to carve out a niche for yourself – so your efforts should always point in that direction. Do your best to offer up something different from the rest of the crowd – whether it’s tackling dangerous topics, throwing in the odd unexpected humorous aside or coming up with a myriad of useful and inventive tips aimed at your readers’ needs.
They’re current – and regularly updated
As consumers of news, social media and other such information that it thrown at us from every direction, we are kept perpetually (and almost reluctantly) updated of what’s going on in the world. Which is why what’s going on now can get very old, very fast. No one will appreciate a comedian getting up on stage only to start prattling on about One Direction splitting up. A true professional will be sure to tackle fresh, current events (such as Brexit and Brexpats!), only mixing in older material for that personalized touch.
Content that isn’t fresh and/or regularly updated soon starts slipping down in the rankings; new, different and altogether more exciting text is created to take its place and, much sooner than you would like, all your hard work will fade into oblivion. Avoid this by writing about topics that are all the rage right now, and make sure to revisit old text to make the necessary adjustments as time goes by.
They keep it brief
Dissecting any topic at great length is sure to inspire a couple of yawns, no matter how funny or interesting you attempt to make it. A 2017 study by the Skipton Building Society (United Kingdom) estimates just 14 minutes as the length of the attention span of the average Briton; much longer than that, and your audience will soon be whipping out the nearest mobile device. Knowing exactly when to say, “Thank you, and goodnight!” is no less than a gift for many a prominent comic, as is neatly concluding a (not too lengthy) text.