Last week I was — not exactly — in St. Louis.
I was in East St. Louis. Located in Illinois. But close enough to St. Louis’s famed arch that I jogged across state lines every morning to visit.
I was at the Casino Queen hotel for an event. Just a two minute train ride from Sugarfire, my 2nd favorite barbecue place in St. Louis. I went there almost every day. (My favorite? Pappy’s)
I was attending the World Series of Comedy Main Event, a comedy-palooza that mashed up a multi-night comedy contest, comedy seminars, networking, and more. The Main Event was the culmination of twelve sattelite events held across the country this year.
On day three, I attended a Jerry Corley seminar on comedy.
It alone was worth the trip and the price of event admission.
Jerry is old school.
How old school?
His website has a prominent link to his MySpace. MySpace!
Some readers might not even recognize that word, but they would all recognize how talented Jerry is at explaining the nuts and bolts of funny. The benefit of decades of comedy experience.
Jerry deftly set up his premise, that anyone can be funny with enough work and study, through comedy anecdotes and hard science.
Then he dove into details.
His review of laughter triggers was as illuminating as it was funny.
If you are clever you can probably find a list of his triggers online for free, but hearing him explain them in person is even better. Every trigger had funny examples, and Jerry snuck in comedy nuggets of gold along the way.
My favorite was one I had recently intuited but didn’t have the vocabulary for.
I recently designed a 20 minute set to have an opener, some short bits, two longer stories, and a closer.
I inserted a few one liners between the longer stories.
I didn’t know until I saw Jerry talk that I was actually helping the audience focus with those one liners. His discussion of focusers was especially powerful for me, since I perform at more bar shows and mics than I do at comedy clubs.
Jerry wove tidbits like this throughout his presentation. Another favorite of mine covered how to win over an audience at the start of a set. The key, per Lorne Michaels, is to demonstrate confidence.
Lorne was just one comedy legend Jerry invoked in his tutelage. Seinfeld, Gaffigan, Carson, Leno, Carlin and Bobby Slayton were all mentioned over the course of two-plus hours.
Another gem covered angle and point of view, and how material should have an attitude to help the audience — never forget the audience is why you are doing this! — make an emotional connection to your material.
A crowd favorite during his master class was a pair of joke writing exercises. Everyone was having a great time spot writing jokes and sharing them. One particularly funny one from Ryan Goodcase got near an applause break and prompted Jerry to compliment his writing.
One of Jerry’s themes was hard work. More than anything his seminar inspired me to work harder. To write more. To perform at more open mics. To keep striving to get better.
Jerry’s closer covering the comedy material generator (dozens of prompts) and his list helper have both already helped my comedy writing.
I have had a premise I couldn’t figure out how to write about for months. Since Jerry’s class I have written three minutes of jokes about it and performed it at the Lion’s Lair, Denver’s longest running open mic. Based on the crowd reaction this new bit has legs.
Just one example of how my time with the self-described “joke doctor” made me a better comedy writer.
Maybe he can help you too, so check him out online.
Just maybe skip the MySpace, and go right to the YouTube.