Best Books on Comedy Writing

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best books on comedy writing

A good sense of humor is a good social trait and key to human communication, but humor is a very subjective medium.

What makes a joke funny? Some people might think that they’re hilarious, but the audience doesn’t seem to find them so much as entertaining or even enjoyable – which tells us more about our own sense of humor than anything else!

If one person laughs while another sees nothing humorous happening on stage…well, then something went wrong somewhere along the way (maybe with planning?) because there wasn’t enough magic fairy dust floating around when jokes were being written.

There are many theories as to why people find certain types of jokes funny, but it all comes with timing and delivery (and maybe spectacular personalities). But humor doesn’t always work that way; some need more planning than others do for maximum impact or success with an audience at large!

The single best way to get better at stand-up comedy is by getting on stage and performing. But, you can also learn by watching or listening to other people do their acts and reading material from successful comedians.

I’ve read a lot of books on comedy writing and performing, and I’ll share my best picks in this article, such as Comedy Writing Secrets that I’ve mentioned at the top of the list.

Before we get to that, let’s talk about how one becomes a comedy writer.

What is a Comedy Writer? How Can You Become One?

The idea of humor writing is to look at any topic, put some humorous perspective on it, and make the audience laugh while delivering it.

The subject can be anything from happy, tragic, or ludicrous to a trending topic; however, instead of focusing on the topic’s drama or tragedy, they focus on the humorous bits.

Comedy is rich and diverse, which means that there’s a lot a comedy writer can do. A comedy writer can write TV scripts, write jokes for standup comedy, or write for satirical magazines, among other things.

A man stands on stage, putting on a comedy show.
A man stands on stage, putting on a comedy show.

If you want to succeed in comedy writing, then start by consuming stand-up specials or books filled with jokes; any type of material will help improve your abilities by giving you new perspectives in the masterful gags!

Then start writing your jokes, and start submitting to producers, comedians, publications, etc.

The world of comedy writing is extraordinarily competitive and you shouldn’t expect instant success with your submissions—it could take hundreds of submissions before one gets accepted.

However, always have a positive attitude, never give up, and see each rejection as just another chance for growth (and remember: sometimes we learn from our mistakes).

You can also start a YouTube channel or post on social media platforms like TikTok. These platforms have given a lot of comedians’ ‘overnight’ success.

Top 13 Books on Comedy Writing

1. Comedy Writing Secrets by Mark Shatz and Mel Helitzer

Comedy Writing Secrets

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This book will enlighten you on the thought process, topics, and humor techniques of comedy writers.

Learn the basics of joke construction, as well as in-depth techniques that you can apply to your own work.

This edition of the book has been revised and includes hundreds of one-liners, anecdotes, and bits from top comedians. Noteworthy contributors of the original one-liners include Louis C.K., Conan O’Brien, Tina Fey, Amy Schumer, Rodney Dangerfield, Jon Stewart, Steve Martin, Ellen DeGeneres, Jimmy Fallon, George Carlin, Zach Galifianakis.

2. Sick in the Head: Conversations about Life and Comedy by Judd Apatow

Sick in the Head

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Sick in the Head, a book written by one of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood, Judd Apatow, shares the most memorable and revealing conversations with successful comedians.

Sick in the Head is a candid collection of hilarious, wide-ranging, and incredibly insightful comedy legends like Mel Brooks and Steve Martin, and contemporaries including Spike Jonze and Sarah Silverman.

In this delicious book, Apatow served us a lifetime’s worth of conversations that turned out to be a magical collection.

3. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

Born Standing Up

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Steve Martin needs no introduction, he’s been a household name for over 40 years.

In this book is his story told by himself—the story of “why he did stand-up and why he walked away.”

Martin narrates the sacrifices made, the discipline needed, and the originality required for him to become the legend he is.

He talks about the toll of having to perform so frequently, about trends of his times, and game-changing comedians and comedy shows.

Steve Martin is trying to teach a lot of lessons in Born Standing Up by delivering his testimonies of sheer tenacity, focus, and audacity that took him to the top.

4. I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons

I Can't Make This Up: Life Lessons

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Kelvin Hart, a New York Times bestselling author, iconic comedian, and Hollywood box office star.

When we talk about the modern crop of comedians, he is among the greatest.

In this book, Hart uses his immense comic talent to craft a “hilarious but also heartfelt” memoir. He tackles issues like survival, success, and the significance of having self-belief.

Hart talks about his childhood and issues of drug addiction in his family, painting a picture of a young man growing with the odds stacked against him.

How did he defy the odds and turn his life around? How did he outgrow all his hurdles?  How did he become the biggest comedian in the world?

It’s all in this entertaining guide memoir—and it talks of the hard work, determination, and talent that it took to achieve his success.

5. The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter: Best Step-By-Step Guide Comedy Writers

The Comedy Bible by Judy Carter

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This book is Judy Carter’s gift to aspiring comedy writers and stand-up comics, and it’s a piece that talks about the business of being funny. In this bright, entertaining, and totally practical guide on how to draw humor from your life and turn it into a career.

In this professional guide, Carter shows you how to put your life experiences to good use and make a living drawing humor from your life.

The Comedy Bible will help you to turn your sense of humor into a career. The guru to aspiring stand-up comics provides the complete scoop on being—and writing—funny for money.

For an inspiring comedy writer, this is indeed a bible, providing step-by-step instructions, helping readers first determine which genre of comedy writing or performing suits them best, and aiding their development as a comedy writer.

She also teaches the readers how to find their “authentic,” which—she believes—is the true source of comedy.

Writing comedy is a career, you need to make money from it, and—accordingly—Carter explains perhaps start making money by pitching negotiating contracts.

When you read The Comedy Bible, you’ll realize that it is pragmatic, funny, and motivational.

6. ‘The Stench Of Honolulu’ By Jack Handey

The Stench Of Honolulu

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Who doesn’t know about SNL? No one? Aliens, perhaps?

Jack Handey, a former SNL writer and one of the best joke writers of all time, wrote only one novel.

And, this is IT.

This is Jack’s first novel, so forget the flimsy plot. Handey serves a hilarious, exotic, and unforgettable adventure tale filled with one-liners, metaphors, callbacks, and runs.

Have you ever found yourself liking something that makes no sense whatsoever? This novel will be your first. Not only will you laugh, but you’re going to learn a lot about comedy writing.

7. ‘The Hidden Tools Of Comedy’ By Steve Kaplan

The Hidden Tools Of Comedy

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The Hidden Tools of Comedy is a systematic guide to understanding the nuts and bolts of comedy and takes into account both comic theory and modern-day practices.

It shows how scripts, scenes, jokes, and stand-up all work using practical examples and by presenting arguments with clear arguments. The book’s lighthearted tone and witty writing style make it accessible and engaging for all levels of comedy enthusiasts – from neophytes to diehard comedians.

The book isn’t intended to offer tips on how to “write funny,” that’s too basic. The Hidden Tools of Comedy wants to give you unique secrets and techniques of writing comedy.

So, throughout the book Kaplan offers an expansive view of what isn’t funny by dissecting sequences in popular films and TV, offering caveat after caveat concerning what works and what doesn’t.

8. Poking A Dead Frog: Conversations With Today’s Top Comedy Writers By Mike Sacks

Poking A Dead Frog

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Poking A Dead Frog: Conversations With Today’s Top Comedy Writers by Mike Sacks is an informative and entertaining book that divulges the secrets of successful comedy writing.

The book delves deep inside the mysterious world of comedy to dissect how funny works—and who does it best.

This is loaded with behind-the-scenes stories featuring legends like Amy Poehler, Adam McKay, Bill Hader, George Saunders, Mel Brooks, and many others —and gossip that will give an insight into the day-to-day life of comedy writers and pop culture.

Poking A Dead Frog: Conversations With Today’s Top Comedy Writers is a New York Times bestseller and was named the best book of the year by NPR.

10. I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-Up Comedy’s Golden Era

I'm Dying Up Here

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This tells a true story of a place called the Comedy Store, a famous comedy club in Los Angeles.

It’s a story about comedians who tried to change the system and incidentally tore apart their own close-knit community because the comedy club’s owner, Mitzi Shore, didn’t want to pay younger comedians performing in the “Original Room” because it was “a place to work out their material and grow.”

The strike (in response to Mitzi’s stance), which happened in 1979, included comics like Jay Leno and David Letterman, who were getting paid because they performed in the Main Room (the professional room).  Leno and Letterman were in support of the other comics who were not getting paid.

Eventually, Mitzi gave in.

I’m Dying Up Here tells the whole story and retells this story of the “Golden Era” how the events changed the workings of comedy clubs.

11. Seinlanguage Mass Market by Jerry Seinfeld

Seinlanguage Mass Market

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For years, Seinfeld was the most popular program in the United States and even though the show ended, Seinfeld’s unique brand of humor is still available.

Not only is it available on online streaming platforms as the Emmy Award-winning television show has, but it’s also in the form of this #1 New York Times bestselling book, SeinLanguage.

In this book, Jerry Seinfeld covers a wide range of topics including relationships, childhood and parents, cop shows, and power suits.

This book gives new insights into Jerry Seinfeld’s joke construction, based on jokes he tells from events in his own life.

12. How To Write Funny by Scott Dikkers

How To Write Funny

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‘How To Write Funny: Your Serious, Step-By-Step Blueprint For Creating Incredibly, Irresistibly, Successfully Hilarious Writing’ Dikkers serves the essentials, provides relevant examples, and takes an analytical approach without being tedious.

This book should be essential reading for anybody who writes jokes or plans to earn writing jokes, as well as anyone who just wants to be funny. 

The author strips comedy into 11 basic elements. After reading this, you’ll get enlightenment and be able to spot those 11 elements in any comedy.

One thing you are guaranteed to get from this book is the training to craft solid, funny jokes, at least one.

13. The New Comedy Writing Step by Step by Gene Perret

The New Comedy Writing Step by Step

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Gene Perret Three-time Emmy Award-winner (nominated 7 times) and has been a professional comedy writer since the early 1960s.

Not many writers have this man’s pedigree when it comes to giving you advice on “Comedy Writing Step by Step.”

Perret provides readers with a wealth of advice and recommendations spanning a wide range of comic writing circumstances, as well as many crucial insights towards marketing one’s work.

In his characteristically erudite and anecdotal style, Perret covers all facets of comic writing, making this book as good as a manual for a comedy writer.

Comedy Writing and Performing Tips

1. How to Work Your Audience

Engaging your audience is vital!

That means that you’re going to work the audience for ideas, including their possible jokes that they might tell, which then lead to your punch line.

A funny script will not work without an engaged audience, and engaged audiences will not enjoy your script if they don’t catch its tone.

a couple is laughing at a comedy show.

You need to pay a lot of attention to things such as physical appearance, costume, attitude, and pacing.

Speak fast enough if you’ve been given a time limit, but—at the same time—slowly enough that they can hear everything you say without becoming impatient.

Punctuate what you say with a reaction from the audience, even if it’s a big reaction, as long as it has energy and awareness to show that they heard what you said. Otherwise, you might lose a lot of good jokes under the audience’s loud reactions.

2. Bend the Clichés

Comedians repeat their jokes, and they are more than free to do that.

However, it’s bad to give the audience clichéd jokes. You risk having an audience that feels cheated and disillusioned because while they might have been hoping for a twist, they were served the same clichés they know so well.

Generally, people like the familiar, but if you’ve created something unique and riveting, the audience probably won’t predict what the overall joke is, and you will have an excited audience

3. Develop your ability to observe

If you want to create a deeper connection with your audience, you have to observe little things in human behavior. Then, focus on the funny side of those things, and once your jokes accurately describe aspects of real-life behavior, you’re able to showcase empathy.

That—in turn—will evoke a response from your audiences and readers.

4. Use Irony

One of the most powerful tools for humor writing is irony. This tool can be used to contrast two things that shouldn’t go together; for example, “Joey never liked animals, but he was eaten by one.”

Irony is the language of comedy. Irony can be used to subvert social norms or just to poke fun at common mistakes people make.

Your jokes don’t always have to be extreme—sometimes it’s fine to show that flawed human nature with just a subtle jab.

3 Types of Irony Every Storyteller Should Know

Final Words on the Best Books on Comedy Writing

For many, being funny comes naturally, but you have to learn how to unlock your creativity and become a funnier person.

Sense of humor is only one component of writing comedy. It takes just as much exhaustive planning, drafting, and skillful execution to pull off a successful joke as any other type of story. 

When they’re done right, the jokes arrive in such an enchanting way that it’s hard not to laugh out loud at their hilariousness!

Whether you’re a professional comedian who wants to freshen up your set, a gifted writer with a desire to turn humor into a career, or just someone wanting to boost self-confidence by becoming more fabulous and polished, Comedy Writing Secrets and the rest of this 12-book list will change your life!

These books and others like them are goldmines for anyone seeking success. They are exactly what you need in your quest to become a better comic!

Remember, always practice!

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Jessica started off as an avid book reader. After reading one too many romance novels (really... is it ever really enough?), she decided to jump to the other side and started writing her own stories. She now shares what she has learned (the good and the not so good) here at When You Write, hoping she can inspire more up and coming wordsmiths to take the leap and share their own stories with the world.