How to keep your audience engaged

Tips on telling human stories that audiences want to hear from start to finish.

  • The most important part of being a writer is feeling that you're not important and that the work you're doing is not about you.
  • "A journalist is someone who is willing to disappoint themselves with the truth."
  • Every piece of journalism has a narrative arc, and that arc is integral to any human storytelling.
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Joke theft: Is it really an issue in comedy?

There are several levels of comedy plagiarism, says Paul F. Tompkins.

  • Comedian Paul F. Tompkins explains the complexities of plagiarism in the comedy world; comedians all spend time together, processing the same current events—to some degree, it's natural that they may arrive at the same conclusions and jokes.
  • "There are certain things that human beings just are predisposed to laugh at and we're just kind of all putting our own spin on it," he says.
  • Some comedians may do it knowingly and others completely by accident, almost by osmosis. There are levels of plagiarism, and if you ask most comedians, says Tompkins, they will have had an innocent experience of realizing something they wrote was not truly theirs.
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How to parent like a comedian, Gaffigan style

Parenting is often a compromise between you and your spouse. However, it's that very melding of styles that makes you both greater than the sum of your individual parts.

  • Sometimes if we bring our own point of view into someone else's act, it's not funny. It's funny through their vantage point.
  • Although Jeannie Gaffigan can channel her husband Jim Gaffigan in writing content for his standup act, she sometimes disagrees with his point of view — even though she knows it's funny.
  • Similarly to their differing styles of comedy — Jeannie is more of an essayist, Jim is more of an observational comedian — they also have differing parenting strategies. Whereas Jeannie believes more in a "reward-punishment situation," Jim believes "get rid of all the iPads." They have different points of views of what will motivate their children, but they compromise.
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John Cleese: ‘Does it make you laugh?’

Laughing is so contagious that we often forget how subjective humor is.

  • People have very subjective senses of humor, which means some jokes may be funny to certain people but not at all for others.
  • It can be hard to notice just how subject humor is because laughter has an infectious effect on people. This phenomenon is especially true in large groups of people.
  • When it comes to reviewing what jokes to put into a show, test it on friends and family to see which parts evoke laughs from them and which parts don't.

Yann Martel: ‘Transgression is central to art’

Is it acceptable to write a story from the perspective of someone who is completely unlike you?

  • Man Booker Prize-winning writer Yann Martel, a Canadian man, has written from the perspectives of a man with AIDS, a body-switching woman, an Indian boy, and 20th-century Portuguese widowers.
  • Is it acceptable to write from the perspective of someone who is completely unlike you? Martel believes these transgressions put empathetic imagination into practice, allowing your mind to go where your body cannot.
  • In Martel's case, it's the recipe for great art—books that have been loved and read by millions. "[W]e are who we are in relation to others," says Martel. "But the key thing is the empathetic imagination, and the empathetic imagination is the great traveler. And travelers necessarily cross borders. And not only do they have to but it's a thrill to do so. It's a thrill encountering the other."
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