P=Perret, Gene (Feb 17)

Or Before You Sit to Write . . . )

If you write jokes, they will come // Yallalaughs

Einstein had his theory of relativity, e = mc2 .  Spielberg made blockbuster films for decades.  For each, in their place and time, no one was better.  In a quieter way, so was Gene Perret.

Perret wrote jokes.  He wrote them for legends (like Bob Hope) and award shows (like The Academy Awards).  His prowess at jokewriting drew the best to him like moth to flame.  He also drew the curtain back to show other writers how it was done.

Perret wrote Comedy Writing Workbook as both a detailed set of instructions on joke assembly and an open love letter for the craft of writing.  Much of this applies to writers like you.

First off, note what you like.  Perret encouraged jokewriters to collect their favorite jokes, funny quote, best jokes from their favorite comedians and humorous cartoons.  You can do the same: collect your favorite pieces in a folder or online.  Explore your favorite writing, celebrate it, and examine it under glass.  Look for patterns of character, phrasing, and structure.   Figure out what makes each tick. 

You will also find that once you do this for writing you love, you can figure out the magic behind any piece of writing.

Learn your genre.  In his book Perret gave detailed instructions on all kinds of joke patterns (see MCKEE for patterns on story) as well as ways to turn ordinary statements and questions into jokes.  He taught how to string jokes together to form a bit.

He also gave ways to generate the nuts and bolts you need to form a joke: the “handles”, asking the 5 W’s of whot-what-where-when-why, words with double meanings, and more.   

It’s weird to think of a master of a game as its most devout and earnest student, but — above all — this was Gene Perret.  And to some degree, this needs to be you. 


Focus on one genre of writing: poetry, screenwriting for film, comedy, nonfiction, short fiction, flash fiction, or another that you choose.   Come up with ten exemplars that connect with you down to the bone – pieces of writing that move you.  Examine all ten.  Write down any patterns you see as far as topic, structure, word choice, and theme.  Do these ten have any common thread?

USE: Starting by mapping out these general threads, write your own piece in the genre of your choice.  For draft one don’t worry about quality.  Just use the threads you have found in your own writing.


Published by robanderik

We are long-time writers and editors, now living in the Middle East. Our idea is to create a series of tips to help others improve their writing and editing skills. Think of it as a lesson plan for ESL learners that combines the practical with the aspirational.

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