Jerry Seinfeld on Jokes

Jerry Seinfeld knows how to write comedy. This video gives some insight into his creative process.

Key points:

  • Work hard and revise. Repetition, editing, and rewriting is crucial for nearly any project. William Zissner says this too: The essense of writing is really rewriting. That’s why Jerry obsesses over specific words, syllables, and pacing. He knows that a good joke isn’t just a funny idea– the real art is in the  way it’s delivered.
  • Always prepare. Stand up comedy seems improvisatory. You get the impression that the performer is just rattling off thoughts as they pop into his head. Or even if you realize that he must have prepared his bits beforehand, you probably assume that he’s telling it in a laid back, off-the-cuff sort of way. But that’s not the case at all. Jerry meticulously writes down every word he says during the bit, if not the entire act.
  • Don’t tell anyone you prepared. Once the jokes are written, they’re told as if they were just made up on the spot. This is what Robert Greene says in the 48 Laws of Power: “Law 30 – Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless”When you do this, you seem natural, at ease, and more graceful. You also command respect because you seem much more competent than if you had told everyone how hard you worked. I did this once before a job interview– scripting and memorizing the perfect response for every possible question, and then when asked I basically recited it as if  I was just making it up on the spot. They offered me a job.
  • Embrace ritual. Jerry wrote the entirety of the show Seinfeld with the same type of pen. He must have felt comforted by the habit. Smart people have consistent rituals, like a morning cup of coffee out of the same mug every day, or a sacred location, time, specific pen, a closet full of the same outfit, etc. It saves brain power for more important tasks and it instills your work with a sense of duty.

Also see Seinfeld’s excellent tip to increase your productivity.