Comedians Laurie Kilmartin, Andy Kindler, Gary Gulman and Nikki Glaser Share Their Best Writing Tips

The latest issue of Writer’s Digest features four veteran comedians who shared their thoughts on what writers of every genre can glean from stand-up. To explore just a few of their comedy writing tips and see their joke-telling acumen in action, we’ve included some of their advice here, plus a video clip of each comedian in action.
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The July/August 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest features four veteran comedians who shared their thoughts on what writers of every genre can glean from stand-up. To explore just a few of their comedy writing tips and see their joke-telling acumen in action, we’ve included some of their advice here, plus a video clip of each comedian in action. (Note: The following videos include adult themes.)

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Laurie Kilmartin: Write from Experience

Laurie Kilmartin writes for late-night host Conan O’Brien in addition to performing stand-up. Her act is filled with jokes about life as a single mom—specifically, the struggles of raising her son. “Jokes have to come to me, then I keep trying to work at them,” Kilmartin observes. “Sometimes they take years to get right, and sometimes they come out perfect the first time. There is no rule.”

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Andy Kindler: Take Notes

A comic since 1986, Andy Kindler encourages writers to be prepared to jot down ideas whenever they may strike—or risk losing them forever. Kindler also advises avoiding editing while writing, but to fi rst focus just on getting the words down—then trying to make the material better. “Those processes use different parts of the brain,” he explains. “I try to get into the mode where I’m riffing and anything goes, then later on, I’ll edit.”

Gary Gulman: Revise, Revise, Revise

Veteran comic Gary Gulman is meticulous in his approach, tweaking words and phrases until he’s satisfied a joke is at its strongest. “Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug,” he says. “I would go over jokes and ask myself, Is there a better way—a more precise way—to say that with a funnier word? I’m always looking for ways to improve and tighten.”

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Nikki Glaser: Study the Masters

Nikki Glaser’s inspiration is more internally focused, stemming from a constant hunger to improve. “That stimulates my creativity and forces me to work better and harder,” she says. “When I see a masterful joke writer like [stand-up] Dave Attell, who makes it look so easy, I think, OK, I gotta do that. And that will make me buckle down a little bit more.”

Read more of these humorists comedy writing insights in the July/August 2018 issue of Writer’s Digest.

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