How can I tell if my joke is original?

Some of you may already know this about me, but for those of who don’t, a while back I gave stand-up-comedy a shot. It was an intense experience! Standing in front of a crowd, with only five minutes to win them over, it was one hell of a ride. In the end though, it turned out that stand-up-comedy wasn’t for me. It was a fun experiment, and I got to make some fun videos and meet some interesting people, but it turned out that I enjoyed writing jokes more than I did performing them.

In the writing of jokes though, there’s something that’s bothered me for years. Sometimes a joke pops into my head. It’s brilliant. It’s genius. The funniest thing I ever came up with. But is it really my joke? Did I come up with it? Or am I just remembering, or paraphrasing, a joke I heard a few weeks ago, or even months ago?

I know I’m not the only one with this problem, but over the year’s whenever I’ve consulted Dr. Google to find out if my joke is original or not, I’ve gotten little help in being able to discover if it is indeed an original joke.

Has anyone else had this problem? Any ideas on ways to figure it out?

Best Of, ptsd, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Uncategorized

How Comedy is Helping Veterans with PTSD…

comedian performing to U.S. Troops in Iraq

As the Robin William’s movie Patch Adams showed us, comedy can be the best medicine. When it comes to those of us with psychological trauma it can also ring true as well. It helps us by taking way the fear, anger, and guilt we experience and replace it with laughter. We eventually learn to accept the past as just that and start moving forward.

 Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

One of the key factors tied to PTSD is the negative emotions and feelings tied to a specific moment or series of traumatic moments. It is these memories that continue to affect the lives of those who suffer. By addressing these memories in a humorous or funny way it takes the power away from these memories. With the control taken away from these moments it placed back into our ands we no longer have to suffer. Once you pull back the curtain and see the wizard for what it really is, it loses the hold it once had over our lives.

 Make’em laugh

By sharing these memories and stories with others though comedy you’re reach out to complete strangers and connecting with them. As the saying goes “No man is an island” and what better way to connect with people than though comedy. By opening up and connecting with an audience you not only allow them into your life but also connect with theirs. While many of these strangers could never begin to understand fully the experience that these moments in time have had on us; they can none the less, start to relate though laughter. It is this connection that allows us to work though the complicated emotions and feelings associated with these memories while helping others see it as entertainment. This isn’t to diminish, or take away from the experience as a whole but only to help us come to terms with it.

 The world’s a stage

One of the other major advantages with comedy when it comes to PTSD is that it gives us a safe, friendly environment to tell our tale. While sharing stories in a group or with a counselor is helpful, it doesn’t quite have the same effect as telling it as part of a comedy bit. The combination of the atmosphere, the lights, and the crowd can seem overwhelming but once you get the hang of it, you eventually feel right at home. This helps us to open up, and share things with the audience; some funny, some not so funny. The goal of any comedy routine is to connect with the audience. Once you’ve done that, it’s a feeling like nothing else.

 Laughing the pain away

As it has unfortunately come to light with the passing of Robin Williams, comedians are some of the most trouble people out there. For some, making others laugh allows them to forget their own pain. By sharing it with a crowd, it allows them to deal with things they can’t on their own. This is also very true for those who suffer from PTSD, especially in the case of combat veterans. While working though their traumatic experience, they can do so through the lens of humor allowing them to address it in a different way than they normally would. Over time the humor will replace the negative emotions attached to the experience making it far less anxiety inducing.

 Practice makes perfect

While comedy is a great route to deal with personal issues especially in the case of those that suffer from PTSD, it’s not something than can be done spontaneously or all at once. Like many things, it takes practice and patience. Especially in regards to adding humor to what is a traumatic experience. It’s not easy to find the humor in some things and especially so with something that powerful sticking with you. But by working with it, molding it, and transforming it, you not only work though the trauma but make it yours. This is just the first step towards returning to the person you were before it happened.


PTSD is, in itself, not a laughing matter. However, by filtering it through the lens of comedy it helps the victims both move past their experience as well as allows them to share it with the world. By sharing our stories and memories with others it both helps take away the negative emotions attached to the moment as well as helps us connect with those around us. By forming these connections it allows us to begin to gain back parts of ourselves that we have lost as a result of the condition. No one should suffer in silence especially in regards to PTSD. But by bringing humor into the equations it is a step towards moving past it and moving forward instead of being stuck going in circles carrying the burden alone.

Now, for an example of ‘how it’s done,’ check out this YouTube video by famed soldier-comedian Bobby Henline:

Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir

In this dark humored War Memoir, Iraq veteran Michael Anthony discusses his return from war and how he defeated his PTSD. Civilianized is a must read for any veteran, or anyone who knows a veteran, who has returned from war and suffered through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

dark humored military memoir“An intense memoir.” -Kirkus

“I wont soon forget this book.” -Mary Roach

“A must read.” -Colby Buzzell

“[S]mart and mordantly funny.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Anthony delivers a dose of reality that can awaken the mind…” Bookreporter

Order your copy of Civilianized: A Young Veteran’s Memoir .

Picture: Flickr/The U.S. Army

Best Of, Blogishness, Self Improvement / Healthy Living, Self Improvement / Healthy Living

How to Be a Stand up Comedian

how to be a standup comedianIt starts with an awkward silence.  All eyes are glued to you as you walk to the stage; the littlest misstep and you’ll never live it down.  The second that your foot hits the stage, you take a deep breath, sweat drips down your brow and your palms freeze.  Stepping up the microphone you exhale and tell yourself that you’ve been here before, that you’ve only got five minutes and you can handle it.  You look out over the audience; finally its time to ease the tension, theirs and yours.

The most important part of being a stand up comedian is knowing your story: where you’re from, your background, how you were brought up, and what makes you unique.  Every detail helps the audience to identify with you and lets them get a better feel for your right to tell certain jokes.  To be a comedian you’ve got to know yourself, and you’ve got to then be able to laugh at yourself.  As one struggling comedian put it: “You don’t want to hear a rich guy talking about being poor, so why would you listen to a comic say jokes about something he never went through…stick with what you know.”

The first thing after stepping on stage is adjusting the microphone.  Is it too tall, too small, do you prefer to hold it in your hand and walk around?  I don’t.  I stand still and speak. “So…I was in the Army, and I just got back from Iraq a little while ago.” A few people usually applaud.  I’ve got their admiration and respect but not their laughter.   “And before I go on…I know there’s one question on everyone’s mind…and NO…I did not vote for Scott Brown.”  There’s a few laughs in the back of the club, it’s an inside joke and it usually only gets a laugh from the military people, but nothing too serious.  That’s ok though, you’re not supposed to start off with your strongest material.

[The comedian format goes like this:  Introduction: let them know who you are.   Feelers: toss a few jokes out there and get a feel for the audience and what you can get away with.  Builders: you begin to really get into your routine, you start with a few low-key jokes that you’ve used before and that you know will work.  New Material: if there’s any new jokes you want to try out, you try it out right after or during your builder jokes.  Main Material: these are the jokes that you’ve used dozens of times and always get laughs.  End: leave them on a high-note, your funniest joke.]

“Everyone thinks that because I’m a vet, that I voted for Scott Brown because he was in the Army National Guard for thirty years…but let me tell you about Scott Brown…”  Comedy is like writing, you need to know your audience.  Jokes about a senator from Massachusetts aren’t as funny in Rhode Island, as they are in Massachusetts.  A good tell for your joke is whether or not you have to explain any part of it to the audience.

“Scott Brown was in the Military for thirty years, during three wars, and a dozen major military operations, and he’s never gotten deployed once.  The only time he’s been overseas is when he got sent to Paraguay for two weeks.   Yeah, I know some vets that have been to Paraguay for two weeks….it’s called vacation.”  There’s the joke build up.  Every joke needs a beginning, middle, and end.  A joke should start off with a little bit of story, then a small joke, and then BAM the main joke.  The audience should never see it coming.  It’s the amateurs who go out there and pound out one-liner after one-liner.

“Scott Brown tried to get a Purple Heart for getting sunburn while at the beach in Paraguay.  I mean seriously, the only PTSD flashbacks that Scott Brown has is from when he watched the movie Saving Private Ryan in high def.”

The audience is silent.  No laughter.  Luckily the Army taught me the axiom “Improvise.  Adapt.  Overcome.”  Political jokes and military jokes can either be hit or miss; most people haven’t been in the military and even fewer have actually fought in a war.   In this situation, most comics revert back to the universal routine, the routine that fits every audience: relationship humor.   Most relationship jokes, no-matter-what, will get laughter.  No matter how bad or ridiculous they are, someone in the audience always knows what you’re talking about.  And after a stock joke or two about relationships, it’s time to bring out some of the new material and test it out.

“I’ll tell you though, before I went to Iraq I was dating this girl and, like, have any guys here dated a woman with a really strong personality?”  A few men raise their hands and then look at their dates and laugh, “my last girl friend had this really strong personality and I loved it, you know, she knew what she wanted and I always knew what I was getting with her.  But anyways, we eventually broke up and now I’m dating a new girl, and she doesn’t really have a strong personality…but she makes up for it by having three or four different ones…”  Since it’s a new joke, this is where you pause and take note of the audience’s reaction:  How long did it take them to laugh after the punch line?  How hard did they laugh?  Are more men or women laughing?

The MC from the back waves his hand which usually indicates only two minutes left.  The problem with a routine is finding the right spot between saying too much and saying too little.  You don’t want to go on stage and say ten minutes of relationship jokes, or ten minutes of jokes about politics.  You want to change it up and give a variety, but also, you don’t want to be jumping around and saying ten jokes about ten different subjects and have none of them tie together.

“Have you guys ever heard the saying that, ‘if there were a million monkey’s randomly typing on a million different typewriters, that they’d eventually type the completed works of William Shakespeare?’”  Pauses are a fine key to comedy.  It’s like the silence in-between musical beats, and the punctuation in writing.  You need to give the audience a brief moment of reflection before you hit them with the next beat, sentence, or joke.  “Well, I had a math teacher tell me this once, and I decided to start an experiment to see if it were really true, that a million monkey’s typing on computers would end up typing Shakespeare…so a few years ago, I start the experiment by inventing blogs…”

Not everything in comedy always works.  But it’s like writing.  You’ve got to know your audience, you’ve got to know your material, and most importantly, you’ve got to revise, revise, revise, and revise.