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Comedy skills that don't stop at stand-up
on April 15, 2004
This book was a fun read that I finished the day after my order arrived.
Humor is something we could all use more of in our lives. I'm guessing most people who get this book aren't really going to quit their day job and try to make it in stand-up; this book is worth it anyway. Anybody who deals with other people, in your work or otherwise, will find humor a useful skill to develop. I teach and do radio work, both of which require trying to keep my audience awake, and humor, even if it isn't quite ready for "Seinfeld", is one of the best ways to achieve that.
In this book you'll learn about the structure of humor, and how to use any experience from your own life, good or bad, to be funny - or to develop other kinds of material, like short stories or radio drama, though you will have to make these kinds of connections yourself.
I find Carter's approach much more useful than just trying to memorize and retell jokes from a book - which very likely don't apply to yourself and your potential audience anyway. If you live in another country and culture, for example, jokes assuming you grew up in the United States are likely to be puzzling to your listeners at best - in any case not funny. Shared experience is an essential for any kind of writing and humor, and identifying and drawing on that shared experience requires the kind of specific skills you can learn about in this book.
To be honest, I didn't laugh at all the jokes in the book, but my admiration for Carter as an effective *teacher* grew as I read on. Her approach is strictly hands-on - she includes practical exercises in each section - and she makes each step perfectly clear along the way. Not everybody who can do something can teach it (and the reverse applies as well!), but Carter's pedagogy is solid.
I especially liked the parts on comparisons, similes and mimicking - all of which my students respond to warmly in class. Learning the importance of "attitude" in joke telling was a useful insight; also why one should avoid "telling stories", regardless of how funny *you* think they are. Though Carter says it can't be taught, she does offer some good hints regarding timing, which is at the core of every successful joke. Other useful topics include how to develop a persona, the importance of feedback, and how to deal with failure.
I enjoyed the comments, with photos, by big names in the field, some of whom I didn't know before, like Margaret Smith, Dale Gonyea, Paula Poundstone, and Richard Lewis, along with more familiar ones, like Ellen DeGeneres, Roseanne Barr, Jerry Seinfeld, and Steven Wright.
One thing I would have appreciated in this book is an *index*. I found myself thumbing through the whole book to find bits I wanted to reread. The table of contents helps, but isn't quite enough.
If you want more specific and detailed information on how to really do comedy professionally, I'd suggest Carter's _The Comedy Bible_, which took me a bit longer to read, but is correspondingly richer in solid information. For a sample of what to expect in both books and to hear what Carter sounds like in person, there's a recorded interview with her at talktotara.com.