King of Comedy

There are some people you meet in your life

who make a huge impact on the direction you take; you can’t imagine what would’ve happened if your paths had not crossed. For me that person is my comedian buddy Frank King. We met through mutual friends and connected immediately, which has led to collaborating on projects and helping each other out in our careers. This week I’ve invited Frank to give his take on comedy writing. . .here you go!

Frank’s Bio     

frank and his horse he rode in on

frank and his horse he rode in on

Frank King was a writer for The Tonight Show and Jay Leno for over two decades. He also wrote, off and on, for Joan Rivers and Dennis Miller. He was featured on CNN’s Business Unusual, Showtime’s Comedy on the Road, and An Evening at the Improv. He’s an award winning, syndicated humor columnist and radio talk show personality, who was also a Quarter-Finalist on the Original Star Search with Ed McMahon…he lost to a puppet…yes, a puppet. And he just did his first TED Talk. Frank can be reached at or 858.405.5653.

 Jan:  Where do you look for comedic inspiration?

Frank: My comic inspiration comes from everyday life. My sister says that I see the world, “a bubble off plumb.” It’s just the way my mind works. I can’t turn it off. I’m on a Delta flight, we’re taxiing out to the runway, for takeoff, and the flight attendant (referring to iPads, and iPhones, but didn’t mention either), says, “Due to new FAA regulations governing taxi and takeoff, if you have small equipment, you can continue playing with it,” at which point I’m bent over double laughing, with my seatmates staring at me like I’ve lost my mind, and before I can say, “Let’s review,” she continues, “If you have large equipment, you have to shove that under the seat in front of you.” At which point I drop to my knees on the floor…

Jan: How do you know something is funny before you sell it or use it?

Frank: I find out if something is funny before I do it in a show, or sell it, by running it by unsuspecting civilians in everyday interactions. Occasionally, if I’m confident enough in the bit, I’ll do it in my show, without a road test. I’ve got a bit on the Waffle House that I wrote on the drive from the airport to the comedy club, and opened my show with it, and it killed, and I’m still doing it, to this day. It’s one of my most popular with Southern audiences. Just this morning, on the way to a networking meeting, I wrote a joke to tell with my introduction. I ran it by a couple of people (unsuspecting) on the way into the meeting, and they laughed. It was, “Hey, sorry I missed a couple of meetings. I was in Syria, embedded with Seal Team 6, and Brian Williams, and Bill O’Reilly.” It killed.

Jan: What advice would you give to a non-comedian who wants to spruce up their speech or office memo with a bit of humor?

Frank: If you’re looking to spruce up a speech or interoffice memo, I’d hire a pro. I can’t tell you how many executives I’ve saved from themselves, by vetoing a joke they thought was funny and appropriate. Telling the right joke will not make a hero, but telling the wrong one can be…career limiting, at best.

Jan: What is your best comedy writing tip?

Frank: My best comedy writing tip is always shoot up, never joke down. Comedians speak truth to power on behalf of the powerless. It’s been that way since the middle ages, and the time of the court jester.

Jan: Why do you like writing comedy?

Frank: I like writing comedy because it is a expression of what I am, a comedian. I can’t help but write it. Often it just pops into my head, unbidden. I was driving down the street the other day, and there was a homeless guy coming toward me, and he was carrying an huge electronic keyboard. My first thought, without trying to write a joke about the situation, was, “You’re homeless, with no vehicle, if you want to play an instrument, why that big old electronic keyboard? Why not the flute.”

Thanks for reading!

Jan — Jan’s main website with video clips and info on Jan – Jan’s emcee website – have her emcee your next event so that it rocks!

An Interview with a Late Night TV Writer

Okay you all have heard my writing tips

for years, so it’s time to get a different perspective. I’ve got a lot of friends who write for a living – TV writers, comedians, playwrights etc – and so I’ll be posting some interviews with them to hear what they have to say about comedy writing.

I’m kicking off this first interview with Peter Charkalis.

Peter and I have known each other for about 20 years, and he’s a great guy and a fantastic writer. We met doing open mics in comedy clubs back in Virginia, and then we both gravitated to Los Angeles. Starting out at the same time, we’ve seen each other’s worst jokes. . and we still thought each other was funny. Peter even helped me “collect money” from a guy who was threatening not to pay me for a gig. . but that’s another story.

Enjoy Peter’s thoughts on comedy writing!

Peter Charkalis is a former staff writer for

Arsenio Hall and the Late Late Show with Craigs Kilborn and Ferguson. He also provided material for Jay Leno, David Letterman and George Lopez. And when Peter is not writing for professional speakers and entertainers, he enjoys moonlit strolls on the beach with his metal detector.

Where do you look for comedic inspiration?

comedian jan in menomonie

comedic inspiration is all around – a college and the “rehab bar” nearby!

comedian jan in wi

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Menchies. Any place where there’s a president or yogurt. Since I write a lot of topical material, I scour the New York Post, New York Daily News, and websites Newser and Fark. I look to things that happen in my personal life — like serving on a jury or falling out of tree.

How do you know something is funny before you sell it or use it?

Sometimes you don’t. That’s why it takes years for comedians to hone their acts. They’re constantly trying new material. It’s a numbers game. From a writing standpoint, the more you write, the better the odds something funny will come out. I shoot for writing a set-up that is true and conversational; not forced. The better the set-up, the easier, the more organic the punch-line. The best punchlines are short and mostly true except for one word, reference or tweak. I also ask,”Is this easy to say? Is this in the client’s voice? Will this particular audience I’m writing for get the joke?”

What advice would you give to a non-comedian who wants to spruce up their speech or office memo with a bit of humor?

Make sure its appropriate. Don’t tie in sex or politics or anything that could be controversial. You risk alienating parts or all of your audience. Use in-house terms. Be aware of trends and catch phrases that you can tie in — binge-watching, selfies, etc. Look for connections from pop culture, your personal life and the actual speaking environment. The more familiar (insert movie title here), the more personal (insert airport horror story here) the more relevant to the speaking environment (insert joke about the polar bear on stage) the better you will connect with your audience.

What is your best comedy writing tip?

Don’t write punchlines. At first. Trying to think of a joke off the top of your head can be daunting and defeating. Make lists of people, places, things, events that relate to your topic. Write statements about your topic. Ask questions about your topic. Who else can I put in here? What does this sound like? LOOK FOR CONNECTIONS FIRST. The more information you have, the easier to write

Why do you like writing comedy?

Making people laugh is the ultimate connection. It’s very fulfilling to know I have the ability to do that. I did it once on October 21,1997. Been tough ever since.

Five (Of The Many) Reasons Jon Stewart Is Funny

Jon Stewart’s announcement

that he’s moving on from the Daily Show was hard to hear, because he really built up the show and created a HUGE following. He got people to actually enjoy the news – that’s tough.

I got to work with him

17 years ago, when he first started on the show. It’s the first time I’ve ever experienced “star power” because he, I and the other comedian went to a movie on Saturday – one of those Mummy movies – and people’s heads were literally snapping when he walked through the lobby. I didn’t know much about him, but I suddenly “got it” that he was a big shot.

So I thought I’d do

a quick blog this week focusing on some of the things that made Jon Stewart funny. If you can take a hint from him, maybe you can get millions to like you and your comedy as well.

1. He’s like my cats,

very fluffy!




he’s like-able. In his farewell speech, he even thanked the people who disagreed with him. And hey, if people disagree with you, but still watch you, that’s good!

2. He’s interesting to watch.

He’s always got great stuff to say, but he’s also interesting to watch, and you must be too. It’s not enough to have great jokes. When I first started in comedy and was struggling with my stage presence, someone gave me the sage advice to “S__t on all corners of the stage.” I don’t think he meant literally, but rather, move around, be interesting, and engage everyone.

3. He makes things simple.

Jon Stewart and his writers, are masters at distilling down complex crap like the elections and government spending, into stuff we can understand and stomach. Don’t over think the jokes and put in too much information. Distill it down, down, down so we all can understand it!

4. He is passionate about the material.

He really got into the stories and did a great job of pleading his case for why you should see things his way. “Sell” your jokes/ideas/point of view the way he did and people will laugh with you.

5. He is relaxed.

When I had my first “headshot” taken for comedy, it was awful for many reasons (hair, outfit, you name it).But mostly it was hideous because I had this forced smile on my face, and one that my friend Rob and I called the “I’m going to make you laugh” smile. When you’re stressed out hoping that people will laugh, they never laugh. Jon Stewart puts everyone at ease and ready to laugh because he’s at ease and ready to laugh.

Give your comedy more of a chance by taking a hint from someone who’s doing it right!

Jan – this is my main website. Lots of information on my humor keynotes and comedy shows – this is my, you guessed it, comedy emcee site. I’m great at getting the group laughing, keeping the event rolling and making sure everyone is engaged!

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