Five Tight Minutes

Jack Thompson
8 min readAug 1, 2021

A Guide to Joke Writing, Performing, & Selling, by Stu Cassell

Read this book cover to cover, and its title indicates how much money you’ll make in your comedy career.

Yes, you can tell I’m making nothing.

Nah, you can tell just by reading this book that they make a fantastic husband/wife couple, and love each other dearly.

Actually, you can tell that from just the dedication on page 2, so if that’s all you want to see — that true love exists — you can skip this book.

I assume you picked up a copy to discover if true love exists. You thought the title was about toning your body and using that to woo your fantasy date, then keeping them until the end of time.

In a loving relationship.

This book was previously called Comic’s Bedpan, which this is a small update of. Which means if you have that title, you can give this one a miss.

And if it’s bad, you can give this one a miss.

Is this book bad?

Self published, there’s a fair amount of volume here. The author’s certainly put in effort to bring a lot of information together from his stand up career for your benefit.

After the obligatory ‘why do people laugh’ beginnings, the book gets straight to the author’s “Comedic Vehicles”. He calls them that because they’re each idea’s “mode of transportation”, taking them from performer to audience, to make them funny on arrival.

He gives you 6 to use. He says these are the more commonly used ones. Still, if there are more, can we see them, please Henny.. I mean Stu.

Each one gets a brief description. After that, he asks you to identify each type across a range of short jokes, some written by himself and others by well known comedians.

This is time for me to mention that the author’s very kind to the other comedians. He has to be really, when he was a pretty poor one.

No, that’s a low blow, and a bad joke.

Cassell knows his stuff, and during his career, was able to sell his material to at least a couple of top comedians. On top of that, the book is one of the more entertaining ones on its subject. It includes a number of silly thoughts and amusing lines throughout, while his short stories from his experience in the industry are good fun, too.

Which is still nothing without informative material. What does this book have up up its sleeve for creating jokes?

On that chapter, he tells you to read it very carefully, as it’s the heart of the book. At 6 ½ pages, or about one 30th the entire content, it needs to be.

He give you five steps to get from topic to punchline. All this, while he stares at you across the table in his worn terrycloth bathrobe (you’ll understand if you read the book).

The steps are clear and easy to follow. How easy? And more importantly, how effective? Tell you what, I’ll write some jokes…. I’ll attempt to write some jokes using the system (check out the bonus section below for those. You can decide how well the book does its job, or how poor a writer that makes me).

There’s a short chapter on writer’s block. It’s a little bit of information you may find helpful if you’re struggling with not being able to write. Added to that are exercises to get you going.

Cassell gives you 4 different stage character types to consider. That gets broken down further into 10 different personalities, with another 11 different emotional choices for selection.

If you’re calculating, that’s makes a total of 440 different character styles investigate.

(I hope you have some idea of the kind of person you are on stage. I mean, if you get through testing only one of these a week, and it takes you until the final performance to find your match, you’ll discover your ideal character in about 8 ½ years. If none fit, you could try again. A second time through the entire process would make it about 17 years into your comedy career, broken down and completely broke. By then, it might be a good idea to quit the business.)

To help you decide your character’s exact type, there are 26 different famous comics listed, with spaces to fill your answers of the character types each use (author’s answers in the appendix). The chapter on character ends with a recipe for Turkey Alfredo. Maybe he’s testing your patience? If you carry on reading, check that off as one of your character traits.

Thinking of the recipe, I don’t know if his wife pressured him into this, or whether the author has a sense of humour. What I mean is that he has a lame one… I mean he knows most people who read this book can’t cook.

Although I’m sure the pages would brown pretty nicely.

Stu Cassell is pretty old, but from what I can tell, he’s still alive, so I’ll do my best to berate him while he’s still here.

His wife is the butt of his jokes a few times, but he does apologise, which is just as well, because she’s the one editing. Assuming she didn’t add those edits just to save face?

There come another 6 ½ pages for writing material, which give an added boost to the earlier information. Now we’re up to 13 pages of the 210 total, devoted to writing jokes.

As the book’s subtitle promises, performing gets some attention. Cassell touches on putting individual jokes together for a routine. He adds in some — as he calls — ‘basic advice’ for performance. It might be basic, but it’s solid, and will have you more at ease and better prepared for hitting the stage.

There’s even time for a comedy pop quiz. Nothing serious. More like an aside while the author was deciding what to put in the next chapter, probably while waiting for his dinner to cook. The quiz’s answers are a little puerile, and quite funny, so this reviewer is happy for its inclusion.

‘Finding places to perform standup comedy’ might seem like a boring chapter, and it is.

Actually, it’s fine.

For the less organised, it provides a useful way to structure a working week (by doing something else apart from working; that is, getting up behind a mic to tell jokes). If pandemic restrictions are to ease, this chapter’s advice will open up more places for you to perform.

Obviously you still have to contact places in your locale. A book’s not going to pick up the phone for you, or talk into it.

The section on hecklers opens with two true short stories. They’re both funny and insightful as to how brutal audiences can be. These are followed by some advice for dealing with hecklers, and 55 lines you can use against them.

A few lines repeat; a joke at the readers’ expense. It seems Stu Cassell likes to attack us. Maybe normal wear and tear doesn’t account for all those holes in his terrycloth bathrobe.

Getting paid work is another enjoyable chapter. It shows you how to put sample packets together, to show your experience, and how to use that to sell yourself to interested parties. He’s done a good job here.

Chapter 13 on getting your material out there is also helpful. The example cover letter and submission to Joan Rivers, which shows his jokes that did, and didn’t sell, is great. Even if you didn’t like Rivers, it’s handy to see the process of going after a top name comedian without stalking them.

There’s also some pointers to other places you can try selling material, if going after comedians isn’t your thing.

Finally, there’s a little bit on other resources, if you want to further your comedy studies. Melvin Helitzer & Judy Carter are the mentions he’s supportive of. He gives a very quick breakdown of their books.

Check them out.

Gene Perret gets a one line mention of his, The New Comedy Writing Step by Step. I can only assume there’s no mini tour like the two mentioned above, because Perret went balder, younger and faster than Cassell, and some personal jealousy is involved.

I said finally before, but there is an extra ‘chapter, which should help you get laughs. Cure-all chicken soup recipe. The laughs will be when it turns out bad.

Again, finally, after an appendix of answers to earlier questions, there’s a very generous 17 pages or so of material he used in his own act. He says you’re free to use it, because he’s now retired. As long as this material isn’t the reason he retired.

Either way, I’ll be lifting it all, thank you.

Finally, in appendix E, it’s a scrap book kept by Cassell. That’s newspaper cuttings, photos, and general musings from his life. I’m not sure if you’re allowed to use these, but I’ll be lifting them, too.

Verdict

A pretty reasonable book on comedy writing, performing and selling material, that covers all those things sufficiently well for you to get going.

Recommended for:

Anyone who believes the writing process can be learned.

People who want to write and perform, do a bit of either, or choose between the two.

If you want a few recipes.

Not for:

People who don’t find Stu Cassell attractive. There’s at least one reference to his sexiness. For some, that’s too much.

Other thoughts

Perhaps a few more ‘comedic vehicles’ could have been added. Maybe a bit more on putting the routine together (although if he’d done that, it might have distracted him from getting recipes down).

Length

It’s a medium sized book, that although self published — through Amazon — is a proper length book with proper advice. This isn’t one of those short short rubbish guides you may across.

210 listed pages, you can maybe knock 30–40 off that for pictures and spacing.

Quicker readers will get through it in a day or two.

Slow, dedicated readers will take around a week.

Bonus:

Some jokes below using his system. This will be on the cooking, as the book contains a few recipes.

Here they are:

I’m good at cooking the right amount of food, as long as I have 5 hours to eat it all.

There are small pans, big pans. I’ll grab anything. Usually I’ve got my food cooking inside the tin it came in.

I remembered to defrost the chicken. Last week. This time, the chicken was also done nicely, and we enjoyed it around the table, at midnight.

When we’re done eating, I’ll get right to doing the washing up. The pans will be soaking while I have a bath.

A bit of pepper in here. A little bit of spice. All makes for a delicious meal. If you like it ruined.

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Jack Thompson

Writes serious book reviews. Other ideas in the works.