Step by Step to Stand-Up Comedy, by Greg Dean

Jack Thompson
7 min readSep 5, 2021


The cover boasts a foreword by the late US comedian Steve Allen. Bestowed with this honour, this must be a good book.

It has to be. And with such anticipation created, opening the book becomes as scary as stepping on stage.

It shows, as clearly the book is afraid to get going, side stepping the normal page count and opting for Roman numerals.

On page xiii, the title asks, Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Comedian?

The answer of course is yes, or you wouldn’t be reading this book. You’d be crafting a routine, and be up on stage, trying things out for laughs, again and again.

So let that sink in.

The questions under Do You Have What It Takes to Be a Comedian? aren’t serious. It simply wants you to buy a copy.

If you have, then you immediately get pulled into The Secrets of Joke Structure. Dean takes you through the foundations of a joke and how they work. There’s no messing around.

Unless you didn’t buy the physical copy, and instead chose to lend it from the shop. Permanently. Then you might have some law enforcement issues.

Chapter 2 takes you through joke writing. It’s the most direct approach to the subject you’ll find. Where other books tend to ask you to play with combining ideas, this one walks you through all the way, from setup to punch.

And does it work? (check the bonus below to rate my efforts)

It certainly seems to in the examples. Which is definitive proof.

Using it feels somewhat awkward. A bit of a struggle. If you master it, you should be able to write a decent chunk of material.

The info continues and the book explores joke topics. This means plenty of material to feed through the joke writing process. Dean adds further help by showing you the area you’ll more likely find the laughs.

And after that, if you can’ get the joke system to work, the author’s very encouraging and reminds you there are other careers available.

He really does do that, with a specific mention of the food industry. You can work there.

Does he have something against you? Maybe that’s his help. He realises the industry has staffing issues and knows you can lend a hand.

You get a job, they get a job filled. Two birds with one cream pie (he used to be a circus clown. I’d have to check if he was also a career adviser).

Greg Dean

You’ll find picture of him online, so stop being lazy and look yourself. Yes, I know this review is ‘online’, but this isn’t Greg Dean’s photo reel. Go to his website or use the search engine.

It ain’t so hard.

Once you’ve written your jokes, the book covers making them better. All straightforward advice, which you might have seen elsewhere, but great for beginners, and it’s all here.

Then comes crafting a routine. As with everything else in the book, the information is well explained. If you follow the steps from start to finish, you’ll come out with finished bits for a set.*

The book also goes over points of view.

At first, it seems somewhat obvious. Become different people by moving around on stage. One step right, one to the left, pivot on your heels. Change where you look, depending who you are. So when he mentions ‘turning your face back and forth’ as an advanced technique, it’s quite funny.

I mean, this is a book about learning stand-up, not on overcoming a serious car crash.

Having said that, go a bit deeper into the chapter, and the topic’s well done.

It’ll show you how to apply the different POVs to all parts of your act. You’ll find it insightful, while potentially finding laughs which otherwise would have gone undiscovered.

The two chapters on rehearsal are excellent. Starting with the bit about the milkman, and through to the end of the section; it’s concise, covers lots of ground, and will put you in a much better place when it comes to perform live.

This moves on to a short 4 page section of tips for handling the mic with a number of dos and don’ts. All helpful to know, especially for the beginner.

Next is an interesting bit on timing. Dean likely has a different understanding to what you may have heard in other places.

That comes along with other quick fire advice.

Short bits on your first show, working with the MC, on warming up to perform, some nice advice on dealing with hecklers, and plenty of other pieces to think about.

All instructive, no wasted words, and easy to understand. Every so often, there’s a short story or two from the author to help get points across.

Refinement is saved for the last chapter.

Apart from a tiny piece of conflict (his graph shows ever strengthening material, while he advises a little differently), the advice is, again, very good.

With joke material from earlier pages as an example, Dean uses that to show you how it’s done. Which is completed with advice on how to get your act to end on the biggest laughs.

With only the glossary left, it’s a fitting way to finish the book.

* Some criticise this style of building a routine, calling it things like dated, old style, old school. It’s not done like this anymore.

There are basically 3 ways to put a routine together. Non sequiturs, sequiturs, story. If you aren’t the doing the other 2, then it’s this one. And if that’s an old style, it’s because it works.

The wheel, man. Don’t re-invent it.


By page:

132 — Dean admits to punching men in the butt. The ‘released the other year’ revised edition may have edited this out.

154 — better than standing there with at thumb up your butt.

Whenever I’m on stage, both my thumbs get that treatment.

159 — choose to sit on someone’s lap

Well, at least you have a thumb up your butt.

171 — no butts — no show

So what’s he saying?

People without butts aren’t allowed to do a show? That would disqualify a lot of people. With plenty of non-butt comics crawling around these days, that’s truly awful. And now you’re not allowing them to get on and perform? Disgusting.

182 Then you can top yourself.

No comment.


A book that delivers on its title. Greg Dean’s text takes you all the way through the process; joke writing, rehearsing, going on stage (before & after), plus refining your set. This, and loads of tips along the way.

A fantastic book, providing you get to grips with the joke writing system.


Learning stand-up comedy.

Yes, you need to get on stage, and as often as possible (that’s even written in capitals at one point). For everything in between, this book gets you as prepared as you can be.


The joke writing system. It’s sometimes difficult to use. Learn it, change it, get it to work for you, and you’ll have a friend for life.

There’s a first time for everything.

Other thoughts

It’s a solid book. A really solid book. Does the joke writing system set the rest of the book up to fail?

I’ll let it off the hook because of the many successes had with it (I looked on his website).

Otherwise, everything’s covered.


191 pages. It’s reasonably long, but it’s well written, so no slog to get through. With little wasted space, it will take a bit of reading.

Quicker readers should power through in a couple of days, exercises non withstanding.

For slower, more dedicated people, keep at it a couple of weeks, and you’ll find yourself on the other side.

5 jokes from the system

Hang on, there’s nothing here.

So it’s cop out time. I didn’t finish my assignment. To dress it up a bit, here’s my excuse:

I want a bit longer to try this system. Look out in the next review for the jokes that should have appeared here.

I ended another review on an apology, and it looks like I’ll have to do the same here aga-

Actually, not this time. I don’t want to go down that path. Too much emotion. There has to be a connect between us, but not that much.

So put those tissues down.

See my next review, when I have the 5 jokes I’ve run through Greg Dean’s joke system.

Until then…



Jack Thompson

Writes serious book reviews. Other ideas in the works.