The Everything Guide to Comedy Writing, by Mike Bent

Jack Thompson
7 min readSep 19, 2021

From stand-up to sketch — all you need to succeed in the world of comedy

Provided you have a functioning body, working brain and mouth that opens.

Here’s a slightly larger book. It eschews a regular size for something a bit fatter. If this was a person, it would be diabetic.

So is the book good, or is it sick, ill, and near the end of its life. To find out, and to get to that end, there are a few pages in between.

250+ pages.

Chapter 1 sets the tone. Text broken up by frequent — but not too frequent — sub headings, regular grey boxes with points & tips, a ‘Profile in Comedy’, and closing out with something to brainstorm and thoughts for your notebook.

As you read, you’ll find it pleasant, with a small amount of insight from the interviews, while the brainstorm and notebook bits ask more of your attention. These come at the end of the chapters, so you’ll have something to do after reading.

Each exercise asks you to be creative, analytical, or to get producing bits and pieces.

And you’ll notice quite quickly that while the book doesn’t give you any specific joke writing advice, it gets you to mine your sense of humour by doing something else; it asks you to ask questions.

Is that clear? No?

Chapter 3 and The Funny 5 is probably the closest the book comes to formulas. One of the 5 is Setup and Punchline. Let’s face it, that doesn’t count, so call it The Funny 4.

Give me a moment to draft an email to the author…

After The Funny 4, chapter 4 enforces the questioning mentality the book teaches. There are 12 questions in bold, and multiple follow up questions for each of those.

I counted 40 questions in total, but gave up before I finished. There could be more, and probably are.

Maybe 50.

Probably not 60. Should I do a recount?

Either way, that’s how to open up topics for potential comedy material. The downside is that there’s no advice as to what the answers to your questions can be used for. So if you want to structure them for a certain genre, that’s up to you.

Maybe it should be. You can’t expect a book on comedy to follow you on stage and be there as you’re doing your thing.

The Everything Guide… offers help on how to use a notebook.

So look out for Bent’s follow up books, where he’ll teach you how to use a knife and fork, and the function of a dinner plate.

Cheap comments aside, you could learn a tip or two here.

The chapter on lists is pretty good.

Helpful

Concise

Interesting

Engaging

Enlightening

I haven’t mentioned the comedy profiles much yet. They’re 1–4 page interviews with each person. They add extra page padding — around 50 pages in total — without much insight. Fine to read, but apart from a hint or two, and a couple of worthy jokes, not much to absorb.

The questions posed to each individual vary from particular, to showing up across multiple profiles. How are you feeling? Are the tyres inflated on your car?

Did I slash them?

If you hadn’t noticed the book’s running theme of being really inquisitive, why haven’t you? Why not? Come on, haven’t you been paying attention?

Chapter 7 reveals it in full glory. The chapter’s title is The Power of Questions.

Do you find it irritating and off putting if I keep asking things?

Without you needing to read the book, I’ll tell you the reason for asking all these questions; it’s to extend topics. The questions will help pull out more ideas and let you approach things from different angles.

It doesn’t sound much, but Bent has added some words of interest. The bit and questions on the example topic of hurricanes is done very well. It’s only a page or so, but worth sticking around for.

So far, it’s been a pretty broad look at comedy. That changes on page 85 onwards. Everything changes. The whole world is in danger.

And moving out of fantasy and back to this review…

First it’s sketches.

A skim across what a sketch is, some considerations, and an example script to follow. It all quickly segues over to another Profile in Comedy.

Thankfully, you get a bit more on sketches in the next chapter. Together, they give an understanding of the topic, even if it could go deeper.

Writing With Others provides things to think about on creative partnerships.

Not on working alone (if you couldn’t tell).

The section has some sensible — if not ground breaking — information. Then there’s another short interview, before you get pulled back to the subject of the chapter, for brainstorm and notebook pieces.

Stand-up gets 3 chapters in a row. Sounds in depth, but time is wasted discussing the styles. You get more information in the next two parts. It’s all relatively simple, but things that are helpful to know.

For this reviewer, the best parts of the stand-up chapters are the ‘extra’ grey boxes. There’s one with a website suggestion (nice for US and Canada based comics), a book mention, and a number of comedy albums to check out.

Moving on to Parody and Satire: Blah, Blah, Blah, Some Sub Heading.

No, that’s not the real chapter title.

The book gives you suggestions in both categories. There are films, books and TV shows noted, if you feel the need for further inspiration, direction, or procrastination.

The parody and satire examples in the book are both done well. Both have example scripts that are easy to follow and understand.

Good job, Bent!

Mike Bent’s real teeth.

The author is a comic, comic teacher and magician. The book says he appeared at the White House. Did he disappear, too?

Heading on to the sitcom section of the book, which runs through multiple decades of US output, from the 40s to the 00s. A sample 1 ½ pages of The Simpsons script shows layout, while the author gives advice on spec scripts and your own creations.

Movies next.

There’s some nice and very concise help on plotting, a bit on script layout, and assistance on scene work. The plot bit comes with some handy questions to assist with the example. Then as things get going, the chapter’s gone.

It’s like trying to board a passenger plane that’s already moving. Goodbye destination. And now you know why there are smiling faces in the windows. They’ve seen you rolling along the tarmac.

Just remember to roll away before the next one lands.

Remember to use your senses when you write. That’s covered in the book, rather than the book being covered in it, with an effective scenario/example shown on page 215. This chapter also points you in the direction of a few other famous acts, to further your understanding.

Places to be funny doesn’t offer much a quick Google wouldn’t uncover, apart from maybe a website mentioned that you may not be aware of, which still works today. DIY fame, the next chapter, is pretty much the same.

The final chapter has a small and good bit on the correct mindset for success. This comes along with a few other ideas for getting your career headed in the right direction.

Another profile in comedy finishes the book. Once again, it has no relation to the chapter it sits in.

Pork pies are quite nice.

Actually, the end comes in a final thought, which includes two more working websites that have endured the last 12 years since publication (Lulu and Amazon).

And while the book is finished, the page count isn’t. The last 30 or so consist of appendices.

Heckler preparation fill a couple, a comprehensive 21+ pages of US comedy clubs fill that many more, another 4 pages for the index, while the appendix title pages make up 3.

The heckler part is pretty good; 2 of the 6 offered solutions are something a bit different to other books.

Verdict

A fat arse book that’s hit and miss. Don’t take its place in case it wants to sit down.

It reads pleasantly and comes across well. Especially the helpful information. The interviews add unneeded heft.

Recommended for:

Coming up with ideas and exploring themes.

Finding more options for comedy in existing topics.

Not for:

The book doesn’t go far enough into detail in its covered genres.

Other thoughts

Put the usable information to use. You’ll find yourself getting more from topics, exploring different subjects and perhaps trying different genres.

If the book was revised to drop the comedy profiles and offered more depth on its existing information, it could be quite a bit better.

Length

287 listed pages. Disregard 25 pages for the index and comedy club list. Take off another 30 or so for the chapter pages and other blank pages.

With other small spaces, it reads like a 200 page or so book of a more regular format.

Quicker readers will get through it in a couple of days.

Slower, dedicated readers, a couple of weeks.

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Jack Thompson

Writes serious book reviews. Other ideas in the works.