The Secret to Comedy is... - Raindance

People come up to me all the time and ask “David – your seminars on comedy are so incredibly wonderful, why don’t you do them all the time?” in my dreams. 

The answer is simple: money. 

Doing some simple calculations, I’ve determined that I can easily become rich within my wildest dreams by simply doing just 12,000 more seminars, or one seminar with 12,001 students. I decided on doing just the one but then discovered that the O is booked for November 16th. So I’ve chosen an alternative strategy: one seminar a year for 12,000 years. 

This year’s theme is “How Comedy Works”, which is similar to my other seminars in the sense that they’re identical. My ironclad guarantee is similar as well: I, David Misch, solemnly pledge that everyone will come away from this seminar with no usable skills. 

Because what I talk about isn’t screenwriting or directing or acting, but comedy itself. Learning about the fundamental principles of comedy will help you do it (and understand and appreciate it) better, especially when complemented by a myriad of video clips illustrating how comedy works outside the lab. So, actually, forget that stuff about no usable skills. 

The secret to comedy is – whoa, wait a minute, I almost told you for free. Really, I was this close. (I’m holding two fingers really close together.) 

I’ll give this much away: comedy uses the principles of tension and resolution, misdirection, pattern recognition and surprise. Of course, those are the principles of every art form. But the specifics of comedy are unique, and the precision it requires is – at least to non-professionals – often unrecognised. 

In most dramas, changing a few words won’t have a huge effect. But in comedy, changing a word, even a syllable, can mean the difference between laughter and reactions ranging from hostile silence to physical violence. (Yes, I once was a standup.) 

We all know you don’t get anywhere by slavishly following rules, but you also don’t get anywhere by ignoring them. The idea is to learn the rules, master them… then break them, or at least defy them by getting your laughs in unusual ways.

There are only two ways to learn the mechanics of comedy: lots of work, or getting told. The Rule of 3 didn’t spring fully formed from a nutty Neanderthal’s test beaker (bet you didn’t know Neanderthals had lab equipment) but from the success and failure of a thousand thousand writers and stand ups and drunk uncles at family dinners. Every comedy person rediscovers these rules; this seminar is about giving you a leg up.

The principles apply to acting, directing, and writing, full-length features, sketches, one-liners, foreign policy, and real estate investment. (Note: Two of those are a lie.) They all drink from the same comedy trough (a poetic albeit unappetising metaphor) in that all human beings laugh, in any situation, for the same basic reasons. 

Discovering those reasons is the key to making them laugh at what you do. And for that, you might also consider attending my next 11,999 seminars. 

Meanwhile, listen to what the following satisfied and/or paid-off customers have to say… “It takes a serious mind to analyse comedy. It takes a funny mind to appreciate it. David Misch is of two minds.” – Jason Alexander 

“A sell-out crowd, lots of laughing and learning about why and how comedy works; both grad students and faculty got a lot from the evening.” – Alan Kingsberg, Columbia University 

“David Misch knows funny, teaches funny, is funny. His insightful presentation had our students alternately rapt and in stitches. Thank goodness he brought peroxide.” – Jon Stahl; Chair, Dept. of Cinema & Television Arts, Cal. State Northridge 

“Anyone who can engage and hold the attention of my jaded Advanced Screenwriting class knows whereof he speaks. David did so for over two hours and left them wanting more.” – Ron Osborn, Art Center College of Design 

“David gives you mirth and joy and startling insights.” – Hal Ackerman; School of Theater, Film & Television, UCLA 

If you’ve read this far, you’re either fascinated by the topic or desperate for things to read; for the sake of my self-esteem, I’m gonna assume the former. If that’s the case, now’s your chance to sign up for “The Art and Craft of Comedy”,10 AM – 6 PM on Saturday 16th November at the Raindance Film Festival in London

If you come, be sure to introduce yourself after the seminar, and prepare for a warm yet slightly vacant handshake from me, given that I’m 69 and will have been standing for 8 hours. In fact, now that I think of it, bring oxygen. 



David Misch is a comic folksinger, stand-up comedian and screenwriter. His credits include the multiple Emmy nominated Mork & Mindy, the Emmy losing Duckman, the Emmy ignored Police Squad!, the Emmy engorged Saturday Night Live, and the Emmy ineligible The Muppets Take Manhattan. David has written Funny: The Book and A Beginner’s Guide To Corruption. He blogs for The Huffington Post, and his play Occupied is in development at the Skylight Theatre in Los Angeles.

David has taught comedy at USC, musical satire at UCLA, and spoken about comedy at Oxford University, the Smithsonian Institute, University of Sydney (Australia), Yale, 92nd St. Y, Second City (Chicago), Actors Studio, New York Public Library, American Film Institute, San Diego Comedy Festival, the Grammy Museum (Los Angeles), Lucasfilm, Austin Film Festival, Midwest Popular Culture Association and VIEW Cinema Conference (Torino, Italy).