Punchline Production: Filmmaking Techniques for Hilarious Stand-up

May 4 / Alfie Noakes

There is a huge overlap between what comedians and filmmakers must consider and address.

Every open-mic comedian is already their own Producer, Director, Screenwriter and Lead Actor.

Every emerging act, just like divisions at Hollywood studios, needs to be mindful of so many elements. Marketing and Publicity, Sound and Camera, Hair Make-up and Wardrobe… and of course, come up with original ideas and fresh approaches.

“An audience is never wrong. An individual member of it may be an imbecile, but a thousand imbeciles together in the dark. That is critical genius.” 

Billy Wilder, Director, Some Like It Hot

Those who create movies, just like those who bring us live comedy, will likely have to navigate Critics and Reviewers, Competitions and Agents.

Which is why I have combined my two fields of expertise into an online course for Advanced open-mic comedians.

To use creative and practical techniques from the world of film making, to help solid acts break through to a more professional landscape.

The unique Cinematic System of Stand-Up Comedy is a wonderful mash-up of cinema and stand-up comedy. Specifically produced for emerging stand-up talent.

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Through producing comedy workshops and coaching comedians, I have personally found that many skilled performers have similar problems and questions.

·   How best to fast progress through the open-mic ranks

·   How to get bigger, more frequent laughs

·   Best ways to avoid stinging stage deaths

·   Identifying practical ways to generate premises, flesh out their funny

·   Means to better promote themselves and build industry relationships

·   How to manage their diary and book more spots, get the stage time

·   How to develop enough that getting paid to perform becomes a reality

·   Ultimately, how to leave open-mic behind and get into the professional leagues

Open-mic acts, by definition, are amateur.

Receiving advice and guidance from an informed and experienced professional should be of real help.

“Anything you do on stage or film has a direct relation to something you have experienced in one form or another in real life. Use your imagination to exaggerate or lessen that sensation. Then, disguise it in characterization and don’t forget to make lots and lots of mistakes, and look like a complete asshole. You’ll do fine.”

Tom Hardy, Actor, Mad Max: Fury Road

Providing a plan for improvement and helping advanced open-mic performers move forward in comedy is what I have been focusing on. The world can always use more talented acts armed with great jokes.

My desire has been to create something for comedians that is in-depth, practical and fascinating. To produce a powerful tool to help comedians step forward with their comedy careers and ambitions, boost their skill sets and their understanding of the industry.

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From working as a movie journalist for well over a decade through to another 13 years as an ever-observant MC and promoter, booker and comedy coach, the overlap between cinema and stand-up has long been clear to me.

·   The Production hangs on the Lead Role

·   Creating fresh angles and new ideas are necessary to separate primo talent from “The Pack”

·   “Hooking” audience interest is vital for a successful production

·   Manipulating audience emotion is an essential skill

·   Proficiency in misdirection and surprise are standards in both art forms

·   Acts are painting pictures in the minds of their audience, while film directors create imagery for the screen

·   Everything the audience sees and hears is by design, nothing is by accident

·   Rehearsing and re-drafting are core processes to reach the final version of the show

·   Comedians and filmmakers are ever mindful of the final show being designed to please and delight a real life audience

"The most honest form of film making is to make a film for yourself." Peter Jackson, Writer/Director, The Lord of The Rings

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My Cinematic System of Stand-Up is available in the form of the online course, Stepping Forward in Stand-Up Comedy.

This is the follow-up to my course which was designed for newer acts, typically those with fewer than 100 gigs experience, which is entitled Stepping Into Stand-Up Comedy.

At the beginning of the mission, I had thought 3.5 hours would be the maximum running time.

It has taken around a year to write and produce Stepping Forward… and I was amazed to find the final production came in at close to 5.5 hours. Because there was so much great info that fitted the premise.

Fear not, the course is broken into 16 separate and easily digested sessions. I have the notion that one weekly session might be absorbed by the student, with a practical follow-up task to be achieved prior to the next session. Each session averages out at about twenty minutes.

Or, one could go hog wild and study at any time, pace or place. After all, a student can dip back into any chapter at any time, due to the lifetime access.

“If you get a chance to act in a room that someone else has paid rent for, then you’re given a free chance to practise your craft.”

Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Actor, The Big Lebowski

The final Stepping Forward in Stand-Up Comedy course runs sessions in the following order.

·   Producer

·   Director

·   Story By

·   Screenwriter (3 parts)

·   More Director

·   Lead Actor (2 parts)

·   Sound and Camera

·   Hair, Make-up and Wardrobe

·   Rehearsals and Test Screenings

·   Critics and Reviewers

·   Competitions

·   Marketing and Publicity

·   Agents
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I must confess that at times I truly felt I was going mad while single-handedly producing this course. While I may never have had the horror/luxury of going “full Coppola” a la Apocalypse Now, there were periods where the tech frustrated me, the ideas merged too much, or not enough…

Thankfully, I had wonderful support and feedback from some fine people, mainly those who know me in-person or had previously bought one of my other online courses.

“I think I have so much shit in my brain that sometimes I just kinda vomit a lot of it out.” 

Paul Thomas Anderson, Writer/Director, Magnolia

These good people were early adopters and bought a budget-priced version of the course back in 2022, accepting that it would be a drip-fed work-in-progress and released to them session-by-session.

Sometimes they received a session each week for several weeks, occasionally there were several weeks between drops as I wrestled with some aspect of writing, filming, editing, rotoscoping…

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The feedback I received was priceless. These students were able to ask specific questions as I rolled out the production, reporting what they liked most and least, helping me find a pleasing and effective tone and style. These superstars very often buoyed me with kind reviews and messages of encouragement. I thank you all!

“All good ideas start out as bad ideas. That’s why it takes so long.” 

Steven Spielberg, Writer/Director, Jaws

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I am delighted to have had the luxury to redraft and revamp many earlier sections of the first draft of the course. The current cut is jam-packed with good stuff for creative comedians.

“The only way to grow at what you are doing is to take chances. You can’t try to stick with what worked last time.” 

Judd Apatow, Writer/Director, The 40-Year-Old Virgin

Like so many filmmakers, pretty much all comedians, I have invested my time and skills into a passion project. I held a belief that I had something special for emerging talent. I fluctuated on faith that the audience would really benefit from, and enjoy, the final cut.

As a result, I sincerely believe that this course will provide…

·        Solutions to creative obstacles

·        Insights to your industry questions

·        Tips for bagging more gigs

·        Tricks for writing superior jokes

·        Tactics for performing at an ever-higher standard

·        Techniques for rising through the ranks of open mic comedy

·        Strategy to Step Forward with your Stand-Up Comedy skills and ambitions

I’ll leave the final words in this article to a former stand-up, one of many, who stepped into the role of genius film maker.

“There's something kind of horrific about milk. Think about it!” 

Jordan Peele, Writer/Director, Get Out

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