Comedic timing – in performance comedy – is something hard to teach in an article. No matter how many how to guides you read, nothing can substitute stage time. For this piece, I will try to give you some tips on how to develop comic timing on the stage. Comedic timing in writing for the purpose of being read (e.g. humorous essays, books, etc.) is a different animal altogether and will be covered in another article. Also, I will assume that you already know the basic set-up and punch line joke structure.
Write it out, then read it out loud.
Write out the comedy bit on your computer or paper, although I really suggest you use a computer so it will be easier to edit. The reason you need to read it out loud is to be conscious of your natural speech pattern. You want to speak the way you normally speak. Another benefit is when you hear your words, you will have a better idea if the bit is funny or how to make it funnier.
Try minimizing your words.
Once you have the routine written out, you can edit words that you don’t really need or add to the bit. One good test is this, “Is the material still funny if you leave out this word?” If you don’t lose any of the funny, then get rid of it. But what if your style is to neurotically keep blabbing a thousand words? Well, if you can manage that and still be funny for the most part, then you don’t need this guide. But most likely, I’m sure you can benefit from brevity. Even Robin Williams has quick punch lines when he goes on rapid fire mode.
Watch and learn from the best.
Observe comedians who are good and are similar in style to you. Try to mimic them but do not plagiarize their material. Sometimes reciting their routine gives you an idea on their comedic timing. It also develops your own timing.
Get in front of an audience.
There’s no getting around this, you have to try your material in front of an audience. It doesn’t have to be in a comedy club, you can do it anywhere. You could be at a dinner, a party, or just chatting among friends. Find a way to ease in to your material without sounding like you’re “performing” it. Just be natural, the way you would normally tell your friends a story. The ultimate test though is to perform it in front of a real audience that doesn’t know you.
These rules are by no means a guarantee to developing comedic timing. Use them as tools or guides in developing your rhythm. Once you’ve mastered them, you can break them and create your own.