John Cantu doing the door at the Zoo John doing the door at the Holy City Zoo

It Ain't the Jokes Folks

by John Cantu ©

I offer the following as an addendum to Don Steven's line. "So I write MY WAY. I know it has its flaws; I probably even know maybe half of them. But I write honestly and from my heart. What I write are my words."

There is simply no way to teach wanna be comics the important principle that the jokes don't matter.

I have said and written many times that The Great Comedians by Larry Wilde is simply the best book EVER about comedy.

(I have been touting Larry Wilde's book The Great Comedians for years. Franklyn Ajaye's book matches it and is the 2002 version of Wilde's book. In Comic Insights: The Art of Stand-up Comedy by Franklyn Ajaye you get candid and insightful comments. Both are carried in

Probably one of the ten major turning points in my comedy career was reading the following. Larry Wilde asks Woody Allen, "What counsel can you give comedians?"

Woody Allen replied, "There's not much to say. Just don't make the mistake of falling into the material trap. To the degree you are a funny person, that's how much you'll succeed. . . not what kind of material you have. When I first became a comedian, I thought, gee, I write funny material, I bet I could just get up and read this to people and they would laugh. I tried that. I took sheets of paper out in the nightclub and it meant nothing to the audience.

"They wanted something else entirely. What they wanted is an intimacy with the person. They want to like the person and find the person funny as a human being. The biggest trap comedians fall into is trying to get by on the basis of their material. That's just hiding behind the jokes. It isn't getting up in front of an audience and opening themselves up."


  • How would you describe your humor?
  • I come out and tell jokes. That's how I would describe it. I do the same thing Henny Youngman does . . . Bob Hope

Cantu says: If you are a comic, read this paragraph over and over and over till you have it memorized. If you ever get the Zen wisdom to understand that a funny comedian is not funny because of his/her jokes. A funny comedian is funny because he/she is funny. The jokes are simply the way one expresses one's humor.

Audiences respond to people, not to the jokes. If it was just the jokes, any unpopular person could simply hire a top-notch comedy writer, get a few funny jokes, and change people's opinion of them.

And most comedians who are good writers are trapped by the quality of their lines. When I make a suggestion to a comedian that he/she learn to "sell" a joke, I often get a response something like "These jokes are FUNNY Cantu. What do you mean I've got to learn to sell the joke?"

To "sell" a joke means put your personality into it.

  • The web is loaded with Steven Wright's jokes. search:
    • Searched the web for Steven Wright Jokes. Results 1 - 10 of about 8,500. Search took 0.20 seconds.
  • But you can't find Bill Cosby jokes. You find references to Cosby's stories. search:
    • Searched the web for Bill Cosby Jokes. Results 1 - 10 of about 4,300. Search took 0.39 seconds.
  • And this is a typical entry: (Capitalization added for emphasis)
  • The New Bill Cosby
    • ... Lots of time was given over to Bill Cosby for his smooth and LENGTHY MONOLOGUES - they were MORE STORIES THAN JOKES, often lasting seven or eight minutes... - Similar pages

In other words there are twice as many references to Steve Wright as to Bill Cosby. But Cosby has ten times the endorsement contracts - because he is ten times more likeable, not because his jokes are ten times more funny.

Don't just stand on stage and recite "funny" one liners. A great one liner makes you feel like laughing; a great comedian makes you feel like laughing and loving mankind.

NEXT: Just Be Funny!