Comedy Writing Tips From Billy O’Connor – Meta-Discourse And Active Tense

Tip one: Eliminate unnecessary words

It slows up your set and wastes the audience’s time. If you edit properly, your audience will appreciate it. Your jokes will have more punch. Less is always more. Think of a stick that has been sharpened. The point does the damage. The quicker you utilize it, the sooner you’ll kill.


“In my opinion, mothers who smoke crack . . . “

Well if it’s coming out of your mouth, we know it’s your opinion. Kill it.

Why not, “Mothers who smoke crack,” or better yet, “Crack-smoking mothers.”

From seven words to three, and you’ve lost nothing.

Always scrutinize each line for unnecessary rhetoric. Ask yourself, “Can I say this quicker without hurting my set-up?” If you’re torn between the results of your edit, choose the one with fewer words. “Less is always more.”

Tip two: Write in active voice

By writing in active voice, and present tense, you not only eliminate needless words, but it helps put the listener in the moment.


“The sides of the hill were covered with trees.” Note the verb “were,” a passive form of “to be.”

That should set off an alarm. How do I eliminate that static, insipid verb?

Study your sentence. You already have a perfectly good verb there, “covered.” So if we rewrite the sentence in present tense and use subject, verb, object, “Trees covered the hillside.” What happened? We eliminated 5 words from a 9-word sentence. Eliminating the meta-discourse made the sentence more dynamic. Now to really improve your writing, let’s revisit your verb – the engine that drove your sentence.

What if instead of “covered” we used an unusual verb that meant the same thing?

“Trees “diapered” the hillside.” Four words with verve, instead of “The sides of the hills were covered with trees.”

Apply this to all your writing. Like comedy, the more you do it, the better you’ll get.