The Zen Comedian’s wisdom is not relegated to the ethereal and philosophic, for he has practical counsel as well. The Zen Comedian’s practical advice, as I attempt to simultaneously understand and invent it, comes down to four words only: always write it down. Whether or not you are the type of comedian who slaves over his bits and concepts before bringing them to the stage or you are the type comedian who prefers to work on his or her feet, the pen is your best friend.
For the first type of comedian, who molds and shapes his or her bits as would a blacksmith at a forge, this is obvious. This type of comedian, it would seem to me, would have extensive notes. For an example of this, I point to Joan Rivers, one of the most prolific and consistently hilarious joke writers in history. As was featured in the entertaining documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work, Joan has in her office a cabinet stuffed to bursting with notecards on which every joke she has ever told is written out. For this type of comedian the pen is their constant companion and help-mate, but even for those who work more on their feet the pen is indispensable.
For the comedian who relies on sudden inspiration to create his routines and begins a set unsure of where it will go exactly, the pen is an absolute necessity. This is because for this comedian, any time of the day or night, inspiration may strike, and he or she should be ready. If in the supermarket this comic hears a precocious youngster tell a lady she looks like a water balloon, and finds it hilarious, he or she should absolutely retrieve a scrap of paper from his pocket (keep all your receipts, you’ll need scratch paper) and scribble something like “fat lady = water balloon” on it.
The Zen Comedian teaches us that whatever type of notes you create, whether they are Joan Rivers-meticulous or sloppy and simple, always be creating notes. It is important to not at this point to recognize that no type of note is definitively superior to any other type, but the taking of notes is absolutely vital. The exercise of taking notes is not only a source of material, but it is also vital training. The more you take notes, the more you will become accustomed to considering all situations comedically, and jokes will start to occur to you more often.
The pen, for the comedian, is not necessarily purely physical, but is also a state of mind. Just yesterday I did a show at a comic book store, and it occurred to me that the crowd would respond positively to mention of the fact that they were surrounded by valuables that were not tied down in any way, and they could in my words “just walk away with some of this shit.” When I inserted this idea as a makeshift opener, the crowd reacted very positively, and I was off to a strong start. So, in the end, the Zen Comedians counsel is very simple, whether it is the physical object or a state of mind, always have a pen.