Thursday, April 7, 2011

Write Something Funny, Funnyman! - A Guest Post by Alan Orloff

Hello, All, I'm honoured and excited today to be hosting fellow mystery author and crime fiction blogger Alan Orloff on his Killer Routine blog tour! Not only is Alan a very talented writer (I am excited and eager to read Killer Routine :-) ), but also, he's a helpful, supportive, funny and interesting blogger. So put your hands together and give a big, warm, Confessions of a Mystery Novelist... welcome to..... Alan Orloff!!

The official launch date of my new book, KILLER ROUTINE, is…today! I’m very excited to be guest blogging, Margot. I love your blog—every time I read it, I learn so much.

KILLER ROUTINE is the first book in the Last Laff Mystery series, where my protagonist is a stand-up comic.

Despite the protagonist’s profession and the setting (the series takes place in and around a comedy club), the Last Laff books aren’t “funny” books. The emphasis is on mystery and suspense. But there are plenty of humorous situations and conversations—after all, these are comics I’m writing about. Most of the time, I found these parts (relatively) easy to write. On the other hand, the few scenes when a comic is on stage, delivering his routine, I found much more difficult to compose.

What was I thinking, writing about a comedian?

Going in, I didn’t realize how hard writing a stand-up routine is. (But now I know. Boy, do I know!) And it took me a while to figure out why, but I believe I have the answer. Think about the comedians you’ve seen perform. Each has a distinctive delivery style. A certain attitude. Their own sense of timing.

And that’s the problem. Those things—delivery style, attitude, timing—are extremely difficult to depict on the page. Those are things you need to see and hear, in order to fully appreciate.

To illustrate my point, I transcribed a short bit from a very well known comedian. No pauses, no goofy voices, no visual or auditory clues whatsoever. See how funny it strikes you. About halfway through, there’s a clue to the comedian’s identity. Once you know, I bet you imagine his style for the rest of the bit. And I also bet it will seem funnier. A whole lot funnier.

How many people have cats? Let me ask you this: Do you trust them? Because I’ve got to get a pair of cat handcuffs and I’ve got to get them right away. Just the little ones that go around the little front paws. Or maybe the manacles that get all four paws.

What a drag. I found out my cat was embezzling from me. You think you know a cat for ten years and he pulls something like this. Found out while I was away, he’d go out to the mailbox, pick up the checks, take them down to the bank and cash them, disguised as me. He had the little kitty arrow-through-the-head. And the little kitty bunny ears. And I wouldn’t have caught him but I went outside to his house where he sleeps and there was about three thousand dollars worth of cat toys out there. And you can’t return them because they have spit all over them. So now I’m stuck with three thousand dollars worth of cat toys. Oh sure, they’re fun. Got the little rubber mouse, has a bell inside of it. Ha ha ha. Boy, I hate it when it goes under the sofa. Whoa, gimme that, gimme that.

If you didn’t guess, this bit is from Steve Martin’s A Wild and Crazy Guy album (for all you non-geezers, an album is like a CD). And trust me, it’s pretty hilarious when he performs it live (judging by the audience’s reaction, as well as my own).

On paper, it just doesn’t have the same effect.

And that’s what I ran into when I tried to write a stand-up routine for the page, as opposed to having it performed in front of an audience.

So here’s what I did. I intentionally made the routine bad, and had my character (not the protagonist) perform it at an open mic night (where the routines are a little less, um, polished). My less-than-stellar routine fit right in. You see, I have no trouble whatsoever writing bad comedy routines.

One of these days, though, I’m going to have to write a really funny bit. Wish me luck!

The first book in Alan Orloff’s Last Laff Mystery series, KILLER ROUTINE, is now available, at your favorite booksellers and on-line. His debut mystery, DIAMONDS FOR THE DEAD, came out last April and was nominated for the Best First Novel Agatha Award. For more information about Alan and his books, please visit

Thanks so much for your visit, Alan, and for sharing what it's really like to try to be funny and write a great mystery at the same time. I had no idea of the work it takes. I don't have the humour DNA in me, so I admire your ability to integrate humour into what you write. Folks, do pay Alan a visit at his terrific blog, and check out Killer Routine, too!


  1. Great post. I'll have to check out Alan's work. It sounds intriguing. A comedy club would be a great setting.

    I write funny mysteries, too, and have run into similar problems to the one Alan talks about. I've got these great one liners and when I read the stuff out loud, I get huge laughs. But it must not come across the same way on the page. Most agents say they don't like humor at all. Others say things like, "It almost seems as if you're trying to be funny here." Ouch.

  2. Anne - Ouch, indeed! My sympathies! And I heartily encourage you to check out Alan's work: he's quite talented. I admire your ability to write humour; I know I couldn't do it. You're right, too; there is a big difference between the timing and pace and so on that you need for writing spoken comedy and sort of writing you do for written comic scenes. I wish I could do that...

  3. Anne - Writing funny stuff is hard work. I think it's much easier to kill people (on paper, that is!).

    Margot - Thanks for the kind words, Professor! You're so right, timing is key.

  4. Congratulations on your official release, Alan!

    I've never thought about how hard writing stand-up would be! You're right--there's just such an important element in the delivery of it.

    My humor is a lot more slapstick and situational, which is a lot easier to write. :)

  5. I'm suffering from writer envy - a stand up comedian as protagnoist - awesome. Can't wait to check out Alan's books. Thanks Margo for the post.

  6. So many books to read, so little time! Alan, you're on my TBR.

  7. Elizabeth - Thanks! I'm not sure any humor is easy to write--so much depends on the subjective tastes of the readers (more so, I think, than suspense).

    Diane - Thanks for the enthusiasm! Can you come to all my signings?

    Clarissa - Thanks for your interest! Good question. I keep looking an Amazon every day for the Kindle release. Hopefully soon!

  8. Margot, thank you for hosting such interesting guest :)

    I have written humour of various kinds for years, but stand-up comedy? Wouldn´t even try it. So I think writing a bad performance was a brilliant idea :D

  9. Thanks, Everyone, for stopping in today!!

    Alan - Thanks much for doing my job for me ;-) and for being such a terrific guest! :-)

  10. Thanks for hosting Alan, Margot - two of my favourite writers in one blog! WIN!!

    My humour seems to seep unintentionally into my manuscripts and I'm fine with that. I like the idea of giving my readers a small break from the mystery. However, I've never written a comedy routine and that idea terrifies me. As the veteran of acting in many, many comedies on the stage, I can confirm comedy is much funnier out-loud than lying flat on the page.

  11. I like to think my books will elicit the occasional smile from a reader, but I could NEVER write humor. My sense of humor tends toward the sarcastic, and that doesn't translate well on the page.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  12. Dorte - When I'm being polite, sometimes I use the word "interesting." Et tu, Dorte?

    Elspeth - You're so nice! Don't actors say doing the funny is hardest of all?

    Terry - You don't know until you try!

    Margot - Thanks so much for having me as a guest. As always, I enjoy visiting your blog tremendously! You're an excellent hostess!

  13. Alan, congratulations on the release of your book. When you think comedy, you just think it's going to be funny in print or in person. But you make a good point with the skit by Steve Martin. It does have a lot to do with how the comedian delivers it. Wishing you much success with your new series.

    Margot, great interview. Thanks for hosting Alan.

    Thoughts in Progress

  14. Alan: perhaps, but I also use it when I mean it.