“Stand-Up Comedy and Writing”
A REVIEW OF ALEX BERNSTEIN’S PLRKNIB
Is stand-up comedy a good training ground for becoming a writer?
The question comes up after reading Alex Bernstein’s new memoir, Plrknib. Plrknib is about Alex’s days as a 17 year-old stand-up comic at a comedy club in Cincinnati, Ohio. One gets the impression this is an experience Alex had to write about. It’s a necessary prelude to his becoming a writer.
The book is a primer on stand-up– or at least, a great introduction to it. Despite this, the narrative is insightful more than humorous. Bernstein cautions the reader about this at the outset. Jokes aplenty are scattered throughout the pages, but he makes clear that the effectiveness of a joke depends on the delivery. On how it’s told, the confidence behind it. Confidence communicated to the audience.
(Has Jay Leno ever– ever– told a truly funny joke? Leno is adept at selling a joke, with his big grin and big jaw, hand slapping into the other when the joke’s finished as his eyes scan the audience for confirmation.)
Like a comedian’s joke, Plrknib is the kind of narrative you fight against when you start reading it, but it pulls you along despite yourself. Like most of Bernstein’s writing, it’s irresistibly absorbing. Where is this book heading, you ask? What does “plrknib” mean? You’re skeptical, but you continue reading.
The connection is made: good stand-up operates on the same principle as good writing. The first task is to keep the listener listening. The reader, reading. Alex Bernstein does this in his writing with hooks, but most of all with clarity of style. His voice is infectiously engaging. The effectiveness of any narrative depends on its delivery.
Which doesn’t limit Bernstein to stand-up routines, but sets a foundation for studies of situations and character. In Plrknib Alex Bernstein’s lead character– himself– finds himself again and again in real situations. The kind with which we can all identify.
This is the real punchline.
(Buy Plrknib here.)