A comedian’s set book is like an athlete’s playbook; a singer’s songbook; a painter’s sketchbook. My Set Book began as hand-written notes on index cards, then in marble notebooks, then on loose leaf, and today is a 200 plus-page Word document (with a 26-page table of contents) that when printed on double-sided, three-hole punched paper goes to live in My Big Red Binder. A Samuel Taylor Coleridge quote on the cover says:
“People of humor are always in some degree people of genius.”
My Set Book contains the jokes I’m doing now (my set), new material I’m working on (grouped thematically to enhance pattern recognition), random ideas to be developed (alphabetized by key word), and old ideas that I’ve tired of, outgrown, are in need of rethinking, or – clutch the pearls – deleting. It all goes in the book and I periodically print it out because seeing it on paper is different than seeing it on a computer screen. I then edit, tweak, and write new material using different colored pens in red, blue, black, green, and purple ink. Because I went to Catholic School and can’t help myself, the red pen is for corrections. Blue and black are for notes and the longhand development of new ideas. Green indicates material to be moved and paired with other ideas. Purple is just because.
And in case you’re wondering, I like my pens like I like my men: big and bold. When I write it’s with a strong, heavy hand. I like making a physical impression on the paper. It’s like the real world manifestation of the force and weight of what I’m thinking. So no, a fine point pen just doesn’t do it for me. But I abstain from the writing versus typing debate. I am equally comfortable doing both. I guess that makes me ambi-technical. Why do I have to choose? Why does anybody? The only choice should be using whatever works best for you. And so through the magic of The Cloud my digital Set Book is always with me and yet, there are times when toting around My Big Red Binder and its retinue of pens feels right too.
I’m a big proponent of making technology serve the art. I record all my shows, sometimes video but always audio. Every one. Every time. Why? Why not? I didn’t name my iPhone Mama’s Little Tax Deduction for nothing. The note pad app is the cocktail napkin that will never be accidentally thrown away. Dictation is the butterfly net that captures the ephemeral notions born in my brain and later birthed into bits, blogs, books, whatever. They’ll let me know what they want to be when they grow up. When an idea presents itself all it wants from you, initially, is to say:
“Yes, I see you.”
Then you feed and nurture it with your time and attention. Technology is just a tool to help you do that.
I used to feel self-conscious about my Set Book. Even though other comedians were often complimentary I suspected that I was being judged and maybe even mocked for my methods. Until one day I realized that I didn’t care. Everybody’s creative process is different. Mine has evolved over time. It works for me and that’s all that matters.
What works for you?