Ethos Logos Pathos – Comedy Writing blog inspired by 9yo student

Ethos Logos Pathos in Comedy Writing. Comedy / Creative writing is much more than jokes. Great story telling is an art with technique.


A nine year old student from my Sunday class on Long Island did routine about humans over use of glass – basically an argument for sand conservation. In a nut shell:

You sit and observe the world through glass, meanwhile sunbathers suffer. JUST GO OUT SIDE PEOPLE!

While this sounds ridiculous, it has the basis of a very strong argument. This kid made me think about Logos, Ethos and Pathos and how it can help our comedy writing.

Normally these concepts pop up daily as I rip apart political debate. It’s bad enough politicians and their hack representatives on the news shows often outright lie, but their debate technique and story telling is flawed. Their arguments lack logic, empathy, inspiration, proof, ethics etc. As a result they ALL lack my trust. They require masses of blind followers to not question their logic to succeed. Unfortunately they too often get this result far to easily. I digress… lol

Comedy writing and presenting is often a form of debate. Great entertainment also makes us think. Laughter as the only goal can fall short. If the joke does not get a laugh, what have we got?

Ethos Logos Pathos in Comedy Writing

Writing needs structure. As artists of any kind we will defy logic and reason but without understanding the rules we break we will lose a foot in reality. Without any grounding in reality we lose our audience. With any debate or comedy routine, do you pass the test of logos, pathos, and/or ethos?

LOGOS – Structure and Logic

For structure I teach the magic three – Great for comedy, great for book reports. With every list, think in three. With every argument, have at least three supporting facts to back up your statements. Less than three and your arguments fall short, unjustified. More than three and you risk loosing your audience. Humans have been conditioned to this rule since Greek times, perhaps before.  Magic three creates a familiar timing and rhythm to our comedy.

The nine year old only mentioned the Sun Bathers as victim of over use of sand in glass production. I suggested he needed a second and third to make the argument stick. WHO ELSE NEEDS SAND? Who buries their eggs their? We did not even get to the dessert dwellers. What if our over use of glass destroys the ability for turtles and birds to lay their eggs. Species go extinct. The food chain collapses. The world comes to an end. ALL BECAUSE WE WON’T GET OFF OUR BUTTS and experience the world beyond the pane.

Creativity often defies logic. Many funny stories require purposefully going against the logical outcome. Many Sci-fi/Fantasy/Horror writers will invent alternate logic to discover alternate realities where space and time work differently.

No matter how much we defy logic, we recognize the logic we defy. Most times, however, we are not in opposition to conventional logic, we merely expand our understanding, adding a few twists for comedic effect.

My nine year old student was ridiculous in his ANTI GLASS routine however for the most part made some good points, no matter how exaggerated. It may not be logical to stop using Glass in construction, but the the argument follows the logic of other conservation movements. “Why not use plastic?” Satire by definition creates analogies.

ETHOS – Credibility, Trust

Almost weekly a student or two will make an argument with data that is out right false. Not because they are trying to lie. They just lack certain knowledge as kids and teens. They are heart broken at times when I tell them that is just not factually correct. They were so excited about their arguments based on a false premise.

That same nine year old made a totally untrue statement while comparing plastic to glass. There were two or three good points but then things went a stray. I forget the specifics as I focus on the positive. What ever it was, I double checked my facts via google before sharing my note to the student. I merely told the student to do a little research and dig a little deeper and brainstorm a few more ideas.

Similarly a lot of students will be lazy with details. I personally struggle with this. With google at our finger tips 24 hours/day this is totally unnecessary and unforgivable. Too much set-up and detail will lose us. Less is more but total lack of  details is worse.

Great arguments and comedy can debate the relevance and interpretation of a facts, but your audience often knows when the fact is out right false. We stretch the truth with a wink and a nudge but we have a factual launching point.

Emails via friends and family from both political camps share talking points, stories and regurgitated ideas. Although often stirred in the moment, I am a hopeless skeptic. Almost every story in my social media feed or emails these days is outright false. Ethically I cannot share this with my 1000s of friends and followers of Facebook , Twitter and other platforms. Sadly millions out there are just lazy. I debunk 95% in seconds with a simple google search. Sadly truth and ethics are lost arts in American Politics. Millions perpetuate this problem – most out of ignorance, some with very purposeful intent. It is intellectually lazy and, to me, criminal, to be part of this. Again I digress…

As a comedian, do the homework.  Check your facts. Comedy can invent arguments by manipulating perception, interpretation and emotional responses but if the facts are outright false you will lose a portion of your audience. Do a little research. Double check your data. We do not have the same responsibilities a journalist, per se, but the ethics of reports area  good guide line.

Reporters report. Artists Interpret. Both have a duty to double triple check the facts. We lose the trust of our audience when we mess with the truth. Creatives have the ability to create alternative realities, giving us far more range of fictional stories.  In the real world, and routines reacting to reality, alternative facts are simply lies.

Lose the trust of your audience, lose any chance at laughs. Push comfort zones but don’t violate trust.

PATHOS – Emotion and Values

This nine year old sold his routine by filling “JUST GO OUTSIDE, PEOPLE!” with tons of emotional power and value judgement. Once again the thought was ridiculous but grounded.

Logic and Ethics are easy – easier to analyse, easier to push limits and easier to recognize when broken.

Emotions and Values are where many split. Lack of PATHOS is simply boring. Strong PATHOS choices are destined to alienate someone. We are into a far more subjective territory.

Again with a political analogy, we can agree that a certain number of illegal immigrants live in America, and a certain number enter and/or leave the country every year. Our upbringing, values and emotions will determine how we interpret the data. Folks still fudge the facts too often but now we can have actual debate. We can use emotion and values to persuade folks to our side. In a perfect world we will have empathy to the opponents’ arguments. We eventually compromise on a solution that works for all on some level. This is how things are supposed to work. No more digressing…

My nine year old made the argument sound legit. He sounded no different then trying to eliminate.

As you right and perform your routines make choices. Try out different emotions. If you are playing a character, tap into their emotional center and values. Dig deep. PATHOS requires more internal research and development.

The public relies too heavily on others to tell them how to feel and what to believe. Far to many listen without thought. They accept what they hear and adopt another’s beliefs and values.

We all do this as children, relying on parents to tell us what is right and wrong. Then we all get to a certain age and begin to interpret the world on our own. Some grow up quicker than others. Some never question the things they have learned. Some question too much, lacking the ability to trust or accept anything.

An artist has to develop their own. Discovering yourself as an artist will require find your own way of thinking and interpreting the world. You thoughts will be original, no matter how similar they seem to another’s thoughts. Your style will become your own, within a category of style.

I tell students often, you are allowed to totally throw out what I teach if it makes sense and you sell it. PATHOS includes having a certain passion for your work and words. You have trust in yourself and your message.

WARNING: Technique helps us develop as artists but can make our performances rigid. Leave technique in the classroom and preparation stages. As you struggle to work out a routine, see if it passes the tests of LOGO – ETHOS – PATHOS. But never worry about these as you speak in front of people. Techniques help us find ourselves and our moments, but focusing on technique in a performance takes us out of the moment. TRUST your training and experience and just do!

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