A funny thing happened on the way to the newspaper

Comedian Rachel Berger: "Know yourself." (Photo: Supplied)

What do a stand-up comedian and a journalist have in common? Nope, the joke is not a joke – the two jobs are more alike than they might first seem.

Both are about storytelling and one of Australia’s sharpest comedians, Rachel Berger, shared her secrets with the audience at the Launceston Freelance Festival, held on Zoom.

If she had to pick her number one piece of advice, it’d be authenticity.

“Find your own voice. Knowing your authentic self is your most powerful tool,” says Berger.

Easier said than done? Ms Berger has a wide range of creative tools to share with the audience: “Finding your voice starts by looking into your own story.

“Keep a diary of things you remember from your own childhood. No one can take that away from you.”

Try to be as sharp as possible, she says:  “Write down everything you remember. Every tiny element matters. Even the way something smelled, or the funny way your uncle walks.”

Because storytelling – doesn’t matter if it’s a gag or a news feature – is about details. Ms Berger encourages journalists to sharpen their observation skills:

“Make a list of things you find funny, even if there’s no explanation for it. Whatever gives you the shits, will hit a spot.”

Misfortune and fear are also drivers for comedy or any other story, Ms Berger adds.

Any writer knows the struggle of a lack of inspiration. So does the comedian: “Leave whatever you’re doing and go for a walk. All the material is there, it just needs to be played around with. It’s like putting furniture in an empty room.”

Inspiration comes from confidence, she adds: “You just have to trust that you can do it. Inspiration is the belief that you can do it.”

It’s like finding your singing voice. The more you sing, the better you become. “If you think something is funny or important – go for it.”

Think simple and clear.

“Don’t try to be too clever,” she says. “The audience has to be with you. Timing is hard to teach but is important. Even a long pause can be funny.”

Some more advice for writers: “Be bold and relevant. People need to recognise what you’re talking about. Paint your picture as clear as possible.”

So, what’s something to avoid according to the comedian? Never be predictable, keep a surprise for the end.

“If your audience can see your punchline or ending coming, then you’ve lost them from the start.”