The Steven Wright Guide to
Content Marketing

Steven Wright

I went to a restaurant that serves “breakfast at any time”. So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance. ~Steven Wright

Comedian Steven Wright is often credited with launching an entirely new genre of stand-up comedy. His dead pan, monotone delivery of clever and kooky one-liners is always with a straight face, and no one had seen anything like that before he burst on the comedy scene in the 80s.

You might assume that Wright’s style is a concocted stage persona, but the truth is a bit more interesting. Wright delivered his jokes that way when he first started simply because (a) that’s the way he speaks, and (b) he was trying to get the words out right.

According to Wright:

In my early sets I would have a straight face because I was scared of being onstage and I was trying to remember my act so I was just concentrating seriously on saying the material the right way. And when you do something serious, that’s just how you look.

In other words, content matters.

Here are five of Steven Wright’s wisecracks that contain wisdom for content marketers:

“Ambition is a poor excuse for not having enough sense to be lazy.”

You’ve heard all the blogging nonsense… post every day, post five times a week, post twice a week, but always on the same two days. Bah.

Post when you’ve got something interesting to say. Post when you have content that furthers the aims of your business. Post when you’ve got something that will go viral and bring you tons of links and new subscribers. Most of all, post something of value to your intended audience.

Or don’t post.

“To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.”

If you’re staring out the window waiting for a great new idea, I’m afraid you might be in for a content dry spell. Great ideas come from discovering new perspectives in your field of expertise, and making new connections with concepts and ideas outside your subject area.

Dig deeper than everyone else for a fresh angle. Broaden your perspective by immersing yourself in the ideas of people you don’t agree with. Read more fiction, subscribe to unrelated RSS feeds, go watch a comedy show.

How else are you going to notice the cowbell?

“Everyone has a photographic memory. Some just don’t have film.”

My guess is you’re noticing interesting connections and potential hooks several times a day, but you’re just not getting them down on paper for later use. “Sitting down to write” is the last part of the process… the ideas have to come first.

Here’s what Wright says about it:

Whenever anyone wakes up in the morning till when you go to sleep, like a thousand pieces of information go past you. Like, you’re going to get coffee, you read something on a bulletin board, you have a conversation with someone who says a word, or you hear some concept and just some of those things just jump out to me as jokes. I can’t sit down at a desk and write jokes. They come from me reacting to my surroundings.

Unless your memory is exceptional, don’t let your best content ideas slip away during the course of the day. Preserve them in a way that works for you.

“Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it.”

To be an effective content marketer, you’ve got to try new things. Not everything will work as well as you might hope, but if you don’t try unique new things, you’re doomed to wannabe land. The key is to try things out, and pay careful attention to what works and what doesn’t. Your audience will tell you.

Don’t get attached to a certain tactic or approach if the audience doesn’t respond. Wright, like all comedians, tries out new material on stage. His rule is that if a new joke fails to get a laugh three times, it’s gone—no matter how funny he thinks it is.

I don’t think it’s wrong; it’s just that they don’t agree. They being the audience. They’re like a bunch of editors and they don’t know it.

“The problem with the gene pool is that there is no lifeguard.”

Content marketing within the realm of social media is extremely powerful, but it does have a downside. Any time people are involved, there’s room for ugliness and stupidity.

Whether it’s the hateful little boys from Digg, or comment spammers, or clueless types who don’t bother to read your content carefully before commenting, such is the life of the content marketer. Don’t let it get to you… its all part of the game.

At the end of the day, you’re building an asset with your content. With that perspective, it’s easy to ignore the flotsam in the gene pool.

Finally…

Remember that you produce content for a reason, not for its own sake. You’re doing a lot of hard work as a content marketer, and it’s easy to get distracted by the ancillary aspects of blogging (like trying to impress your peers instead of speaking to your prospects). Your content is designed to promote you or your business… all the other stuff is just excess baggage.

Or as Wright says:

You can’t have everything. Where would you put it?

About the Author: Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger, CEO of Copyblogger Media, and Editor-in-Chief of Entreproducer. Get more from Brian on Google+.

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Comments

  1. Brilliant article!

    I agree with you on the notion that great blog articles aren’t the result of sitting down at your desk and staring out the window. For me, it is little tidbits that come together over the course of a couple of days. Often times those tidbits will hit me when I’m in a grocery store, in line at starbucks, sitting on the beach, or reading my twitter feed.

    Rather than forget these tidbits or carry around a yellow notebook pad with me everywhere, I use the the todo list feature in my crackberry to connect the dots as they enter my brain. When I sit down at my desk to write an article, I open up my todo list app on my blackberry and the dots connect from there.

    Bh.

  2. Every single one of those lines is genius. Added together, the prove one thing without a doubt: Steven Wright new how to author good copy.

  3. This reads like the “whatever I happened to watch this weekend” guide to coming up with content.

  4. Brian…great post. The most important line is this one

    “Remember that you produce content for a reason, not for its own sake.”

    So many individuals and businesses forget that there is a purpose behind the content they create. There is a behavior that needs to be maintained or altered. Many content marketers forget this point after they begin executing their content marketing plan.

    Keep up the great work!
    Joe

  5. How could I pass up the chance to comment on an article about Steven Wright?

    Well-put arguments Brian, using an interesting connection to a medium (stand-up comedy) that probably hasn’t been delved for copy blogging.

    And about the “Stealing from one, stealing from many” line–Isn’t that really the truth? Even Shakespeare, brilliant as he was, had much of his success from revising and refining material that was already out there, including many of the “classics” like King Lear and Hamlet. Was Shakespeare any less of a genius because he couldn’t come up with an “original” idea? No, it was his ability to draw connections between his material and the audiences.

  6. “I installed a skylight in my apartment…The people who live above me are furious! “~ Steven Wright

    I always liked his ability to think outside the frame.

  7. Nice tips, Brian. The world around us is full of inspiration if we are smart enough to notice it.

    And, as Steve said above, how could I miss a chance to comment about Steven Wright?

    Here are some clips from his Official Site for those who don’t know Steven Wright’s comedy: http://www.stevenwright.com/clips/index.html

  8. Great article, I agree. But look a bit further back in time and you will find Pat Paulson, the Steven Wright of the 60s and 70s….

  9. I can’t stand commenting on blogs! Stop writing such fantastic content. ;-) This article was not only hilarious but it’s right on.

    I’m totally guilty of falling into the “blog every day” crowd even if I can’t think of a decent thing to say.

    Good reminder. Thanks.

  10. “Post when you’ve got something interesting to say. Post when you have content that forwards the aims of your business. Post when you’ve got something that will go viral and bring you tons of links and new subscribers. Most of all, post something of value to your intended audience.

    Or don’t post.”

    The truth of this is infinite.

  11. Experience is something you don’t get until just after you need it

    This couldn’t be more accurate, specially in the blogging business. Sometimes I wonder how would it be if I knew when I started what I know know.

  12. “Post when you’ve got something interesting to say.”

    Yes. That alone will eliminate a lot of excessive content as well as blogging-performance stress.

    “You’re doing a lot of hard work as a content marketer, and it’s easy to get distracted by the ancillary aspects of blogging (like trying to impress your peers instead of speaking to your prospects).”

    Like the observation about posting, this one about why one posts at all cuts right to the point. If you’re trying to achieve something, focusing on your prospects over your peers is common sense.

    The blogosphere sometimes engages in groupthink against common sense.

    But, the truth is always there, waiting to smash in on our comfortable delusions.

  13. Great job. One of the reasons I haven’t typed my first post is that my boss/friend suggested I post a series of blogs to get noticed quicker on the searches.

    Knowing that I had the ideas (but, not the content written) for the first three. I have kept myself waiting for the “flow” to begin before I get it done.

    Two weeks have almost passed. Today, I will work on content and what I want to say and not worry about the time, flow, post, etc. Spyders be da**ed (at least for now).

  14. I love Stephen Wright so much. A happy search through Google turned up “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese,” which is pretty damned good advice actually. And “Dancing is a perpendicular expression of a horizontal desire” which is just poetry.

    David Sedaris works very much the same way, he takes compulsive notes throughout the day, and then works them up. (Hopefully with a bit of a spin, but maybe that really is his life.)

    It’s really an artist’s way of doing things. I think it makes life much richer, to capture and take note of all the glorious strangeness as it parades past.

  15. the world needs more stephen wright’s

  16. “The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”

    I tweeted that one last week, and almost included it in this post. Can you spot the content marketing lesson in that one? :-)

  17. “To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism; to steal from many is research.”

    Funniest thing I’ve heard.

  18. Brian Clark,

    “Learn from the mistakes of others. You can’t live long enough to make them all yourself”

    I think it was Roosevelt who said that.

  19. great work! with compose this article around the comedic wisdom of Steven Wright

  20. Wow…powerful stuff, even from a comedian. I must say that we sure can learn a thing or more from people in all kinds of profession!

    Great article!

  21. Dang good post.

    Now where’d I lose that dang cowbell …

  22. Brian,

    Great post. Steven Wright is a superb observer of pretty much everything, why not content marketing? I saw him in about 1988 at college, and that’s still the best comedy show I’ve ever been to. I love your connections.

    A couple more that I was reminded of:

    “I like to reminisce with people I don’t know.” Yeah, that’s blog writing.

    “If it’s a penny for your thoughts and you put in your two cents worth, then someone, somewhere is making a penny.”

    My 2¢…

    Regards,

    Kelly

  23. I loved this article. One of your best, in my opinion.

  24. This was a great post, you gave a lot of advice that really hit home. This post has come at a perfect time in my blogging career (just starting to blog more frequently) I will try to put it into practice.

  25. Now I don’t feel so crazy anymore! And the best is that connecting the unexpected is like playing a quirky, fun game, revealing the jazz of the mundane.

    A stellar post, merci!

  26. Here’s one about knowing your audience:

    “In Vegas, I got into a long argument with the man at the roulette wheel over what I considered to be an odd number. ”

    Hilarious and true!

    I love the shift away from the “regular posting” — I’m just working on my own post about that now. Regularity has its place, but I think you are right Brian: post for the content’s sake, not the post’s sake.

    ~Graham

  27. I wish I lived next door to Steven Wright…I think. Fav routines for me are about no 5 on his phone and the 55 mi. per hour speed limit..useless because he didn’t plan to be out that long. My kids turned me on to him and we play thinking like that often.

    I appreciate and embrace the wisdom about ‘regular posting’…readers get bored with sawdust and don’t tune in for the gems.

  28. Yesterday we announced that we’re slowing down with our posting. We want to post good stuff all the time and that means taking the time to write the good stuff.

    Not only that, all our readers breathed a sigh of relief that they can finally relax, read and enjoy instead of trying to catch up.

    Thanks for confirming that we took the right choice, Brian.

  29. Yes, yes, yes. I can’t agree more. Only post content on your blog when you have something valuable for your audience. It’s far better to publish one link-worthy blog post a week – than 10 tweet-like posts that don’t add any benefits to your readers. Great post, Brian!

  30. All of these ring true not just to blogging or internet marketing but any endeavor worth undertaking, its often very funny to listen to the wisdom of a comedian like wright and wonder why he isn’t being quoted in business schools.

  31. Great post! So many great points… and I love this kind of comedy. Mitch Hedberg, who died of a drug overdose three (?) years ago did comedy like this and it was hilarious!

    I’ve just started my blog and I’ve fallen into the whole “well, I’ve gotta blog because it’s Tuesday” thing a little bit… I need to realize that, though I am doing it to keep myself accountable more than anything else, if I want people to read, then I need to write things people will want to read!!

  32. WHERE’S MY TUESDAY BLOG ENTRY ?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  33. You caught that, huh? Never let it be said we don’t walk the talk around here. :-)

  34. I appreciate the comedy metaphor, but you can’t conclude that because Steven Wright has a deadpan delivery, standup comedy is *all* about the content.

    Standup is about content, delivery, and timing. Deadpan delivery is a style of delivery, no matter how Steven Wright claims he discovered it. Other comedians used the same style of delivery (Emo Philips and Rita Rudner come to mind). And without timing, even the most well-written comedy will likely fall flat.

    If it was all about content, you’d howl with laughter when reading a transcript of one of Wright’s standup performances. If you tried that, you’d probably chuckle here and there, but it wouldn’t be anything like actually being there. Even watching it on TV wouldn’t be the same as being there, because in addition to content, delivery, and timing, you also have the added variable of environment. You’re more apt to find something uproariously funny if you’re in a room full of other people who are laughing. That’s why they invented canned laughter for TV.

    If environment wasn’t a factor, then a comedian wouldn’t do a great show in Cleveland on Friday night, and then bomb in Dallas on Saturday night.

    I’m just saying…

  35. I do like listening to Steven Wright. It is interesting how you made the connection between him and blogging. :)

  36. Marc, I didn’t conclude that it was all about the content and not about delivery. If I thought that, why would I have a blog about copywriting, which is all about delivery? :-)

    I concluded that for *Wright* is was all about the content as a segueway into an article about content marketing. Sorry if that was confusing, but you took me way more literally than I intended.

  37. I updated the post to make that clearer.

  38. Again you are teaching creativity, leveraging some engaging research.

    “Great ideas come from discovering new perspectives in your field of expertise, and making new connections with concepts and ideas outside your subject area.”

    What I hear you saying is that great ideas come in response to experiences. What a blessing that we can stand on the shoulders of giants and not have to create everything from scratch every time–just respond in the moment. I too believe that’s where creativity lives.

  39. Great post!

    It’s all about providing value. That is the reason why some people are successful as getting traffic through blog posting and others fail to do so.

    Actually the latter doesn’t provide any contribution or value to the entire community and it’s telling on their blog posts.

  40. Your feed is constantly being bookmarked by me, and I only discovered you two weeks ago.

    You sir, are Gold, pure Gold!

  41. “We just tried to write something funny and go out and say it. That’s how I think and this is how I talk…” ~Steven Wright

    Maybe we’re only supposed to attract the market that’s naturally attracted to us in the nude.
    Of we can grow and tweak our voice.
    But trying skyrocket off the direction of the day inevitably ditches readers who should have been core audience.

  42. I’m really just getting started in the blog buisness, and those are some really helpful tips! Don’t want to sound arogant but seems like I’m already doing a good job.

  43. Great post. Big fan of Wrights from way back when he started. Very useful material. Thank you.

  44. So I’m really late to the party.

    Anyway, I feel like stamping this on about half of the posts I (attempt) to read every day:

    “Great ideas come from discovering new perspectives in your field of expertise, and making new connections with concepts and ideas outside your subject area.”

    …because too much of the time it’s the same old shlock.

    Thanks for re-posting this on Twitter. It made my night.

    -Andrew