11 January 2020

Crime Fiction and Comedy.

In addition to publishing short form humor, Bill Rodgers writes action-filled thrillers with an element of mystery. His initial foray into crime fiction, Killer Set: Drop the Mic, a Bullet Book, debuted in Fall 2019. Bill has written for Jay Leno for over twenty years, and his material has been used in Jay’s monologues and comedy routines around the world. Bill’s writing has taken many other forms, including sitcom scripts, stage plays, and action-comedy screenplays.


by Bill Rodgers

Writing comedy and writing crime fiction share a number of common elements, though they may be used in different ways. Two interesting elements are voice and the release of tension.

When writing jokes for Jay Leno, I write in Jay’s voice. I write the way Jay talks - the way he delivers. I write on topics Jay likes to use in his act. I use the same attitude Jay exudes while performing.

Recently, I co-authored my first crime fiction book with Manning Wolfe. Killer Set: Drop the Mic, is the story of a road comic, Beau Maxwell, who travels the country performing his standup comedy. While in Boston, he’s accused of murdering the comedy club owner where he is headlining. Although the main character is a comedian, he has to navigate through serious and sometimes dangerous circumstances. It was a challenge to develop a voice for Beau that allowed him to be both funny and fearful when in danger.

The idea of comic relief has been around since the beginning of storytelling and involves the buildup and release of tension. A comedian develops the setup of a joke, leading the audience or reader along a certain direction, building interest or tension along the way. Then he takes a sharp and unexpected turn for the punchline. The release of tension results in a laugh.

In crime fiction, the story carries the reader along as conflict and tension build. This tension can be released in a number of ways. There could be a fight, either verbal or physical. Or murder, which then leads to more conflict.

There could be an escape, or a surprise revelation. Sometimes, conflict in crime fiction can be released with humor. Turns out, Beau is a bit of a smartass, which allowed us to use humor to release conflict before starting to re-build it – akin to riding a roller coaster – up and down. I hope you find time to read Killer Set: Drop the Mic soon, and that you enjoy the ride!


  1. Best wishes for Killer Set. I suspect that your mastery of comic timing and pacing will stand you in good stead with writing mysteries- or indeed any other fiction.

  2. Bill, welcome to SleuthSayers.

    I like to employ comedy in some of my short story series, but then most cops use comedy to to see the funnier side of situations they find on the street. And, there are definitely some hail-damaged people wading in the street side of the gene pool.

  3. Hi Bill! Write standup for comedians in the 90s, and had a syndicated column. These days, I write comic capers for Orca Publishers, but occasionally I still do the speaker circuit, often the opening of conferences, as I did this past Monday. Nice to hear from a fellow humorist!

  4. Wow - something happened to the saving of that comment above. It should read, "I wrote standup for comedians..."

  5. Makes sense, although the comparison is new to me. I enjoy comedy, both reading and employing it in SleuthSayers articles, but I hadn't compared it to crime writing. Naturally funny guys in dangerous situations are going to feel fear, perhaps acutely.

    Good luck with the book. I look forward to it.

  6. Thank you for all of your comments.

    Janice: You're absolutely right about timing and pacing being important to both comedy and crime fiction.

    R. T.: I bet cops really do see a lot of situations in which comedy helps them navigate the otherwise serious nature of their daily experiences.

    Melodie: Who are some of the comedians for whom you wrote standup?

    Leigh: Funny guys in dangerous situations will definitely feel fear. Using humor in their response could lessen the tension, but it could also make things worse. From a writer's perspective, the latter case might be more useful to raise the stakes.

    Thanks again to everyone for your comments.


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