How To Write A Joke
By Fran Capo
January, 2006, 19:34
|Writing jokes for delivery to an audience waiting with baited breath is 1, 2, punch!|
"One Hollywood producer was so impressed with the money made by the Ten Commandments, he hired a team of writers to come up with 10 more."
We've heard jokes all our lives. A joke has a certain element that makes us laugh. Comics, like bras, come in many brands and sizes, not all of them fit your particular style. But all of them have the same basic elements. Jokes follow a format, and to be a good joke teller it is important to be armed with the formula.
Comedy 101. A joke consists of three parts, a setup, pause and punchline. The punchline usually has a surprise ending, and if told right will create laughter from the audience. How do you know if a joke works? If they laugh... it works. But how do you know if a joke is going to work? That's the trick.
These are tried and true methods that have been passed down from the days of the court jester. Sure today we substitute President for King, but in the end it's the same. Luckily, if our jokes fail, we are not put to death, at least not literally.
A joke must be specific. Using the names of people in the audience, or in the hierarchy of a corporation (clearing it first with the bigwigs) at one of their gigs, will go a long way to make the joke seem personal and real. Use familiar places: I just got in from LaGuardia Airport, or driving on the Santa Monica Highway, (and boy are my legs tired… ).
A joke must have an element of surprise or shock. A predictable joke is not funny. That's why people don't laugh when they hear the same joke over and over again.
Ti-ti-timing is as crucial as a joke’s content. The timing of a joke can either make or break it. You do the setup... pause... then deliver the punchline. Too short a pause and you don't allow the necessary beat for the audience to be set up. Too long a pause and you can drive a bus through it and kill the atmosphere.
It may seem like a hard concept to master. It's like when you're pregnant, and you ask the doctor, "How will I know when the baby is ready to come out?" He smiles and says, "Believe me, you'll know."
Hear the rhythm in the jokes of your favorite comedians. Comedians all have a certain patter. Tell jokes and experiment with the timing to see how it changes the laughter. Trust your instincts. You will soon develop your own natural delivery and sense of timing.
Keep in mind too that victimless jokes don’t exist. No such animal. Make sure your target is a big guy, like a boss or the government. Picking on the underdog will only stir up sympathy for your target. A lot of comedians choose themselves as the target, like the legendary American stand-up Rodney Dangerfield. He immortalized a phrase about how he "gets no respect," and made himself the victim in his own jokes.
Make sure that the audience knows what you are talking about. This is crucial in the setup of the joke. You don't want to have to pass out Monarch cheat notes for a joke. Don't use technical jargon or abbreviations unless you are sure they will get it. Get it.
A joke should create a certain amount of tension. You want the audience to be waiting with baited breath for the punchline, not mouthing it as you say it or whispering the punchline to their friend.
A joke should be short and to the point. Cut out the needless words. Give enough information to set up the punchline, not to recreate War And Peace. Too much and the audience gets lost in the detail and it throws off the timing.
On that note, that's enough for one sitting. Next time you hear a joke listen for all these elements. Learn to observe the process of humor. Don't overdo it of course, or you will catch the comic syndrome. The comic syndrome occurs from hearing too many of the same jokes.
You can get jaded, and soon the syndrome takes over. Then when you hear a funny joke, instead of laughing you sit, chuckle briefly and comment, "that's funneee!"
Until next time, be yourself and have a good time...
Fran Capo is a freelance writer, stand-up comic, adventurer, keynote motivational speaker, and nine-time author. Using the principles from her books, How To Get Publicity Without A Publicist and Humor In Speaking, she has been on over 1350 radio and television shows combined, including: Entertainment Tonight, The Weakest Link, Fox News Live and TRL. She is also the Guinness Book Of World Records Fastest Talking Female. http://www.francapo.com