Joke Writing Techniques: Be Cautious Of What You Find Online

01 Jun

caution1From time to time, I do a search online for topics or subjects that may be of interest to comedians.

I did that for the term “joke writing techniques” and here are some things I found based on the information provided in a few of the top search engine listings on Google:

One of the things I found that I agree with is that mechanisms or processes that generate laughter are the same in a stand-up comedy act or when laughter is generated during a speech or presentation.

I also agree that the audience needs to be able to understand what you are talking about in your comedy material. Otherwise, they won’t get the “joke” when the punchline is delivered.

Where I have issues with information provided about joke writing techniques is when it is academically factual, yet actually has no usable value.

Here’s an example:

In one resource the author describes a punchline as needing an unexpected twist (also known as the element of surprise).

Factually, this correct. But how is one to generate this unexpected twist? Are they to dream it up? Is it a product of some sort of “writing” process? How does an individual’s unique sense of humor play into developing this unexpected twist?

The reality is that there’s no usable information in simply identifying the fact that jokes need to have an unexpected twist or element of surprise.

That’s like saying that a car needs to have a functioning engine. While factual and accurate, it doesn’t give anyone a clue how to build or repair an engine to make it functional.

Sometimes information provided appears to be factual but is actually unintentionally inaccurate (or potentially misleading) to some degree.

In another resource, the recommendation by the author was to make sure that set-up lines are no more than one to two sentences long (referring to a stand-up comedy routine).

Here’s the problem with that advice:

Given the fact that there are 60 seconds in a minute and a comedian needs to be able to set-up and deliver an average of 4-6+ punchlines per minute in order to “kill” an audience…

How long do the sentences need to be? Does it matter? Are there any guidelines?

I will be so bold to say that 1-2 sentences then a punchline that are written the way most people are taught to write (which is designed to read) won’t usually allow a comedian to deliver 3 punchlines, much less 4-6+ punchlines in any given performing minute.

Note: There is a significant difference between “written word” sentence structures and verbally communicated sentence structures which incorporate more than just words in the delivery of stand-up comedy material that will actually generate the laughter frequency that comedians are striving for (and that will get them recognized for bigger and better performing opportunities).

Related Article: Long Set-ups Are A Common Issue With New Comedians

Here are the important points that I want to make:

An individual’s sense of humor is not only complex, but is also unique to each person based on a number of important factors — factors that should be considered in the development of a high level stand-up comedy act.

Factual or general observations about processes that create laughter usually have little to nothing to offer on how a person can actually use or apply that information on an individual basis to get the laughter results they want – whether it be in stand-up comedy or in a speech or presentation.

So if you find information online about “joke writing techniques” that looks valuable and promising, yet you can’t seem to make it work to get the laughs you want no matter how hard you try, now you should have a good idea why.

Related Lesson: The Truth About Set-up Lines And Punchlines

1 Comment

Posted by on June 1, 2013 in How To Do Comedy


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One response to “Joke Writing Techniques: Be Cautious Of What You Find Online

  1. Chris B.

    June 2, 2013 at 1:25 am

    I took a beginning 10 week course from an experienced comedian before I got stuck into stand-up as a hobby. The twist and the length of the set up were also suggested in the course. I think the advice doesn’t work for an experienced comedian and isn’t correct overall, but I think it’s a helpful start for someone trying to begin to understand the mechanics of stand-up comedy. You have to learn to crawl before you learn to walk. Apparently. Still, enjoyed your blog because it’s always great to question this advice and why/why we should not follow it.


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