How to Write Jokes

How to Avoid Getting Groans with Puns

From punny to funny.

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Puns have been used since ancient times, in the Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and of course, Shakespeare. Clever use of language has always been a major source of entertainment and humor. Puns may be useful for annoying your friends, but in professional comedy will invariably produce groans. That’s probably because a good joke, like a good magic trick, is only effective if the audience doesn’t see how it’s done. No form of joke displays its inner workings more overtly than a pun. To make matters worse, someone doing a pun always seems to be saying, “Hey, look how clever I am with words.” This blog will focus on the use of puns in jokes, particularly one-liners, and how to avoid getting groans, instead of laughs. Here are a few pointers: • Put the Pun Word or Phrase in the



Sometimes a Sight Gag is Better

I'll show you mine if you show me yours.

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Sometimes seeing it is funnier than hearing it. This goes along with the adage, “Show don't tell.” Showing or acting out something is almost always stronger than telling them about it. For example, a student of mine, Alan Bockal, does this joke: “So look for me at your local freeway off-ramp. I’ll be the one holding the sign that says: Married a Jewish Girl - Will Work for Sex.” Alan could have just said that joke, but it works much better when he stands there holding the sign like a homeless person on a freeway off-ramp. Comedian and food fan Kevin James has an entire routine about how tiny a Geo Metro feels when he sits in it. He could, of course, just tell the audience that the car fits like a jacket, but instead he pretends to be in the car, holding a steering wheel that ap



Localize Your Material

Joke references that make the audience think you care.

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It’s important to have material that travels. The technique to localize can help you take jokes or bits and tailor them to different geographical areas and use known people to make them more relatable. It’s very simple and effective. First go through your material and make note of all the references to cities, landmarks, hotels, stores, bars, restaurants or politicians, crime bosses, and so forth. When you get to the club, get the local paper or ask someone at the club for ideas so you can fill these in with regional references. This can really improve the response you’ll receive. Here are several examples, if you have a joke that involves a restaurant, learn the name of a well-known local eatery. Then instead of saying, “I was at this restaurant the other day . . . ,” you can say, “I went to Ho



Write Short Jokes

I could have written Write Concise Jokes, but it was longer.

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In this blog, Write Short Jokes, I’ll discuss the importance of keeping jokes, especially one-liner, short and to the point. As Shakespeare wrote, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Nothing kills a good joke more certainly than smothering it with an avalanche of unnecessary words and information. I talked a little about this subject when you were first learning to write a punch. Here is an excellent example from my own experience as a teacher of joke writing. A student of mine, Terry R. Jackson, brought a very funny but overwritten joke into class. “I just went through a long and messy separation, which ended in a divorce from my wife. So, after all that, I went on a vacation to Denmark because I was having a sex change. The sex change was from not very often to nothing at all.” T



2 Specialty Tips for Writing Jokes

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Writing jokes is the grunt work of being a funny person. Anything that helps make it easier is always useful. Here are two tips for writing jokes: Calendar Day Jokes Writing jokes and bits for all of the important calendar dates such as Christmas, Halloween, Secretary’s Day, Black History Month, etc. is a very helpful tip for building a repertoire of material. For instance, Will Durst, who lives in the Bay Area, can always call on this joke: “In San Francisco, Halloween is redundant.” An Mexican born student, Maria G. Martinez, studied with me for several years, so every Christmas she’s pull out this ditty: “Here in America, you have so many Santa Clauses. But in Mexico we have no Santa Claus - they are all here looking



How to Kill a Laugh – Part 2 (No Joke)

Is bad joke writing technique making you the air brakes of comedy?

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In my previous blog, How to Kill a Laugh - Part 1, I defined the joke reveal and showed the importance of placing it at the end of every joke’s punch. In this blog, How to Kill a Laugh - Part 2, I’ll describe two ways punches get screw up and how to fix them. Unnecessary words are said after the joke reveal. Talking past the reveal is one of the most common and irritating errors. Two issues here: one, a nervous funny person adds mindless prattle beyond where the joke gets a laugh. Solution: Shut up when the audience is laughing. Second, the joke is badly written with superfluous words added past the punch’s reveal. Here’s an example written by a gay student,



How to Kill a Laugh – Part 1

Stop interrupting my comedy routine with you damn laughter.

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Results of How to Kill a Laugh One night at the Comedy Store in Hollywood, I watched a comic, I’ll call “Biff,” train an audience to stop laughing. In the beginning, the audience laughed as his jokes. The problem was he didn’t know what part of the punch was causing the laugher. So when the audience laughed, to finish saying what he’d written, he’d shout over the top of the audience’s laughter. This is basically saying to an audience, “Stop Interrupting my comedy routine with your damn laughter.” Since the audience still wanted to hear what Biff had to say, they quickly learned to be quiet. Around the tenth joke, the audience had been trained to stop laughing altogether. They were still smiling and enjoying his show. But Biff wasn’t ge



How to Write Jokes – Joke Premise Part 2

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In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Premise Part 1, I defined the joke premise for its specific use in stand-up comedy as a negative opinion about a subject.  In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Premise Part 2, I’ll explore the difference between a premise and the jokes, and how to change from one premise to the next. The Difference between the Premise and the Jokes First, let me give you a dictionary definition of premise: a statement used to develop a further argument. This definition affirms how the joke premise is used in stand-up comedy. The premise is the statement of the negative opinion about a subject; and the argument is expressed through the jokes that follow. For instance, Chris Rock’s joke premise: women cannot go backwards in lifestyle. Rock states this premise several times at the top of the bit, and then proceeds to do a series of jokes to develop his argument. Here’s one:



How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 4 – How to Write Punch Lines

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In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 3, I showed how to write setups that misdirect. In this article, How to Write Jokes - Joke Writing Part 4 - How to Write Punch Lines, I’ll cover how assumptions open the door to the ideas for your punch lines. Now that you have some setups, you’ll want to write punch lines for these setups. Remember, jokes go from good to bad or bad to worse, therefore the setups need to be more positive than the punch lines. Here are two example setups for which we will find punch lines: Setup (good): “Post workers are actually very efficient...” Setup (bad) “My post person delivers my letters to my neighbors.” To get the idea for the punch lines, notice what is the most obvious assumption suggested by each setup. This assumption will be your target assumption for that setup. Later, the target assumption will be targeted by



How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 3

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In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 2, I explained the ingredients that construct joke setups. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 3, I’ll discuss the two styles of setups. To write setups, you must first know the subject you’re going to write about and what position you’re taking on that subject. This is where the joke premise comes into play. The joke premise was thoroughly covered in How to Write Jokes – Joke Premises Parts 1, 2, and 3. First define your premise: (a negative opinion about a subject.) For instance, this premise: postal workers are incompetent. Once you know what your subject is and your judgment about it, you can begin to search for ideas for setups that misdirect. Create Misdirection As shown in How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 2, misdirection is the function of a setup and this is accomplished t



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