How to Write Jokes

How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 4

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 3, I revealed that when an audience hears a setup, they imagine a 1st story in their minds based on making assumptions. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 4, I show how one particular assumption creates the misdirection of the setup. Target Assumption In every setup, there’s one particular assumption I call the target assumption. What sets the target assumption apart from the other assumptions that create the 1st story is that it fulfills two criteria. 1. The target assumption is the key assumption on which the 1st story is built. Of all the assumptions you must make to imagine a story, one key assumption gives the 1st story its specific meaning. That is to say, if you don’t make that key or target assumption, you’ll imagine a very different story than the one required to make the joke work. Take this old joke for example: “I



How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 3

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 2, I showed how every joke has two stories imagined in the audiences mind by making assumptions. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 3, I’ll reveal the role of assumptions in joke structure. What Exactly Is an Assumption? I’m sorry, I assumed you knew. An assumption can be any thought based on taking something for granted, presupposing, conjecturing, presuming, forecasting, projecting onto, theorizing about, speculating upon, or accepting that something is as it’s always been. If that doesn’t help, here’s my definition of assumption: Everything you imagine exists, but aren’t directly perceiving in the present is an assumption. “That’s deep,” you might think. But it’s true. Anything you currently cannot see, hear, feel, taste, or smell exists only as an assumption. The chances are that it does



How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 2

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 1, I covered how the setup creates expectation and the punch reveals surprise. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 2, I’ll dig deeper into joke structure to show how jokes work by having two different storylines. Deep Joke Structure You now know that the setup and punch create expectation and surprise, but how do they do that? The answer came to me when I read a magazine article entitled “Jokes,” (Psychology Today, October 1985) Victor Raskin offered a “script-based semantic theory of humor,” which proposes that a sentence joke has two scripts. However, because it’s a semantic theory, dealing only with words and their implications, its application to physical and nonverbal comedy was limited. So I altered Raskin’s term from script to story, which made it possible for me t



How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 1

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes - Joke Premise Part 3, I wrote about the joke premise and its relationship to the comic voice. In this article, How to Write Jokes - Joke Structure Part 1, I'll uncover the first layers of joke structure to show how setup and punch create expectation and surprise. Joke Structure What is a joke? Funny you should ask. Most people would define a joke as something someone says or does that makes others laugh. That statement, though true, doesn’t really tell us what a joke is. It just describes the desired effect. What about jokes that get a huge laugh in one situation and a roar of silence in another? If a joke doesn’t get a laugh, does it suddenly stop being a joke? Interestingly enough, people usually recognize a joke whether it makes them laugh or not. Why? Because there is some consistent, intrinsic structure that everyone identifies as a joke. Until now, no one has presented



How to Write Jokes – Joke Premise Part 3

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Premise Part 2, I explored the difference between a joke premise and the jokes it generates, and how to change from one premise to another. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Premise Part 3, I’ll discuss the joke premise and the comic voice. The Comic Voice Let’s begin with my definition of the comic voice: the internal voice that says what you’re really thinking. • That Internal Voice Is the Real You Since there is no one to offend, internally we all speak our honest thoughts and opinions without reservation. But, if we spoke those internal judgments outwardly all the time…no one would want to be around us. You'd be like some homeless people who talk out loud and scream angry things and argue with people who aren’t there. We all have that homeless person hiding and yelling in the b



How to Write Jokes – Joke Premise Part 1

In my previous article, “How to Write Jokes – Association List,” I showed you how to use the association list to generate many ideas and details for your topic. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Premise Part 1, I’ll define and discuss how to use the association list to create joke premises. Comedians talk about the joke premise all the time, but if you ask one to define it, they hem and haw and end up telling you one of their premises as an example. It strikes me as funny that an important technique such as the joke premise for how to write jokes has no clear definition and no one agrees on what it is. So, I’ll give you my definition the joke premise: a negative opinion about a subject A premise is not a topic. A topic is broad. The function of the premise is to narrow down the topic into more specific subjects. I can’t write jokes about the topic, “family,” because there are no details. But I can write jokes fr



How to Write Jokes – Association List

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Topic, I defined a topic and discussed how the jokes are in the details. In this article, How to Write Jokes - Association List, I'll  show how to use a list to uncover all of the topic's details to learn how to write jokes. The function of the association list is to take a broad topic and help you explore and compile the details related to the context of your topic. When beginning students have difficulty learning how to write jokes, it’s usually because they’re attempting to find jokes within some broad, general category. As soon as they dig into details, they find a wealth of ideas for how to write jokes. Let me define association list – a method to assemble related ideas and details. Making lists has been a primary tool of how to write jokes for centuries. The more details you list, the more subjects you’ll have for joke premises. Also, when detailed information is fed into a c



How to Write Jokes – Topic

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes - Introduction, I the importance of identifying and define the major terms and techniques of how to write jokes. In this article, How to Write Jokes - Topic, I’ll define the topic and discuss its role in how to write jokes. If you’re starting from nothing, the realization that you can write jokes about everything can be overwhelming. Therefore, narrowing your ideas from generalities to specific details is the primary function of all joke writing methods. The reason for this is that you cannot know how to write jokes about generalities. The jokes are in the details. The topic is the generality, and then it’s the function of list making and the joke premise, etc., to dissect your broad topic into details so you can then know how to write jokes. Topic: Single Category with Something Wrong There are two parts to this definition, “Single Category” and “Something Wrong.” Let’s go over t



How to Write Jokes – Introduction

In this article, How to Write Jokes - Introduction, I'll discuss the importance of defining all the terms to make it easier for you to learn how to write jokes. Every working stand-up comedian has been asked this question by someone – “Where do you get the ideas for your material?” The answer, of course, is “my life.” I say that because I don’t know anything about your life. There’s an old writing adage that says “Write what you know.” And, really, if you think about it, what else can you write? As a comedian you have one incredibly precious thing that no one else in the entire world has - your own perspective. That’s why I strongly urge you to know how to write jokes about your world as you perceive it, and the things that interest you and your own opinions and feelings. Tell your truth. Whether the audience agrees with you is not an issue. Many artists, from Picasso to Chris Rock, have expressed points of view that ran cou



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