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 getting the laughs he thought he deserved so he accused the crowd of being a bad audience. Now, even the smiles went away.
The audience was now saying back to Biff, “Fine, we’ll stop interrupting your comedy show with our unappreciated laughter.” This is not what you want to teach your audience.
This was the result of Biff not knowing the concept of placing a joke’s reveal at the end of the punch. Within every punch there’s a pivotal word, phrase, or action that reveals the surprise to the audience and fires off the joke. For obvious reason, I named this mechanism the reveal.
Biff had unwittingly placed all of his reveals in the middle of his punches. So when the audience laughed, he’d shout over the laughter to finish his joke. The irony is he was a good joke writer, with the exception of where he placed his reveals. This wasn’t a matter of talent, but rather a matter of bad joke writing technique.
This mistake has an obvious and easy solution: identify every joke’s reveal and place it at the end of every punch. The reveal determines when the audience laughs. It also signals the comic to take a pause and wait for the laugher.
In my next blog, How to Kill a Laugh – Part 2, I’ll explain the two mistakes comedians and comedy writers make when writing the reveals in their punches.