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 from a premise because a premise contains a detail.
Let’s break down the elements of the joke premise.
A Negative Opinion
What do I mean by negative opinion? Well by, negative I mean bad, adverse, undesirable, harmful, objectionable, and many more synonyms I could get from my thesaurus. We express what we consider wrong by identifying the exact negative aspect.
And by opinion I just mean judgment. We gather information about the negative aspects of a subject and form in our minds as an opinion. The opinion will determine how we express our views … positive or negative. In the case of comedy, we address negative opinions because positive things don’t need to be made funny.
The subject is that detail we were just talking about. Not subjects…subject. Singular. One detail. Too many so-called premises have multiple subjects because the comic is trying to cover too much. At the center of every great book, song, movie, dance, art work, etc. is a single idea. Knowing how to write jokes is no exception.
A singular subject forces you to make a clear choice on what you’re going to write jokes about. The jokes are in the details, so the more specific the subject the more specific will be the jokes.
Where do you get these details for the subject? The association list is entirely made up of details related to your topic that you can use as the subject of the premise. If each premise contains a subject from the association list, then you can know how to write joke for an entire routine based on the same topic with multiple premises about it.
Put these all together and you will select a specific subject and focus on a specific negative opinion and create a joke premise.
Here are some examples of well devised joke premises:
Louis CK does a routine that starts with: Kids are assholes.
Tim Allen’s famous routine: Men are Pigs.
Chris Rock: Women won’t take a step down in lifestyle.
Bill Hicks’ bit: Non-smokers are self-righteous.
Many times the comedian will state the premise outright. For instance, Chris Rock repeats his premise three or four times at the top of a bit to make sure the audience gets it. Whereas one-liner comics’ premises are not often stated, but are implied by the joke that expresses it. Whether stated or implied, all funny people used joke premises.
Now that you know a premise is simply a negative opinion about a subject, you’ll begin to see the premises in stand-up comedy routines. And understand when the premise is unclear why some routines seem to flounder.
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The joke premise is a very complex mechanism that has important routine structure implications, deep psychological effects on the audience, defines the comic voice and much more. Therefore, I’ll discuss these additional ideas in my next article, “How to Write Jokes – Joke Premise Part 2.” Stay tuned.
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