In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 5, I defined the reinterpretation and its place in joke structure. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 6, I’ll discuss how to recognize or invent reinterpretations.
Where Do Reinterpretations Come From?
First, you must understand that everything has many possible alternative interpretations or meanings. Any interpretation or meaning other than the one assumed based on the setup, is a reinterpretation. For instance, I’ve seen several comics do the sight gag of pretending to be on a beach, and then use the microphone stand as if it’s a metal detector. The target assumption is that the pole with the round thing on the end is for holding a microphone; and the reinterpretation is that the pole with the round thing on the end is a metal detector.
Reinterpretations come from the kind of mind that notices what is assumed, and then uncovers an unexpected interpretation or meaning for that target assumption. To do this, joke writers must be able to interpret the same thing in least two ways.
Two Ways for Two Ways
There are only two fundamental ways to create a reinterpretation for a target assumption. They are to recognize reinterpretations and to invent reinterpretations. I’ll cover these one at a time:
With recognized reinterpretations the alternative meaning already exists in the collective common knowledge of a culture. For instance, words can have accepted multiple meanings, as with this joke:
“I went to my doctor for shingles – he sold me aluminum siding.”
Notice how the word shingles has two different meanings. The assumed interpretation that shingles means a skin condition is the target assumption; the unexpected interpretation that shingles means house covering is the reinterpretation. Since shingles has two established meanings in our lexicon, the process of discovering an unexpected meaning is to simply recognize the existing alternative and then write a punch for it.
The other way of creating reinterpretations is to invent ones that don’t already exist. Inventing reinterpretations is more complex because the alternative meaning must be invented in the mind of the joke writer. This is possible because the target assumption gives us a clue from which to invent a reinterpretation. For instance, this joke:
“My grandfather died a peaceful death, he died in his sleep. Of course, the kids on his bus were screaming.”
The target assumption that he fell asleep and died in his bed, gives us the clue of a location. To invent a reinterpretation for this target assumption the joke writer must invent another location where he could fall asleep and die. In this case, he fell asleep and died while driving a bus full of kids.
Invented reinterpretations require the joke writer to be more creative because the alternative interpretation must be thought up; whereas the recognized reinterpretation requires the joke writer to recall an alternative meaning. Both are legitimate ways of creating reinterpretations for writing jokes.
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