How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 2

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 1, I explained that the relationship between the setup and punch are always in opposition, by going from good to bad or bad to worse. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 2, I’ll explain the ingredients that go into makes an excellent joke setup.

Joke Premise Revisited

As I discussed in my articles, How to Write Jokes – Joke Premise Parts 1, 2 and 3, the premise is the fountainhead mechanism for writing jokes. So this is where we’ll start for learning how to write setups.

Joke Premise: a negative opinion about a subject.

The premise forces you to define the subject of your jokes and the pejorative judgment you’re taking on that subject. Once you have this, you can begin to search for opposite ideas that’ll help you misdirect the audience.

Writing Setups

Setups have very specific functions which must be accomplished. To understand these functions, let’s begin with my definition of the setup:

Setup: what the comic says or does which creates a false expectation.

Most people mistakenly believe the most important part of a joke is the punch because that’s where they get the laugh. This is not true. As discussed earlier, the punch cannot come as a surprise unless the audience is expecting something else first.

False expectation: to believe the setup’s bogus 1st story

The main function of the setup is to get the audience to expect something else first. This is accomplished through misdirection. Without a setup that misdirects to a false expectation, you won’t know how to surprise with the punch.

Misdirection: to mislead for the purpose of deception.

Misdirection is achieved through some ambiguity in the setup. The setup establishes an expected meaning of the ambiguity, and then the punch can reveal the unexpected meaning of that same ambiguity.

Ambiguity: an obscure or double meaning.

For instance, this joke by Karen Ripley:

Setup: “I went shopping for feminine protection.”

The misdirection in this setup is created by the ambiguous phrase, “feminine protection” with the expected meaning – female condoms or diaphragm.

Punch: “I decided on a thirty-eight revolver.”

Then the punch surprises with the unexpected meaning – a gun.

Ambiguity is not to be mistaken for making puns. When the ambiguity is in the setup the multiple meaning becomes a misdirection devise. But, when the ambiguity is in the punch, the joke becomes a pun because it ends with a wordplay, which almost always receives a groan.

In my next article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 3, I’ll demonstrate how to use ambiguity to create setups that misdirection to a false expectation.


• Check out my DVD “How to Be a Stand-Up Comedian.” You can buy it through my website.

• I am creating a crowd funding campaign to raise money to complete my web based joke writing course Interactive Joke Writing. Soon I’ll have a demo available at

• I smoke a Camacho triple maduro cigar while writing this blog. It was great.

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Greg Dean

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About the author

Founder of Greg Dean's Stand Up Comedy Classes Los Angeles Santa Monica.