How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 3

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 2, I explained the ingredients that construct joke setups. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 3, I’ll discuss the two styles of setups.

To write setups, you must first know the subject you’re going to write about and what position you’re taking on that subject. This is where the joke premise comes into play. The joke premise was thoroughly covered in How to Write Jokes – Joke Premises Parts 1, 2, and 3.

First define your premise: (a negative opinion about a subject.)

For instance, this premise: postal workers are incompetent.

Once you know what your subject is and your judgment about it, you can begin to search for ideas for setups that misdirect.

Create Misdirection

As shown in How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 2, misdirection is the function of a setup and this is accomplished through ambiguity. Therefore, a setup must have what I call a target assumption based on an ambiguity. You’re looking for an idea that can be taken more than one way.

Two Styles of Setups

From How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 1, I showed how setups and punches have two distinct patterns.

Good to Bad

To create something good, you must write setups as something positive. For instance, based on the premise, postal workers are incompetent, you’ll want to write setups about the things postal workers do correctly or should do correctly. The challenge is that the ideas for these setups aren’t your real opinion. Remember, the setups need to misdirect, so later the punches can express your real negative opinion about this subject. For instance these setups:

“They put in hours of overtime…” 

“When I get to the window, the clerk smiles…”

“They are actually very efficient…”

Bad to Worse

With this style of setup, you’ll write setups about things that are bad, but can be exaggerated into something worse. These are a bit more tricky because there’s still an ambiguity that must be resolved. For instance, for our premise, postal workers are incompetent, you’ll write ideas about the things they do badly, but there still must be something that we can show how it can get worse. For instance these setups:

“My post person delivers my letters to my neighbor.”

“Postal workers kill other postal workers.”

“Postal workers cost tax payers money…”

In my next article, How to Write Jokes – Part 4, I’ll how assumptions open the door to the idea for a punch.


• I’m creating a campaign to raise money for my Interactive Joke Writing online course website

• Demo for Kickstarter Interactive Joke Writing site will be up soon. Check it out:

• Smoked an Ashton robusto while writing this blog. Always a good smoke.

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Greg Dean

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