Posts belonging to Category How to Write Jokes



How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 4 – How to Write Punch Lines

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 3, I showed how to write setups that misdirect. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 4 – How to Write Punch Lines, I’ll cover how assumptions open the door to the ideas for your punch lines.

Now that you have some setups, you’ll want to write punch lines for these setups. Remember, jokes go from good to bad or bad to worse, therefore the setups need to be more positive than the punch lines.

Here are two example setups for which we will find punch lines:

Setup (good): “Post workers are actually very efficient…”

Setup (bad) “My post person delivers my letters to my neighbors.”

To get the idea for the punch lines, notice what is the most obvious assumption suggested by each setup. This assumption will be your target assumption for that setup. Later, the target assumption will be targeted by your punch lines and shown to be wrong. Here are some examples of target assumptions:

Setup (good): “Post workers are actually very efficient…”

Target Assumption: They are efficient at handling the mail.

And.

Setup (bad) “My post person delivers my letters to my neighbors.”

Target Assumption: The neighbors are within a few houses or blocks of your house.

Next, you need to recognize what in the setup caused you to make the target assumption. This will be your connector and will be in the form of who, what, when, where, why, or how. For instance:

Setup (good): “Post workers are actually very efficient…”

Target Assumption: They are efficient at handling the mail.

Connector: What the post workers are efficient at.

And.

Setup (bad) “My post person delivers my letters to my neighbors.”

Target Assumption: The neighbors are within a few houses or blocks of your house.

Connector: Where the neighbors are.

Now identify or invent an unexpected interpretation of the connector which will be your reinterpretation. The reinterpretation will be your idea for the punch lines. You must keep the target assumption and reinterpretation consistent. Which is to say, if the target assumption is a what, then the reinterpretation also needs to be a what.  A who for a who; a where for a where, and so forth. Follow the progression below:

Setup (good): “Post workers are actually very efficient…”

Target Assumption: They are efficient at handling the mail.

Connector: What the post workers are efficient at.

 

What else could the postal workers be efficient with?

Reinterpretation: Guns.

And.

Setup (bad) “My post person delivers my letters to my neighbors.”

Assumption: The neighbors are located within a few houses or blocks of where you live.

Connector: Where the neighbor are.

 

Where is a neighbor that is not within a few houses or blocks?

Reinterpretation: a neighboring country like Canada or Mexico.

Now you can write punch lines using the idea of the reinterpretations. You may need to add a little information to the reinterpretation so the punch lines clearly expresses it, but remember that punch lines are short. So don’t overwrite it. Here are the examples again, now with punch lines:

Setup (good): “Post workers are actually very efficient…”

Target Assumption: They are efficient at handling the mail.

Connector: What the post workers are efficient at.

What else could the postal workers be efficient with?

Reinterpretation: Guns.

 

Punch (bad): “With guns.”

Joke: “Post workers are actually very efficient…with guns.”

And.

Setup (bad) “My post person delivers my letters to my neighbors.”

Assumption: The neighbors are located within a few houses or blocks of where you live.

Connector: Where the neighbor are.

Where is a neighbor that is not within a few houses or blocks?

Reinterpretation: a neighboring country like Canada or Mexico.

 

Punch (worse): “In Mexico.”

Joke: “My post person delivers my letters to my neighbors…in Mexico.”

Here’s the interesting thing: these punch lines are examples of the joke premise: postal workers are incompetent. This isn’t something you have to think about because it should happen naturally by using the joke mechanisms of target assumption, connector, and reinterpretation. This process makes the illogic of jokes logically understandable. Now you can write jokes at will.

BTW

• My advanced stand-up comedy classes have a showcase at the Comedy Store in Hollywood on Wed. March 20th. Join us.

• Free Comedy Class Monday April 1st. stand-upcomedy.com

• I didn’t smoke a cigar while writing this blog.

Live to Laugh,

Greg Dean

Stand Up Comedy Classes#gregdeancomedy@gregdeancomedyYelp ReviewsYouTube

 

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.

BTW

• I’m creating a Kickstarter.com 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: ijokewriting.com

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

Live to Laugh,

Greg Dean

Stand Up Comedy Classes#gregdeancomedy@gregdeancomedyYelp ReviewsLinkedInYouTube

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.

BTW

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

• I am creating a Kickstarter.com 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 ijokewriting.com.

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

Live to Laugh,

Greg Dean

Stand Up Comedy Classes#gregdeancomedy@gregdeancomedyYelp ReviewsLinkedInYouTube

 

 

How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 1

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 7, I defined the central mechanism of joke structure, the connector. In this article, How to Write Jokes - Jokes Writing Part 1, I’ll discuss the opposite relationship between the setup and the punch.

Setup and Punch

As discussed in, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 2, the function of the setup and 1st story is to create a false expectation and then the punch and 2nd story can reveal a surprise. To do this, these two stories must be in opposition.

Opposite – Directly or By Degree

Charlie Chaplin said it a long time ago: “Comedy is two opposite ideas that collide.” This is true even today. In general terms, setups and punches are opposite either directly in the form of: good to bad; or by degree in the form of bad to worse.

Good to Bad

A joke based on the pattern of good to bad is directly opposite because the setup is about something good, and the punch is about something bad. To see how this works, take a look at this joke from Stephen King. That’s right, the famous author of horror novels has a wonderfully wicked sense of humor. The story goes that when asked by a journalist how he came up with such imaginative ideas for his stories, Mr. King answered:

“I still have the heart of a little boy. . . in a jar on my desk.”

To reveal the opposites, let’s break the joke down into its fundamental elements. In general terms, the setup is about the author having the playful, imaginative, and creative spirit of a little boy, which is good. Then the punch gives us an opposite view, the author keeping the actual physical heart of a little boy in a pickle jar on his writing desk. I think most people would consider that bad.

Bad to Worse

The other relationship between setup and punch is bad to worse which is less clear because it’s opposite by degree. To show you what I mean, here’s a joke from my student Derek McKusick:

“Being raised with five sisters can really warp your mind. I was sixteen before I realized I was fat and not just retaining water.”

In the setup, Derek is influenced so completely by his five sisters that he’s deluded into believing he isn’t fat when he actually is – which is bad. Then, in the punch, at sixteen he awakens to the fact that he really is fat and not just retaining water – which is worse.

Toward the More Negative

Whether your jokes go from good to bad or bad to worse, they’ll always be moving toward the more negative action or result. If you’re uncomfortable with this concept, get used to it because it’s a consistently useful technique that will come in handy whenever you’re writing jokes. For instance, if you have a setup and you’ve written several punches for it, the more negative punch will usually be the funniest.

In my next article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Writing Part 2, I’ll lay out the process of writing setups.

BTW

• Free Stand-Up Comedy Class in Hollywood – Thu. Oct. 11th 2012 – $50 Off Upcoming Beginner Workshop starting Thu. Oct. 18th. Get on the Confirmation List 323-464-4355 or gregdean@stand-upcomedy.com

• My wife, Gayla Johnson, is soon to appear on the sit-com Don’t Trust the B!+ch in Apt. 23.

• Smoked a CAO Mx2 while writing this blog. It has become my favorite cigar.

Live to Laugh,

Greg Dean

Stand Up Comedy Classes#gregdeancomedy@gregdeancomedyYelp ReviewsLinkedInYouTube – Students

 

How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 7

My previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 6, covered how reinterpretations are either recognized or invented. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 7, I’ll show how the target assumption and reinterpretation are two interpretations of the central mechanism, the connector.

Connector

At the center of joke structure is a third mechanism which I call the connector, defined as one thing interpreted in at least two ways. Interpreting the connector in one way provides the target assumption, and interpreting it in another supplies the reinterpretation.

Take this Emo Phillips joke, “One day I had an asthmatic attack. These three asthmatics jumped me.” The target assumption is that he had bout of wheezing and shortness of breath due to his asthma; the reinterpretation is that he actually got beat up by three guys who have asthma. The connector is the phase, “asthmatic attack.” It’s the one thing with two meanings.

In at Least Two Ways

Notice the definition of the connector includes “in at least two ways.” Connectors can have many possible interpretations; two is simply the minimum required to construct a joke. When a connector can be interpreted in several ways, it can result in a joke with several punches.

Any Thing

Since any thing can be a connector, the challenge is in recognizing it. Words lend themselves to multiple interpretations, so they make excellent connectors. For the joke, “I went to my doctor for shingles – he sold me aluminum siding.” The connector is the word “shingles,” because it’s the one thing interpreted as both a skin condition and house covering.

Objects make great connectors, for instance the microphone stand sight gag of being used as a metal detector, the connector is the shape of the mic stand because it can be used for holding a microphone and it resembles a metal detector.

Here’s an example from a silent movie comedy using only body language as a connector. Picture this scene: A wealthy drunkard in his parlor finds a note from his wife saying she’s left him and won’t return until he stops drinking. He turns away from the camera, and walks to a counter. He hangs his head, and his shoulders begin shaking up and down spasmodically. He’s sobbing, right? Crying his eyes out over losing her? Nope. He turns around, and we see he’s shaking up a drink in a martini mixer.

This is perfect joke structure using only body language with the connector being the shaking of his shoulders. That motion is the thing that causes the audience to make the target assumption that he’s crying. Then the shaking of his shoulders is reinterpreted and reveals that actually he’s mixing a drink. By the way, that scene is right out of a Charlie Chaplin film called The Idle Class.

I know you’re saying to yourself, “But it isn’t true for all jokes.”

These fundamentals about joke structure are the same for all jokes. It doesn’t matter whether the laugh emanates from the wit of a literary story, a clown’s pratfall, a remark in a situation comedy, a dirty joke, an accidental humorous irony, an off-handed comment at a party, a funny riddle, or a gag without an overt setup or punch the underlying structure is the same.

The challenge in recognizing these fundamentals is that there are so many joke format variations. The structure is often masked by the nature of the character performing the joke, hidden deep within cultural or national presuppositions, obscured by layers of implication, and disguised by individual styles of expression. But no matter the variation, the 1st story and target assumption, connector, 2nd story and reinterpretation are essential in constructing all jokes. In time, you’ll become more proficient at identifying them and a whole new universe of joke writing possibilities will open up to you.

BTW

• $50 Discount on Greg Dean’s Beginner Stand-Up Comedy Workshop – In Hollywood – Thur. Oct. 18th.

• I smoked an Onyx cigar while writing this blog. It was excellent.

• Advanced Stand-Up Comedy Showcase at the Comedy Store in Hollywood – Tue Oct 16th. A busy week.

Live to Laugh,

Greg Dean

Stand Up Comedy Classes#gregdeancomedy@gregdeancomedyYelp ReviewsLinkedInYouTube – Students

 

How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 6

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:

Recognize Reinterpretations

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.

Invent Reinterpretations

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.

*     *     *
In my next article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 7, I’ll cover the one thing at the center of all jokes on which the target assumption and the reinterpretation is based.

 

BTW

• Coming Soon Greg Dean’s Interactive Joke Writing website. This is the first and only step by step web based program which can teaching anyone to write jokes. Interactivejokewriting.com

• Now Available! Audio Book of Greg Dean’s Step By Step to Stand-Up Comedy. Audible.com

• Learn the Fundamentals of Stand-Up Comedy on my DVD – Greg Dean Inside the Stand-Up Studio. Amazon.com

 

Live to Laugh,

Greg Dean

Stand Up Comedy Classes#gregdeancomedy@gregdeancomedyYelp ReviewsLinkedInYouTube – Students

 

How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 5

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 4, I covered the setup mechanism of target assumption, which causes misdirection. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 5, I’ll define the punch’s mechanism, the reinterpretation, which reveals surprise.

 

Reinterpretation

We know that the setup creates an expectation when the audience builds a 1st story by making assumptions; the punch then shatters a key assumption (the target assumption) and reveals a 2nd story. The punch does this by presenting an unexpected interpretation of something in the setup. This unexpected interpretation I call the reinterpretation. The reinterpretation must adhere to two rules described below.

1. The reinterpretation is the idea upon which the punch’s 2nd story is based.

Just as the target assumption creates the 1st story, the reinterpretation creates the 2nd story. Take this joke for example:

“My grandfather died a peaceful death, he died in his sleep. But the kids on his bus were screaming.”

The reinterpretation is that he was sleeping at the wheel of a bus which is the basis for the 2nd story that the grandfather died in a bus wreck after falling asleep at the wheel causing the kids to scream. This, in turn, is communicated as the punch “But the kids on his bus were screaming.”

2. The reinterpretation reveals an unexpected interpretation of the same thing in the setup from which the target assumption is made.

Something within the setup causes the audience to make the target assumption. If you investigate the example joke, you’ll discover that where the grandfather fell asleep is the thing that caused us to make the target assumption he was sleeping in his bed, as well as the reinterpretation he was sleeping at the wheel of a bus.

These two interpretations of the same thing from the setup are imperative to making a joke work. When a punch presents a reinterpretation, the audience is confronted with an unexpected yet compatible interpretation of the thing within the setup. This makes them review their assumptions until they identify the one that is wrong, thus shattering that target assumption.

Shattering the target assumption with an unexpected reinterpretation is what creates surprise. When your joke shatters people’s assumptions, they laugh. Now we’re back to expectation and surprise. Only now you understand how the mechanisms of target assumption and reinterpretation cause them to happen.

 

Jokes with a Setup and a Punch

Jokes that have a setup and punch are easy to understand once you can recognize the mechanisms of the setup’s target assumption and the punch’s reinterpretation.  For instance, this joke:

“My wife is an excellent housekeeper. When we got divorced, she kept the house.”

The setup’s target assumption is that the wife is a good homemaker. Then the punch’s reinterpretation that the wife is a home taker, causes us to review the target assumption and realize that our assumption about the wife was wrong. This is classic joke structure with a setup and a punch.

 

Jokes with a Setup, but without a Punch

It may seem odd, but there are jokes that do not have an expressed punch. An example of this is the following joke where the setup leads to an obvious 2nd story, but there is no expressed punch.

“I went to this expensive restaurant that had a waiter for everything. The water waiter gave me water. The food waiter gave me food. The head waiter …”

How did you complete this joke? Me, too. The reinterpretation, about the customer receiving oral sex, is so strongly implied it doesn’t need to be said. The audience members supply the reinterpretation and 2nd story, which shatters the target assumption. However, because the joke allows the audience to infer the punch doesn’t mean the fundamentals of target assumption and reinterpretation don’t apply: They do.

Not all jokes have a setup and a punch. If you’re always looking for a setup and a punch, joke structure can be confusing, whereas all jokes have a target assumption and reinterpretation. If you want to understand and recognize jokes structure, examine jokes by searching for the target assumption and reinterpretation.

In my next article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 6, I’ll explain how reinterpretations are recognized or invented.

 

BTW

• Free Stand-Up Comedy Class – Thur. Aug. 23rd  In Hollywood  – $50 OFF Upcoming Beginner Workshop starting  Thur. Aug. 30th. (323) 464-4355

• Advanced Stand Up Comedy Workshop Showcase Wed. Sep. 5th @ the Hollywood Comedy Store – Bellyroom. 8pm – 10pm $10 cover 2 drink min. Come and enjoy the comedy starts of the future.

• Smoked another Rocky Patel cigar while writing this blog. They are always good.

 

Live to Laugh,

Greg Dean

Stand Up Comedy Classes#gregdeancomedy@gregdeancomedyYelp ReviewsLinkedInYouTube – Students

 

How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 4

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 3, I revealed that when an audience hears a setup, they imagine a 1st story in their minds based on making assumptions. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 4, I show how one particular assumption creates the misdirection of the setup.

 

Target Assumption

In every setup, there’s one particular assumption I call the target assumption. What sets the target assumption apart from the other assumptions that create the 1st story is that it fulfills two criteria.

1. The target assumption is the key assumption on which the 1st story is built.

Of all the assumptions you must make to imagine a story, one key assumption gives the 1st story its specific meaning. That is to say, if you don’t make that key or target assumption, you’ll imagine a very different story than the one required to make the joke work. Take this old joke for example:

“I had a mud pack facial done, and for three days my face looked much better. Then the mud fell off.”

The effectiveness of the setup hinges on your making the target assumption that the mud was taken off as part of the facial. Making that (key) target assumption led you to imagine a 1st story in which the mud pack facial gave the comic nicer looking skin for three days. Then the punch surprised you by revealing a very different 2nd story that the comic walked around for three days with a face covered with mud, which actually improved his or her looks.

2. The target assumption is the assumption made wrong by the punch.

Every joke with a setup is designed to manipulate an audience into imagining a bogus 1st story by making assumptions. The punch then reveals an unexpected 2nd story that surprises the audience by targeting one key assumption and making it wrong…that’s the target assumption. For instance, of all the assumptions you made about the setup, of the example joke, only the target assumption – the mud was taken off as part of the facial, was directly shattered by the punch – “Then the mud fell off.”

“Do all jokes have this target assumption?” you might ask.

 

Setups

Yes. Jokes only have a few basic structures. For this section, I like to discuss the two most relevant. One, jokes that have a setup and a punch. Two, jokes that do not have a stated setup, but have a punch. Let’s unpack these one at a time.

Jokes With Setups

This is the classic one-liner format. With these types of jokes, the setup misdirects by getting the audience to buy into the target assumptions as the meaning of the setup. Then the punch makes the target assumption wrong. For instance this joke by my student Terry L. Jackson:

“After my divorce, I had a sex change. From very seldom to not at all.”

The setup causes us to accept the target assumption that he had a change in sex organs. Then the punch surprises us with the unexpected alternative that he only had a change in sexual frequency. There’s more to this because the setup isn’t always as explicit as with a one-liner. The setup can be a character, situation, action and so forth. Jokes with setups always use a stated setup and punch.

“What about the funny comments that don’t have setups?” you ask.

Jokes Without Setups

There’s a whole class of jokes that have no stated setups. Strangely enough, they still have a target assumption, but there’s no need for a setup because the target assumption already resides in the minds of the audience.

Let me illustrate with something that actually happened to me. I was sitting in a Chinese restaurant late one night. It was a very authentic establishment, and most of the other patrons were Asian immigrants – many of whom spoke little or no English. They had a big screen TV on the wall and a Gallagher concert was starting.

Gallagher made his entrance riding a bicycle with square wheels, and everybody watching cracked up laughing. Regardless of language or cultural differences, everyone has already made the target assumption that bicycle wheels are round. Since this is universally accepted, there’s no need for a stated setup. To make a joke, all that was needed was a punch – in the form of a bicycle with square wheels - which shattered the existing target assumption.

Many jokes have target assumptions that everyone already accepts based on physical laws, societal biases, cultural and national presuppositions, accepted definitions, stereotypes, and familiar environments, just to name a few examples. On a daily basis, everyone makes tens of thousands of assumptions without realizing it. It’s these unconscious assumptions that are targeted by jokes without setups.

In my next article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 5, I’ll reveal how the punch shatters the target assumption with a reinterpretation.

 

BTW

• Free Stand Up Comedy Class – Thur. Aug. 23rd. $50 Discount on Upcoming Stand Up Comedy Workshop starting Thur. Aug. 30th. Take the Risk!

• Got the proof read version of my Workbook 2: Jokes – How to Improve and Routine back this week.

• Football is back!

 

Live to Laugh,

Greg Dean

Stand Up Comedy Classes#gregdeancomedy@gregdeancomedyYelp ReviewsLinkedInYouTube – Students

 

How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 3

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 2, I showed how every joke has two stories imagined in the audiences mind by making assumptions. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 3, I’ll reveal the role of assumptions in joke structure.

 

What Exactly Is an Assumption?

I’m sorry, I assumed you knew. An assumption can be any thought based on taking something for granted, presupposing, conjecturing, presuming, forecasting, projecting onto, theorizing about, speculating upon, or accepting that something is as it’s always been.

If that doesn’t help, here’s my definition of assumption: Everything you imagine exists, but aren’t directly perceiving in the present is an assumption.

“That’s deep,” you might think.

But it’s true. Anything you currently cannot see, hear, feel, taste, or smell exists only as an assumption. The chances are that it does exist, but since you have no direct evidence that it does, you’re making an assumption.

We do this because human beings, as a rule, have a profound need for things to make sense. If something doesn’t make sense, we’ll fill in the information so it will make sense and we do that by making assumptions based on our past experience.

“Do you have an example?”

Yes, take this article for example. You know it’s an article because of your past experience with other articles. Now, since your perspective or point of view limits the information your senses can experience directly, while you’re reading one page, you can’t see the other pages. This is a fancy way of saying, it’s impossible to experience everything all the time. If you could, you’d be God. Instead, what you have is a mental model of what this and other articles are like, you assume an unfinished paragraph will continue on the next page. You assume you’ll read the sentences from left to right. You assume the writing will continue to be in English. Usted asume todo sobre el artículo directamente no percibes, ahora mismo.

Doing this is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s absolutely necessary. Imagine a world without assumptions. You’d have to carefully test each step you took to make sure the floor would hold your weight. You’d have to peek behind everything to find out whether the backs were actually there. You’d have to look in a mirror to make sure you’re still human. You’d have to call the IRS every year to determine if they still wanted your money. Get the idea?

It’s the fact that our perspective limits the information we can experience directly, and that we fill in that remaining void with assumptions, which creates the expectation of believing we understand what was meant. This is how the setup misdirects the audience. Once the assumptions are accepted as true, then we can be surprised by something else. It’s this mental phenomenon that makes jokes possible.

In my next article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 4, I’ll show how assumptions open the door to writing jokes.

 

BTW

• I’ve just got the proofs back for my Workbook 1 – How to Write Jokes. It’s ready to be published. Next, is to get someone to design a book cover.

• I smoked a Rocky Patel cigar while writing this blog. Very good. I only get one a week.

• Free Comedy Class – In Hollywood CA – Thursday Aug. 23rd – $50 OFF the upcoming Beginner Stand-Up Comedy Workshop starting Thursday Aug. 30th. Come check it out.

 

Live to Laugh,

Greg Dean

Stand Up Comedy Classes#gregdeancomedy@gregdeancomedyYelp ReviewsLinkedInYouTube – Students

 

 

How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 2

In my previous article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 1, I covered how the setup creates expectation and the punch reveals surprise. In this article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 2, I’ll dig deeper into joke structure to show how jokes work by having two different storylines.

 

Deep Joke Structure

You now know that the setup and punch create expectation and surprise, but how do they do that? The answer came to me when I read a magazine article entitled “Jokes,” (Psychology Today, October 1985) Victor Raskin offered a “script-based semantic theory of humor,” which proposes that a sentence joke has two scripts.

However, because it’s a semantic theory, dealing only with words and their implications, its application to physical and nonverbal comedy was limited. So I altered Raskin’s term from script to story, which made it possible for me to apply this concept to all forms of humor, not just language-based jokes. Through Raskin’s insight I found the first piece of deep joke structure.

 

1st Story and 2nd Story

The setup of a joke creates an imagined 1st story in the minds of the audience. This 1st story leads the audience to believe this scenario to be what the comedian means and expects it to be true. Then the punch causes the audience to imagine a different 2nd story that is a surprise, yet compatible with the setup. For example, imagine a male comic, appearing to be completely grief-stricken, telling this joke:

(SADLY) “My wife just ran off with my best friend. Boy, do I miss him.”

 The setup creates a 1st story: A man is unhappy because he misses his wife. We expect that imagined story to continue along that theme, so we’re surprised when the punch reveals a 2nd story: A man is unhappy because he misses his buddy.

If a joke doesn’t have two story lines, it’s not a joke because there is no expectation and surprise. If a punch doesn’t reveal a 2nd story, then what you’ve got is a single story, but not a joke. For instance, this version:

(SADLY) “My wife just ran off with my best friend. Boy, do I miss her.”

 Not exactly a knee-slapper. This starts off as a story about a man missing his wife, and it ends up the same way. There’s no 2nd story, so there’s no surprise. And since there’s no surprise – there’s no joke.

 

Setup and 1st Story

I’m often asked, what’s the difference between the setup and the 1st story? These two elements fulfill very different functions within joke structure. As the first part of the joke, the setup is only the words and actions used by the comedian to get the audience to expect something. Nothing more. Whereas, based on the setup, the 1st story is the detailed scene imagined by the audience they expect to be true.

Let me illustrate this with this old standard joke:

“For forty years I’ve been married and in love with the same woman. If my wife ever finds out she’ll kill me.”

 When the comic says, “For forty years I’ve been married and in love with the same woman” that, and only that, is the setup. Then from hearing this setup the audience imagines a much more elaborate 1st story. Since it’s created in the minds of the audience, I can’t say exactly what the 1st story would be for any individual, so here’s my version:

1st story: This man is bragging about being deeply in love with his wife. In their forty years together they have built a rich and full life and were able to work out their differences and remain happy. He has never cheated on her and plans to be with her the rest of his life.

That’s more or less the 1st story most people would construct. As you can see, the 1st story has considerably more detail than the setup. So where does all that detail come from?

This 1st story has been built by making assumptions about the information in the setup. Making assumptions allows us to make sense of something when we get limited information. Based on our own life experience, we constantly make this kind of speculative leap.

  

Punch and 2nd Story

The relationship between the punch and the 2nd story parallels that of the setup and the 1st story. As the second part of the joke, the punch is merely the words and actions used by the comedian to surprise the audience. Nothing more. Based on the punch, the audience imagines a detailed 2nd story which is compatible with the setup, yet unexpected.

Still using the same joke’s punch, “If my wife ever finds out she’ll kill me,” here’s my version of the 2nd story:

2nd story: Despite staying in a terrible marriage with an ogre this man has never divorced. To find some happiness he’s fallen in love with a mistress and has been able to work it out with her so she’d stay with him for forty years even though he’s remained married. He lives in constant fear that his wife will find out about his long time affair and make his life with her more miserable that it already is.

Again, the 2nd story is a much more detailed scenario than the punch. You may have imagined a slightly different scene, yet the general thrust of the story will remain fairly consistent from person to person.

What I want to emphasize is how much information resides within a joke that’s not stated in the setup and the punch – information we add by making assumptions.

In my next article, How to Write Jokes – Joke Structure Part 3, I’ll discuss assumptions and their relationship to writing jokes.

 

BTW

• Free Comedy Class in Hollywood CA – Monday Aug. 23, 2012. $50 Discount on upcoming Beginner Stand Up Comedy Workshop starting Aug. 30, 2012

• Wrote this blog while watching the Olympics. Missy Franklin makes me moist.

• “I’m on the Neanderthal Diet. Now, I crave road kill.”

Live to Laugh,

Greg Dean

Stand Up Comedy Classes#gregdeancomedy@gregdeancomedyYelp ReviewsLinkedInYouTube – Students