write joke punches

How to Re-Write Jokes: Punches – Fix 4

Greg Dean Greg's Blog, How to Be a Comedian, How to Write Jokes

write joke punches

In my previous article in this series, How to Re-Write Jokes: Setups – Fix 3, I showed how simple changes in the wording of a setup can have a profound effect on the punch. In this article, How to Re-Write Jokes: Punches – Fix 4, how overwriting the punch can kill the laugh.

To recap from previous articles here’s the original joke.

“I’m very upset because last week my wife of eleven years eloped with my best pal. I miss him more than I miss her.”

Here’s the rewritten setup and its target assumption:

(UPSET) “My wife ran off with my best friend.”
Target Assumption: he misses his wife.

Here’s the current punch:

“I miss him more than I miss her.”

As we did with the setup’s target assumption, we need to determine the punch’s reinterpretation. Since the setup gave two choices – wife and best friend – and the target assumption was – he misses his wife, then it’s clear the reinterpretation is – he misses his best friend.

Reinterpretation: he misses his best friend.

Next, we’ll dissect the punch based on how well it communicates the reinterpretation. Does the phrase, “I miss him,” express the reinterpretation? Yes. So we keep that phrase.

“I miss him more than I miss her.”

Let’s move onto the next phrase. To express the reinterpretation – he misses his best friend – does the phrase, “more than I miss her” need to be said? No. That was already done in the setup and target assumption to misdirect the audience. And it was also implied by the reinterpretation – he misses his best friend. This makes this phrase redundantly redundant.

Here’s the edited punch:

“I miss him more than I miss her.”

The editing of this overly written punch is also guided by a technique I call the – reveal. The reveal is that word, phrase, or action that, well, reveals the reinterpretation. Which then causes us to reevaluate the target assumption, realize it’s wrong, and shatters our expectations with a surprise.

The reveal needs to be as close to the end of the punch as possible. Many times, if you know to look for it, it can be put at the very end of the punch. If not, then place it as close to the end as possible without torturing normal language.

If the reveal isn’t at the end of the punch, the performer will continue to talk while the audience is laughing. Audiences are polite, so they’ll stop laughing to hear what the performer has to say. This kills the laugh.

Here’s the new version of the punch:

“I miss him.”

In the next article How to Re-write Jokes: Punches – Fix 5, I’ll demonstrate the importance of writing with natural speaking patterns and how to shift emotions to enhance the joke.

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