write setups

How to Re-Write Jokes: Setups – Fix 3

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

write setups

In my previous article, How to Re-Write Jokes: Setups – Fix 2, I dissected the setup in search of unnecessary rationalizations and extraneous language. In this article How to Re-Write Jokes: Setups – Fix 3, I’ll show how simple changes in the wording of setups can have an effect on finding more punches and tags.

Here’s the original setup with the edits from previous fixes:

I’m very upset because last week my wife of 11 years eloped with my best pal.”

Here’s how the edited setup reads:

(UPSET) “My wife eloped with my best pal.”

This section is about finding the right words, actions, locations, etc. to create stronger setups. It’s kinda like doing a crossword puzzle because you must select the correct words or phrases to complete the puzzle. And you do this by asking questions.

To do this, we’ll question the efficacy of the word “eloped.”

Does the word “eloped” support the target assumption – he misses his wife? Yes. But does it need to be this exact phrase? No. “Eloped” means – run away secretly in order to get married. So, the word “eloped” is clear, but it isn’t ambiguous and therefore narrows the scope of the setup, and possible punches and tags.

Considering every word and phrase can lead us to other possibilities. I suggest searching for more ambiguous synonyms to find a word or phrase that might work better.

For instance, “ran off,” “left,” “took off,” “shacked up,” “went off,” “ran away” and so forth. Make searching for alternative words, phrases, objects, emotions, locations, body language, characters and so forth a regular habit.

I see more potential for the setup with the phrase, “ran off.” It could mean the wife and best pal went out for a jog, or ran off a cliff, or ran off to another room to have sex. I might be able to use this phrase as my connector for a reinterpretation, punch, or tag. We’ll see.

Here’s the setup with the new changes:

(UPSET) “My wife ran off with my best pal.”

Do we need the word, “with?” Yes. It means the wife and best pal were together.

Next, let’s look at the phrase “best pal.” Is this phrase necessary to establish the target assumption he misses his wife? No.

What?

Let’s look back at the full setup and punch.

“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.”

The word “him” in the punch requires an alternative to the “wife” in the setup. So yes, “best pal” is required, but not to establish the target assumption, but rather so the punch makes sense.

Does it need to be the exact phrase, “best pal”? No. Again, let’s search for alternatives for “best pal.” For instance, “BFF” or “best friend” or “closest pal” or “buddy,” etc. This nit-picky process helps maximize the setups potential for more punches and tags.

I like the phrase, “best friend” because it’s ambiguous and could mean that she ran off with his dog. Part of writing setups is looking ahead for possible reinterpretations, punches, and tags

We started with this setup:

I’m very upset because last week my wife of 11 years eloped with my best pal.”

Here’s the final rewrite of the setup:

(UPSET) “My wife ran off with my best friend.”

Even though I’ve demonstrated how to rewrite and fix setups, these techniques can be used for rewriting all forms of humor, comedy, and jokes.

In my next article, How to Re-Write Jokes: Punches – Fix 4, I’ll show how extraneous words or putting them in the wrong order can diminish the power of punches.

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