rewrite jokes

How to Re-Write Jokes: Setups – Fix 1

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

rewrite jokes
In this series of articles, How to Re-Write Jokes, I’ll demonstrate several ways of editing and finding alternatives to improve setups. In this article, How to Re-Write Jokes: Setups – Fix 1, I’ll show how to use the target assumption as a gauge to determine if something is needed or not need in the setup. (To understand the target assumption, see article: How to Write Jokes: Joke Structure – Part 4.)

Fix 1:  Refer to the Target Assumption

Let’s begin with this 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.”

This setup is full of what I call rationalizations and extraneous language. We’ll go through every word, phrase and elements, like clothing, emotions, and persona, to determine what’s necessary for this setup.

The primary function of setups is to misdirect the audience into accepting a bogus or target assumption. In this case the target assumption is – he misses his wife. Now we can determine what in the setup is required or not required to get the audience to believe – he misses his wife.

Here’s what we have so far:

Setup: “I’m very upset because last week my wife of eleven years eloped with my best pal.”
Target Assumption: he misses his wife.

To improve this setup, let’s focus on one section at a time:

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

Is the language “I’m very upset because” needed to lead the audience into believing the target assumption – he misses his wife? Well, yes and no. Yes, the performer being upset is required to create the target assumption. But does this need to be spoken? No, the performer can act out being upset as part of the setup.

This technique harkens back to a well known principle of writing: Show, don’t tell. The performer doesn’t need to tell the audience he’s upset, if he shows the audience he’s upset. This makes the setup shorter and more elegant.

Let’s look at the rewritten setup using parentheses to indicate states of mind or actions:

(UPSET) “Last week my wife of eleven years eloped with my best pal.”

In my next article, How to Re-Write Jokes: Setups – Fix 2, I’ll analyze and fix the next section of this setup.

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