In this blog, Greg Dean Comedy Tip 7: Understanding Joke Misdirection – Part 3, I’ll examine how misdirection works with Present Environment setups. In my previous blog, Greg Dean Comedy Tip 6: Understanding Joke Misdirection – Part 2, I explained the role of misdirection in Common Knowledge setups.
In Present Environment jokes, the accepted assumption that creates joke misdirection exists in the immediate surroundings. It can be a person who resembles a celebrity, which gets pointed out by the comedian. Some object on stage. My wife, Gayla Johnson, performed at the Igby’s Comedy Club Reunion at the Ice House in CA. Jan Smith, the former owner of Igyb’s started the show and put a bottle of water on a stool and left it there. The next seven comedians didn’t drink from it or even acknowledge it, until Gayla said,
“Want to thanks Jan Smith for hosting this event and in this time of drought, it was nice of you to supply only one bottle of water for all the comics.”
This got a big laugh. Take into account she was performing mostly for other comics, so they really appreciated how she got a joke from the Present Environment. The joke misdirection was that Jan sat his bottle of water on the stool and forgot it. Gayla recognize this and created an alternative scenario by using only a performed punch.
Here’s another example: I had a 13 year old student in my stand-up comedy classes Los Angeles, named Nermin Zajic. Yes, we had jokes about his name. To make sure he could perform in my stand-up comedy classes’ showcase, I had made special arrangements with the World Famous Comedy Store in West Hollywood because the club required everyone to be 21 or over. They would allow him to perform in my showcase only if he stood outside, until his mother escorted him to the room just to do his show, and then back out again. Since he knew everyone in the room would be over 21, he wrote this joke:
I suggested he walk on stage and stand for a few seconds to let the chatter calm down about a boy his age being in the club, then said,
“How many people here are going through puberty?”
He got a huge laugh and applause for being so young and so clever. He recognized that no one in that room would be going through puberty and used the Present Environment as the joke misdirection for his opening line.
There are only two information sources for setups: Performed one-liner setups which create a target assumption as the misdirection and a performed punch to shatter that assumption. And the not-performed, Shared Knowledge misdirection which requires a performed punch to shatter an existing target assumption. The Shared Knowledge is a not-performed, therefore invisible, joke misdirection to the untrained comic mind.
In my next blog, Greg Dean Comedy Tip 8: Assumptions – Part 1, I’ll demonstrate how recognizing assumptions will make you a funnier joke writer and comedian.