One of the most important and powerful comedy secret in a comedian’s arsenal to get laughs is the Tag. A tag is punch after a punch without a new setup. For instance this Jerry Seinfeld joke:
Setup: “Bozo the Clown. Do we really need ‘the Clown’? Are we going to confuse him with…”
Punch: “Bozo the Tax Attorney?”
Tag1: “Bozo the Pope?”
Notice how Seinfeld created a clear Setup and Punch, and then added another Punch that didn’t require a new Setup. By not using a new Setup, he was able to get two laughs off the original Setup. This is how Tags work.
This comedy secret doesn’t have to stop there. When doing story telling comedy, the story is the through line of the routine, but it can be constructed with a Setup, Punch, and Tag, Tag, Tag, Tag, Tag, Tag, Tag, Tag… This is called getting an audience on a role.
For instance, as a demonstration of furthering the story line of Seinfeld’s joke, I’ve written two Tags labeled Tag 2 and Tag 3.
Tag 2: “Bozo the Politician?”
Tag 3: “Well, then again…”
Using the Rule of 3s, I added Tag 2 which contradicts Seinfeld’s initial point of not confusing Bozo the Clown for Bozo the Whatever. Then by using another job with clown-like characteristics, Tag 2, “Bozo the Politian?” becomes a counter example to Seinfeld’s original Punch and Tag.
Then, if he were to notice the error in logic, he could reverse his position because it is possible to confuse Bozo the Clown with Bozo the Politician, and could acknowledge it with Tag3: “Well, then again…”
When performing a one-liner, 95% of the stage time is spent delivering the Setup. If the comic performer only does one-liners, this means 95% of the time on stage is spent not being funny. Seems like a huge waste of valuable stage time.
Tags are the comedy secret freeway to success because they increase the LPM’s Laughs Per Minute. If every Setup and Punch has multiple tags, this results in an increase the LPMs. Now a much larger percentage of stage time is spent being funny.
I set a goal for my advanced students to shoot for at least five LPMs. This can only be accomplished if the routines are packed with tags, instead of just one-liners. The ones who’ve learned the comedy secret of how to write multiple tags have built shows with as much as eight or nine LPMs. Even if every Tag doesn’t get a laugh, they still have a chance at getting a higher percentage of laughs.
If you think of a Setup as an investment of time with the laugh as your payoff, then tagging a joke is like getting paid again and again for the same investment. The comedy secret is to cash in on joke Tags.
Do you have a comedy secret to share?
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