In this article, Universal Joke Structure Explained 3: 1st Story & 2nd Story – Continued, I’ll expose how comedians use information that already exists in the audiences’ minds as shared knowledge to create joke structure.
In my previous articles, Universal Joke Structure Explained 1, 2, and 3, I established that I’ll refer to all humor and comedy as jokes and how all jokes have two parts, and that audiences imagine elaborate stories in their minds.
Shared Knowledge Jokes
Since all jokes have two parts, in this category, part one must already exist in the audience’s minds and used as the setup. It’s the job of the comedian to recognize this shared knowledge, and if their audience has it, in order to write a punch.
Existing Setup and 1st Story
An existing setup and 1st story resides in the audiences’ minds as shared knowledge. They have opinions, judgments and have already made decisions about what it meant and if it’s true. Anyone who hasn’t learned the shared knowledge cannot get the punch because it references the existing setup and 1st story.
With an existing setup and 1st story the comedian doesn’t misdirect the audience with a false expectation. Instead, the comedian must choose a subject that everyone already knows about, and then writes and delivers a punch, which will contradict the shared setup and 1st story.
For instance this joke:
“Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?”
Existing 1st Story: The Kamikaze pilots’ objective was to die by crashing into a ship. We know this because of film clips in movies of kamikazes dive bombing into air craft carriers and the like. We also know that all other pilots wore helmets to minimize damage to their heads. We have also noticed the continuous process of improving pilot’s helmets to decrease their mortality rate in plane accidents and crashes.
The audience minds must contain the existing 1st story information that’ll get referenced by the punch or they won’t get the joke.
Punch and 2nd Story
If the audience has an existing setup and 1st story already in their memories, then, all that is needed is a punch, “Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?” The punch simply revealed a counter example of the kamikaze pilot’s wearing helmets and still planning to crash and die.
2nd Story: Based on this punch, the audience created a 2nd story of a kamikaze pilot wearing a helmet, and then purposefully crashing into a ship, so why did they bother with a helmet to minimize head trauma or death?
The 2nd story caused us to reevaluate our expectations of the existing 1st story that pilots wear helmets to minimize head damage or keep from dying, and it shatters those existing assumptions.
Anything the audience has accepted as true is an existing setup and 1st story we can mess with by using an unexpected punch.
This is exactly the same process as one-liner jokes, except instead of using a setup to create the 1st story, the comedian uses the shared knowledge as an existing setup and 1st story.
In the continuation of this article, Universal Joke Structure Explained 4: 1st Story & 2nd Story – Continued (Cont’d), I’ll give examples from different genres of comedy, like satire, parody, observations, and immediate environment jokes and demonstrate how they use shared knowledge for jokes structure.