How to Write Funnier Jokes

In this joke writing article, How to Write Funnier Jokes: Tip 6 – To Pun or Not to Pun, I’ll compare several different approaches to using puns, play-on-words, double entendres, ambiguous words or phrases, and double meaning words in stand-up comedy jokes.

Comedians are striving to get the biggest laughs from jokes and routines, so here are a few joke writing tips to help maximize the stand-up comedy audiences’ laughter.

Previously in this series of joke writing articles, you learned How to Write Funnier Jokes: Tip 1 – Make Setups and Punchlines Short, Tip 2 – End Punchlines with the Reveal, Tip 3 – Use K-Words to Enhance Punchlines, and Tip 4 – Localize Comedy Routines, and Tip 5 – Make Punchlines More Negative.

With your growing knowledge you should be getting better and better at writing jokes and routines for the stand-up comedy stage.

Blog How to Write Funnier Jokes: Tip 6 - To Pun or Not to Pun

Tip 6 – To Pun or Not to Pun

Puns have been used since ancient times, in the Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and of course, Shakespeare. Clever use of language has always been a major source of entertainment and humor.

Puns may be useful for pun-ishing your friends. Yet in professional stand-up comedy, they can get laughs or produce groans. That’s probably because a good joke, like a good magic trick, is more effective if the audience doesn’t see how it’s done.

No form of joke displays its inner workings more overtly than a pun. It seems puns emphasize, “Look how clever I am with words,” rather than revealing the humor of the joke.

This article focuses on the use of puns in stand-up comedy jokes, particularly one-liners, and how to avoid getting groans instead of laughs.

Do You Want to Get a Laugh or a Groan?

As a stand-up comedy teacher, when I talk about how puns can get laughs or groans. There’s no correct answer. I’ve seen famous comedians get huge laughs with puns in one show and get a groan in another.

I’ve had students disagree with my view on puns, saying, “Well, it’s better to get a groan than no response at all. Of course, it’s up to you, but be clear about your goals.

If you want to get groans, then by all means pun it up. If your aim is to develop a 5 laugh per minute comedy show, then learn to use puns to get laughs, not groans.

My question is “Do you want your jokes to get laughs or groans?” The answer is none of my business. My job is to help everyone articulate their own sense of humor. I avoid dictating such matters in my stand-up comedy classes.

If a student says, “I only want to get laughs. I don’t like groans,” then I teach them a few joke writing techniques that use puns and the like to elicit laughs.

Here are a few stand-up comedy joke writing techniques:

Put the Pun Word or Phrase in the Setup

A technique I’ve discovered over my 40 years of teaching joke writing for stand-up comedy is stop putting the pun at the end of the punchlines. This accentuates the puniness.

For instance, this joke with the pun at the end of the punchline:
“He’s on suicide watch, so we hid the cheddar cheese to keep him away from everything that was sharp.”

In this modern, jaded, overexposed, demanding, and critical global media, it might get a groan. Not always, but more often than not. The play on words overshadows the humor expressed by the joke.

If you prefer a laugh over a groan, the technique I teach is to put the pun word or phrase in the setup of the joke.

For instance, the previous joke could be written:

“He’s on suicide watch, so we hid everything that was sharp. Even the cheddar cheese.”

Now you’re using the ambiguous pun, “sharp” as a misdirection device to make them think you’re going to make a joke about hiding knives and such. When the punchline reveals “cheddar cheese,” it’s expressing the humor of the exaggerated precaution.

This joke stresses the worry and overcompensation of those keeping him from using anything sharp to harm himself. From my experience, and not always true, gets a bigger and better laugh. Whereas the original joke will probably get a groan

Make it your practice to put the pun words or phrases in your setups, and then you can write jokes that get laughs. Here are a couple more examples of jokes with the pun in the setups:

Female Comic: “I’m dating again, so I bring some feminine protection. My Grandma.”

“After my divorce I had a sex change. From very seldom to not at all.”

You get the idea.

Groans Can Grow

A major downside of getting groans is they can take over an audience like a virus. One groan gestates into two groans, then the third joins in. The audience gets to participate, so it’s fun.

There are mirror neurons in our brain that are susceptible to yawns, laughter, and also groans. Soon you have an audience that only groans, even if the jokes or bits that otherwise get laughs.

Make sure your jokes are not the carrier. The groaning can spread like a sickness that infects and destroys your own stand-up comedy show. When it reaches an epidemic, it becomes a form of heckling.

Have Funny Comebacks for Groans

You needn’t be a victim of groans. Be proactive and write some comeback jokes to embarrass the person who groans instead of laughs.

For instance, in San Diego, I watched a street juggler shut down a groaner with this put-down:

“Look, if you had any taste, you wouldn’t be here in the first place.”
He was prepared. This kind of joke is called a floater. It floats in your unconscious mind until the moment arises to use it.

In this joke writing article, How to Write Funnier Jokes: Tip 6 – To Pun or Not to Pun, you’ve learned that puns can get laughs or groans. Try the joke writing technique of placing the pun word or phrase in the setup to find out if it turns a groan into a laugh to improve your stand-up comedy shows.

In the next stand-up comedy writing article, How to Write Funnier Jokes: Tip 7 – Eliminate Comic’s Cliches, you’ll learn to identify and avoid old tired phrases that all hack comics use to write fresh original jokes.

Greg Dean’s Stand Up Comedy Classes

Greg teaches his techniques in two classes.  The first is called “How to Build a Stand Up Comedy Routine” and is the beginning class (also called the “101 class”) and the “Advanced Joke Writing & Performing Class” (also known as the “201 class”). 

Even though these classes are named a beginning and advanced,  they are actually classes that stand up comedians of any number of years of experience can take.  They are beginning and advanced in the Greg Dean system.  If you’re interested in faster and better ways to create good jokes and you want to dive deeper on joke writing then you’ll want to take both of these classes.

Greg teaches his classes live in Santa Monica as well as live on zoom.  If you are in the greater Los Angeles area, you can sign up for his classes at the Santa Monica Playhouse.  Check our Calendar of Events to see all upcoming classes.  Calendar of Events

In addition to his live classes in Santa Monica and on zoom, Greg also teaches joke writing via his on demand platform.  One of his most popular classes is “Joke Writing Made Simple”.  This class can be done in your own time, and at your own pace.  You can find out more about this class here:


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