Ok, now that the dummy's got his cigar, have you got your pen and the 150 cocktail napkins in a shoe box that you've been calling your act?
Ok, now let's make sure you're getting everything you can out of each joke. Hey, relax: you've already done the hard work, this fine-tuning part is fun!
Or on Jim's tie.
Structurally speaking, joke writing problems are exactly the
same for anyone trying to get a laugh. We will not be discussing content. We will be discussing
form. Whether our speech is serious or humorous, it is an act that
requires writing techniques to put it over. Since stand-up comics
will also be reading this workbook, for convenience sake Jim will
distinguish between speeches and comedy routines. Jim will refer
both as "your act."
As business speakers, we may be preparing a joke we are
only going to tell on one special occasion. Then again, we may
be putting together a joke we will tell 100 or more times, much
like a stand-up comic.
Also, as a speaker, we may be making a very serious point
without any joke in it. A serious sentence can be greatly
by the same techniques which make our comedy better.
Let Jim get on with his act: showing us
Structurally speaking, joke writing problems are exactly the same for anyone trying to get a laugh.
We will not be discussing content. We will be discussing form.
Whether our speech is serious or humorous, it is an act that requires writing techniques to put it over. Since stand-up comics will also be reading this workbook, for convenience sake Jim will not distinguish between speeches and comedy routines. Jim will refer to both as "your act."
As business speakers, we may be preparing a joke we are only going to tell on one special occasion. Then again, we may be putting together a joke we will tell 100 or more times, much like a stand-up comic.
Also, as a speaker, we may be making a very serious point without any joke in it. A serious sentence can be greatly improved by the same techniques which make our comedy better. More about that later.
Let Jim get on with his act: showing us
Ideal joke form:
After we have written the jokes, our next tasks are:
Set up lines:
We have to know|
what they know and
what they don't know:
However, the speaker or comic must always know where the audience is at in terms of the information they have regarding a given subject. He must always take them on from that exact point.
During James Watt's first nine months in office, Johnny Carson
knew most people were unaware that the man was Secretary of the
Interior. Carson had to laboriously state the man's title in every
series of set up lines for a James Watt joke. After Watt was in
office nine months, the man had made a certain reputation for
himself. Then, Carson no longer had to explain who the guy
But my friends think that's a funny joke!
There is a major difference between telling a joke to our friends, family or business associates and telling it to a general audience. A business speaker may be a big success speaking before his branch office where he is well known. However, he may have a surprise in store the first time he addresses his company's national convention. There he may be less well known than at the home office or, worse, totally unknown to everyone attending -- except the folks who came with him. The same hundred people may still applaud long and hard. But it will be a hollow sound in a big hall if the rest of the 2-5,000 conventioneers sit on their hands, confused by the speaker's "in" references.
The difference is that our intimates have a frame of reference for relating to us.
On the old "Tomorrow Show" starring Tom Snyder, author Truman
Capote pointed out what he considered to be a true sign of
Want to transfer a joke which we have spontaneously created in conversation with our friends to a general audience? Then, we must always ask ourselves,
"What does 90-100% of the general audience know about this?"
What do they not know about this which I must tell them in order to make sure nearly everybody has a chance to get the joke?
Even if our point is serious and there is no joke, the audience will better understand what we are saying if we properly "set them up".
What is a joke?
The punch line is the sentence which contains the joke. A
joke is anything which makes the audience laugh.
The punch line is the sentence which contains the joke. A joke is anything which makes the audience laugh.
The first thing Johnny Carson taught his new writers was to
end their jokes on the laugh.
Graduate school level
Even Jim finds himself forgetting this fundamental in the heat of creating a new joke or premise routine.
Therefore, Jim has found it helpful to break things down a little more precisely:
To sell a joke, there is one particular word that the idea turns on.
Jim has named this word the
The punch word is the word after which the audience gets the joke, and laughs.
Also, speaking words after the punch line gives the audience a false cue that a joke has not really been told, that they were mistaken. Often, they will shut up in mid-laugh. They are eager to hear what punch line they imagine will follow. They conclude that our actual punch line must have been "just a set up line" that they foolishly found funny.
A fun game you can play today,
When writing serious speeches containing no jokes, see how
many of our sentences can be improved by putting what at the end of the line?
When we watch movies, notice how dramatic
scenes often turn on such key words which are invariably placed at what part of the sentence?
Better yet: try to end on words of
Better still: end on a single
When we are trying out jokes for the first time, we will often find that the audience laughs before we get to the end of the punch line. They got ahead of us. Like the friends interrupting our sentences, they understood the joke earlier than we thought they would.
Usually, we just mistakenly placed the punch word in the middle of the line. Probably because it made grammatical sense to do so. But people neither speak nor think in strict accordance to the rules of grammar. So, we must edit and re-write for the logic of the laugh alone.
You will find yourself developing a poetic sense for re- arranging your words. A renewed study and appreciation of prosody, the art of versification which includes the study of metrical structures, rhyme, etc., would serve all speakers and comics well. In any case, put in simple terms, you will definitely have fun making sure the punch word comes at the end of the punch line.
When writing, do something to consistently draw our attention to the punch word:
We are also forcing ourselves to end on a punch.
If we find we have circled a word in the middle of the sentence and we are sure it is the punch word, what must we do?
That's correct: re-write!
Get the punch word at the end . . .. A topper is a second joke that:
A topper is a second joke that:
A second topper is a third joke which:
Both toppers create the illusion of improvisation for the audience. In his interview with Larry Wilde, Jack Douglas winks, then says, "The two toppers sound like ad-libs. It's the greatest thing for an audience to think you haven't got a routine, that you're doing it all off the top of your head." (Larry Wilde's How the Great Comedians Create Laughter, p. 151.)
Basically, the audience might feel they could have come up with our one-liner. But, just sitting there listening to us, even the most arrogant among them will admit they wouldn't have had enough time to take it further by coming up with the two toppers.
The speaker or comic has worked six months to a year getting his act together, and testing it in front of live audiences. Our next audience does not know, nor does it want to know this behind- the-scenes information. They are looking for magic, not facts. Since the speaker-comedian-magician appears to have just invented the toppers, the audience is stunned. They assume he is a genius at thinking on his feet.
Jim will often use the conventional boxing metaphor for stand-up comedy to reinforce teaching points. Angelo Dundee, famous boxing coach to Mohammed Ali and Sugar Ray Leonard, in his biography I Only Talk Winning, reveals the first note he gives a boxer new to his training camp: "double-up your punches."
Jim wondered what that meant.
So, in 1990 Jim visited
As the fighter gently
To illustrate the greater effectiveness of hitting someone twice, when you might have thought once would do, we now link to a second web page to conclude Jim's brief lesson in joke writing.
To continue, click here now:
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