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Jim Richardson's continuation of

"How to Write a Joke"

Three close-up photos of a boxing kangaroo shown in animated sequence: medium shot, then boxing glove fills screen as though punching you in the nose, followed by close-up of his frowning eye

Move fast!

And "double-up" your punches



Refer to Rodney Dangerfield's classic bit
"The Hold Up," noting the seconds of audience response indicated within parenthesis after each punch line:

(telling us about the time he was mugged,
referring to the
hold up man):

He said, "Well I don't depend upon people
on the street.
I also rob apartments. (:01)

First, I call up. There's no answer. I know there's no one home, and I rob 'em. But I only do small jobs, small jobs.
Tops I'll go is three & a half rooms. (:03)

Once in a while a junior four." (:05)

End of example

How the laughs built:
The initial titter (:01) on the first in this sequence of three jokes comes on the punch word "apartments." It is followed by a stronger laugh on "rooms" (:03) and an even stronger laugh on "four" (:05).

Your assignment:

Every time you come up with a joke, consider it an automatically required exercise to come up with a


and a

second topper.


STOP the tutorial and take a moment to create a

new joke

which consist of:

  • Set up line(s):
    no more than one-two (1-2) sentences

  • Punch line --
    no more than one (1) sentence

    • First topper --
      no more than one (1) sentence

    • Second topper --
      no more than one (1) sentence

To take the pressure off,
please remember:

Remember the
creed Jim want you to bear in mind throughout all his online tutorials.

In applying the what you have learned in this tutorial, the fundamentals of the

Idea Joke Form,

see if you can maybe pump new life into a corny old joke and get it to work even better than the first time you used it to get a big laugh.

Now, open your favorite word processor and -- cartoon of computer

  1. Write that new joke:
    set up line(s), punch line, topper, second topper

  2. Pump new life into your favorite old one-liner joke by re-writing it to have:
    set up line(s), punch line, topper, second topper

After you have completed these two (2) assignments, then take Jim's


to cement in your understanding of every concept in this tutorial.

Let the fun begin!



Surfing the web is not always studying and learning, anymore than sitting in seminar and listening to an entertaining, even dashing professor necessarily means you understand the lesson.

Therefore, to complete this interactive learning experience and check your retention, keep taking Jim's quiz until you upgrade your score to an "A+", which means:

  • 97.5% correct answers or better
      --Jim is such an "easy grader," he even lets you

      score your own tests

      --what a guy!

  • So, keep answering each question until you:
    • get the correct answer and

    • understand why it is correct

It is essential to get your fundamentals down solidly before you continue further work in this craft.

Then, elevate it to art!

Click on the answer you feel is correct.cartoon of happy comic with hand mike

Question #1

In terms of structure, what is the difference in writing problems between a minister and a stand-up comic?

  1. Religious jokes must conclude with a moral point

  2. Only stand-up comics may keep changing points-of-view between
    moral, immoral or amoral

  3. No difference
If you missed this initial question and want to re-read this section of Jim's tutorial, click
  1. review.
  2. Then, return to HowWriteJokeQuiz by clicking on your browser's
    Back Button
    found at the top of your screen.

Question #2

Speak in ideal terms, what is the greatest number of lines you can use to set up a punch line?

  1. One line

  2. Two lines

  3. Three lines
If you want to re-read this section of Jim's tutorial, click

Question #3

What should the set up line(s) give the audience in as few words as possible?

  1. The comic's attitude toward life

  2. All the information the audience needs to understand the joke

  3. A joke they will remember forever
To re-read this section, click

Question #4

During his first nine month in office (1982), what did Johnny Carson have to say about James Watt everytime he set up a joke about Watt that Johnny didn't have to say after this period of time?

  1. His last name sounded like "what"

  2. Watt "was a famous Korean war ace and father to three outstanding young men"

  3. Watt was "our Secretary of the Interior"
To re-read this section, click

Question #5

What is the major difference between telling a joke to associates vs. to a general audience?

  1. Associates make too much noise during your speech
  2. What you have to create for an audience is a "frame of reference"
  3. 55% of the audience won't have any idea what you are talking about
To re-read this section, click

Question #6

If you expect laughter in response to a conventional joke, what percentage of the general audience has to know about the joke's subject?

  1. 10%
  2. 40%
  3. 65%
  4. 90%
  5. 100%
To re-read this section, click

Question #7

Set up lines for jokes and serious points both follow the same rules. Serious points need to be set up in the same, severe number of sentences as jokes.

  1. true
  2. false
To re-read this section, click

Question #8

Is it a good idea to throw in an additional set up line if it will make the comic seem more conversational by including words and phrases like:

Or is such chattiness an unnecessary, meaningless waste of time that insults the audience's intelligence and dilutes the joke's power which depends on brevity for it's very life . . . this padded explanation is even worse than the crime itself!

OK: number eight was a freebie -- everyone who has read the correct answers to number one-four gets credit.


Question #9

Tag lines are:

  1. A good way to flesh out a joke
  2. Cues the audience to stop laughing
    1. this is good
    2. this is my goal's polar opposite
To re-read this section, click

Question #10

Punch words should be:

  1. monosyllabic

  2. polysyllabic
To re-read this section, click

Question #11

What is a punch line?

  1. the sentence that contains the joke; a joke is anything that makes the audience laugh:
    • writing, punch line
    • movement, acting
    • delivery

  2. The line that follows the actual joke to ram the point home

  3. A term we inherit from the old "Punch and Judy" shows that is now considered politically incorrect and thus, no longer used by respectable comics
To re-read this section, click

Question #12

What essential characteristics distinguish a topper from a punch line?

  1. just another joke, same as punch line

  2. gets more laughter than the punch line

  3. second joke that feeds off previous punch line

  4. needs no new set up line

  5. Answers 2-4 but not answer 1
To re-read this section, click

Question #13

Who decides where to place the punch word?

  1. joke writer

  2. comic

  3. audience

  4. agent

  5. your best friend
To re-read this section, click

Question #14

After the audience hears the joke's "punch word," what two things happen?

  1. The punch word should be placed at the end of the punch line so audience laughter doesn't drown out the rest of the sentence

  2. they get the joke and laugh

  3. Computer-like, the audience reflects on their personal life history at speeds exceeding normal thought patterns, then decides if they can really relate to the comic's philosophy of life implied by and contingent upon many factors that envelop the aura inhabited within the spirit sensed via subtextual vibrations known as "humor" since ancient times down to this very day
To re-read this section, click

Question #15

Define "prosody":

  1. Prosaic thoughts

  2. Study of metric structures

  3. Science or Art of versification

  4. Study of rhyme

  5. A dangerous, mood-altering drug responsible for dilating eyes, fogging mental acuity and lousing up any sense of humor (allegedly replaced with an ill-founded and totally unearned sense of well-being); a drug

  6. Answers 2-4, not Answers 1 nor 5

  7. Answers 1 and 5, not Answers 2-4
To re-read this section, click

Question #16

How should you mark your punch words on your script?

  1. Whether script is typed, handwritten or created with a computer word processor, over-focus your attention on the punch word, using a felt-tipped pen to
    both: circle and boldface type the punch word
  2. Mark every word on your script except the punch word, which by now you should have memorized
  3. Ad-libbing everything is best
To re-read this section, click

Question #17

What is the hardest fundamental to master, career-long??

  1. Crowd control

  2. Ending the last sentence of the joke on the word that unlocks the audience tension by completing the logic of the joke in one grunt-like syllable

  3. Misdriecting the audience focus with tag lines

  4. Guessing the punch word in an untested joke

  5. Constantly listening to the speech of others to mentally edit their mangled messages every time they fall into over-writing

  6. Speaking and thinking gramatically
To re-read this section, click

Question #18

What is a second topper?

  1. third joke which feeds off the first topper

  2. needs no new set up

  3. gets more laughter than the first topper

  4. Jack Douglas is a liar; things are much better today, even more entertaining. I do not need to study comedy nor appreciate it's history, and I won't. No matter how easy Jim tries to make this for me and my friends. So, there!

  5. Answers 1, 2 and 3; not answer 4
To re-read this section, click

Question #19

Toppers help your joke by:

  1. Create feeling you are just making everything up as you go along

  2. Any would-be comics in the audience who may be getting ready to heckle get pre-emptively crushed

  3. Using the conventional boxing metaphor for jesters, turns you from being just a street-brawler into a classic practitioner of the "sweet science"

  4. All of the above
To re-read this section, click

Question #20

The audience is just interested in:

  1. Facts

  2. How long it took you to perfect your act

  3. Magic

  4. How jokes are structured

  5. Your genius

  6. Answers 1, 2 and 4 but not Answers 3 and 5

  7. Answers 3 and 5 but not Answers 1, 2 and 4
To re-read this section, click

Question #21: for EXTRA CREDIT --

How can you best learn from recordings of your favorite comedy routines?

  1. Type them up, then edit out the fat

  2. Perform them before live audiences in non-professional situations, and see if you can get more audience response by changing around the punch line/topper/second topper sequence

  3. Respect the comedy gods (small "g"), and leave well enough alone

  4. Once you are through experimenting, since you have done all this hard work under hot stage lights: this is now a routine you can keep in your act like something which you personally own

  5. Answers 1 and 2 but not Answers 3-4
To re-read this section, click

Did you do well?
Good for you; Jim knew you could succeed.
Aren't you glad you applied yourself? Ok, here's your prize:

What follows is the table of contents for Jim's entire audio tape/workbook package for this tutorial. Now, you can get a feel of how greatly expanded this study gets in Jim's home study materials:

"How to Write a Joke:
the seven basic joke forms"

Table of Contents

Writing Jokes for a Speech vs. Stand-Up Comedy

  • Whether your speech is serious or humorous, it is an act

Ideal joke

  • Set up lines
    • You have to know what the audience knows and what they don't know
    • Even when your point is serious and there is no joke, you must still set up your ideas
What is a joke?
  • Where is the punch in that punch line?
  • Serious speeches: how to improve every sentence
    • Trying out new jokes
  • Target the punch word, then put it at the end of the joke!
    • Getting three jokes for the price of one
      • Topper
      • Second topper
    • Example
      • Exercise

Why is boxing an essential metaphor for stand-up comedy and all great joke-telling?

Seven specific one-liner joke forms

  1. The basic yes/no joke form
    • Exercise
  2. Similitudes: Simile
  3. Similitudes: Metaphor
    • Exercise
      • Exercise
  4. Puns: Literal pun
  5. Puns: Aural pun
    • Exercise
      • Exercise
      • Exercise
    • Exercise
  6. Hyperbole
    • Exercise
  7. Malaprop
    • Exercise

Review exercise: identifying the seven joke forms

Escaping "Writer's Block"

  • By "photographing" yourself
  • Through discipline
    • Use the seven joke formulas two ways

Making a reasonable writing contract with yourself

  • Check for variety
  • Write what you know about

Thinking in terms of opposites

  • Inspirational topics for story bits
    • Exercise

Getting started writing a "bit": 24 days to SUCCESS!!!

Afterthought: April 14, 1996

Private Comedy Library

  • How to borrow
    • Library card: form to copy & fill out
    • List of books relevant to writing jokes
      • "How to" books
      • Other books I have referred to in this workbook

Are ready to become a client?

  • What do I do after I have written my first story bit?

Back to: History of Coach Says newsletter
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