How To Write A Joke

Formula: Creating Surprise Using Implied Expectations
by Jerry Corley – Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic

Comedy can work in many different ways:

1. You can wait for something funny to happen then write it down and use it later.
2. You can formulate comedy by looking in the newspaper internet or T.V. news and write a joke about it.
3. You can write a simple story about your day, your relationship, your job or your life and use comedy formula to shape it to create laugh points and give the audience laughter.

I use all three techniques to write the comedy I write, but writing the story from scratch is one of my favorite ways to write comedy because it all comes from me and no one else will be doing it.

Let me illustrate a simple way to apply formula to this technique:

A student of mine wrote a little something about having her first hot flash:

“…my kids were asleep and I’m standing in the kitchen with my husband. Suddenly it felt like my skin was on fire. I tore off my clothes. Thankfully I wasn’t at Ralphs (local supermarket).” It’s a funny situation, and it might get a chuckle but how do we structure it to create surprise and really get a solid laugh?

It’s a excerpt from a story about her life. So I thought to myself. What if we take out her literal reference to where she was?

“…my kids were asleep and I’m standing with my husband. Suddenly it felt like my skin was on fire. I tore off my clothes. Thankfully I wasn’t at Ralphs (local supermarket).”

Now what we have is an assumption that the she is in her house.

One of the key foundations of comedy is to set up an implied expectation for the audience, then shatter that expectation. So if we have set up an expectation that she is at home, how can we spin that to surprise the audience?

“I had my first hot flash the other night. My kids were asleep and I’m standing with my husband. Suddenly it felt like my skin was on fire. I tore off all my clothes. I thought my husband was going to have a heart attack—because we were at Ralph’s.

Now we have a joke! We have a setup: I had my first hot flash the other night. My kids were asleep and I’m standing with my husband. Suddenly it felt like my skin was on fire so I tore off all my clothes.

We have an implied expectation that she and her husband are at home, because the kids are asleep.

We have misdirection and tension build-up: I thought my husband was going to have a heart attack. This statement takes the audience’s concern away from the idea that there is a punch line coming because …I thought my husband was going to have a heart attack…”

And then we have the punch: …because we were at Ralph’s.

So you could see how “because we were at Ralph’s” surprises the audience, because it is unexpected surprise created from implying that she was at home.

Most of your best jokes utilize formula to surprise the audience and since surprise is the number one element necessary to trigger human laughter, this basic comedy formula can help you create consistency in your humor.

Humor has structure and therefore it can be taught.
Check out a class at www.standupcomedyclinic.com

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