Here is something I want to be sure you have at your disposal. It is what I would call the most powerful tool for your joke writing. It is something everyone who’s into writing comedy material should have in their toolbox.
Even if you’re naturally funny.
It is the incongruity listing sheet. This is what I use each time I want to write jokes using the incongruity technique by taking two dissimilar ideas and converging them. It helps you create associations between dissimilar ideas.
Read the following example then download the sheet at keep it handy. It is literally one of the most powerful ways to write jokes.
Understanding Incongruity in Comedy
Incongruity is when you have a setup that contains two or more dissimilar ideas. You turn it into a juxtaposition of two ideas and create jokes.
Not all joke setups are built with the two dissimilar or contrasting ideas present.
The news keeps showing us images of President Trump signing executive orders.
In that setup there’s isn’t a clear juxtaposition of contrasting elements present. No two contrasting ideas really stand out.
What I would do is take that image of the president signing the bill and list everything I see in the picture.
Without a doubt I would wind up listing “those black folders,” since they are so prominent in every photo.
Sometimes, if the obvious contrasting ideas are not there, I will remind myself to try to use an analogy.
One way to reshape the setup so that it does contain that obvious juxtaposition is by using analogy or “is like.”
The news keeps showing us images of President Trump signing these executive orders… he’s got those black folders. It’s like he’s holding up a menu; Insert an act out, like I’m at a restaurant ordering food: “… and the lady will have the Filet mignon, grilled asparagus and a ban on Muslims.”
And since we’ve created the menu (in a restaurant) as the second or contrasting element we could continue to tag the joke with something like,
“And when they’re done with that black folder at that signing table, do they just have the hostess wipe it off and use it for the next seating?”
When the Setup Already Contains a Second Idea
Sometimes the set up includes it’s own contrasting ideas, as in:
“The body of a 40-year-old woman was found in a processing plant for McDonald’s restaurants.”
In that statement, you clearly have two or more contrasting elements present in the setup; the body of a 40-year-old woman and McDonald’s. So you don’t have to use analogy as a device to create the contrasting element. You could just use your list and put McDonald’s in one column and Body of a 40-year-old woman in the other and look for ideas that could fit in the other column either literally or as a metaphor.
For example in the list for body of a 40-year-old woman, I would probably have the word “breasts.” Can “breasts” fit in the other column for McDonald’s?
Sure! They could use it as chicken breasts, right?
Where does McDonald’s use Chicken breasts? In Chicken sandwiches. Since McDonald’s always seems to be facing scrutiny on whether or not their sandwiches contain real meat, I could make the joke like this:
“The body of a 40-year-old woman was found in a processing plant for McDonald’s restaurants. A spokesman for McDonald’s put a positive spin on it saying ‘Now McDonald’s can claim that their chicken sandwich is made with REAL breasts… 40-year-old SAGGY breasts, but real breasts, nonetheless… would you like thighs with that?”
With that one setup and the toppers I added, I could get 3 to 4 laughs out of one joke idea. Booker look for a laugh every 18-20 seconds. You could easily hit that bullseye with one joke.
So you can see how powerful this particular technique is for writing comedy.
Try it yourself.
Download the worksheet for the listing technique, print it out and use it any time!
Hope this helps!
If you want to visit this concept more thoroughly, check out the 2-Day Comedy Writing Workshop in Vegas or my eBook “Breaking Comedy’s DNA.”