Okay, that’s kind of a lie… because it’s womankind too.
This is going to be a short post because after all, I did say “quickest” joke writing tip. And I promise that it’ll be quicker than a celebrity marriage.
Which reminds me, since 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce when they say “till death do you part…” they really mean “death” of the relationship, right? Because if all marriages ended because of human death, marriage would be the World’s number cause of death.
Maybe that’s why the groom always looks so pale…
Let’s Get Started
So, you’re sitting there and you have nothing to write about, (pretty sure you’ve all experienced that moment). What do you do?
One of my suggestions is to use the exercise I call “Joke Writing 1-2-3.” Which you can access by clicking the image on this page that says, “How to Write a Joke in 3 Minutes.” It will take you to a video on this website that will walk you through it.
Most new comedians think they have to come up with amusing stories or funny situations before they start writing anything. And you probably know from experience that that can be a trap!
And you can get stuck in that trap staring at a blank page for what seems like an eternity; mumbling something like, “What’s funny? What’s Funny? What’s funny?”
So stop trying to think of something funny. Just think of something and make it funny! It’s exactly what that lesson does for you.
It’s a short video lesson that helps you come up with facts.
It doesn’t matter what the fact is! Just put it on the page.
In fact, you can come up with several facts.
Then write down the fact:
MY FATHER WAS JUST DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE IV COLON CANCER
In comedy, a setup to a joke is intended to provide information. It’s not intended to be funny. And the above fact does provide information but it’s definitely not funny…
So just think for a moment. If I was one of those people that believe that I have to first think of something funny, would that idea be included in any of my thoughts?
Essential Qualities of a Good Comedic Premise
It is also worth noting that, in order for a fact to be a candidate for a good comedic setup, (also known as a premise), the sentence should contain these qualities:
- At least two dissimilar ideas.
- Be something the average audience can relate to.
- Inspires some kind of emotion.
- Touch on at least 4 points of the maxim of the 5 W’s (Who? What? Where? Why? When? How?)
Number 4 is important because no story is considered complete without touching on all six of those factors.
In comedy, poetry, and lyrical prose or song, you can leave out one or two of those factors if they are not essential to the story because the listener will actually fill in the gaps with their own assumptions.
So if we look at that setup again:
MY FATHER WAS JUST DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE IV COLON CANCER…
We can apply the maxim of the 5 W’s this way:
Who? MY FATHER
What? STAGE IV COLON CANCER
When? JUST (recently)
How? DIAGNOSED (We assume he was diagnosed by a doctor).
When we break down that fact into its basic elements we can see that there’s a couple of factors (where and why) left out of that fact.
That is where we will focus our attention.
“Where,” the location of my father is or where he was diagnosed is irrelevant for me to communicate the main idea which was that my dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. But this particular statement can still be considered complete without mentioning where. The same goes for “Why?”
There are 9 major psychological laughter triggers known to mankind. If you don’t know what they are, you should. Otherwise, you are truly running blind in your writing. You can find them in my book “Breaking Comedy’s D.N.A.”
One of the most commonly used laughter triggers is surprise.
Using Ambivalence to Create Surprise
In order to create surprise, there needs to be some kind of built-in expectation. When you shatter that expectation, that is what triggers surprise.
Another laughter trigger is AMBIVALENCE. Which means being uncompassionate about something you should be compassionate about. Ambivalence creates surprise especially when the subject matter you’re talking about seemingly requires your utmost concern or attention.
And because the statement about my father having stage IV colon cancer is so alarming, it is a perfect statement to use ambivalence for comedic effect.
So one way to create an opportunity with the above setup is to add a condition or a factor to the concerning statement that is seemingly irrelevant.
In our breakdown of the fact using Who? What? Where? Why? When? and How? we determined that “where” was a piece of irrelevant information which is why it was left out of the original fact.
If we add where to the fact we might open up the premise a little bit…
MY FATHER, WHO LIVES IN BAKERSFIELD, WAS JUST DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE IV COLON CANCER…
Now with this revised setup, the irrelevant information almost stands out like a sore thumb, right? Bakersfield is obviously the least concerning part of this otherwise very concerning statement.
But for comedy, Bakersfield (the where) gives the comedian who has a keen understanding that ambivalence is a laughter trigger, an opportunity to make Bakersfield the most important part of the statement.
So using ambivalence in the punchline would significantly increase the potential to trigger a laugh with an audience.
So the joke might go something like this:
MY FATHER WHO LIVES IN BAKERSFIELD, WAS JUST DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE IV COLON CANCER. IT’S TRAGIC… I MEAN, WHO STILL LIVES IN BAKERSFIELD?!
So you see, just by adding a seemingly irrelevant condition or factor to a statement that is already concerning, then giving the irrelevant factor the utmost importance, you surprise the audience.
A Versatile Comedy Writing Technique
This could work with any irrelevant condition you might add to the original piece of information.
MY FATHER, WHO’S A GAMBLER, WAS JUST DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE IV COLON CANCER… I MEAN WHAT ARE THE ODDS, RIGHT?
MY FATHER, WHO’S A GENIUS, WAS JUST DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE IV COLON CANCER… SO DEPRESSING… THAT’S THE FIRST TEST HE’S EVER FAILED.
MY FATHER, WHO’S AN ENGLISH TEACHER, WAS JUST DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE IV COLON CANCER… HE HAS TO GET A PARTIAL COLECTOMY. IT TOOK 70 YEARS, BUT HE FINALLY FOUND ANOTHER USE FOR A SEMI-COLON.
That last joke is a little more crafty because I felt I needed to add some more information to it for the semi-colon punchline to work, but essentially it’s the same simple technique.
Try it yourself using these 3 steps:
- Take my line: MY FATHER WAS JUST DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE IV COLON CANCER…
- Come up with your own irrelevant information
- Add the punchline.
Then, take your own idea that could be urgent, concerning, shocking, then add a seemingly irrelevant condition or factor, then see if you can create some expectation and surprise by making the irrelevant, relevant.