by Jerry Corley – Founder of the Stand Up Comedy Clinic

cardseartI was recently asked “what’s the key to a good joke?” The answer is quite simple actually. Some people think it’s subjective. I asked a couple of pretty popular “comedy teachers” and they said, “laughter, ” another instructor said, “a good punch line.”

Well, “laughter” might be the response when your joke actually contains the key, or “a good punchline” might be a good comedy catch phrase, but it fails to give the student of comedy any real answers. Nor does it give a comedy or humor student any idea on how to design a good punch line. Want the answer? The key to a good joke is the same thing that is key to a good sleight of hand trick. The key is surprise.  That’s right, surprise.

Surprise, according to experts is also the number one element that triggers human laughter. If you surprise the audience as to what you are going to say, then they will usually laugh. If expectation was a balloon, you, as the humorist would inflate that expectation and then:pop it.

“I’m losing my hair. It really bothers me. Like in the mornings, when my wife is running her fingers through my hair—but I already left for work.” 

“I woke up in the hotel this morning and the housekeeper was banging on the door:just banging—finally I had to get up and let her out.”

“My daughter’s five and I’m trying to teach her to tie her shoes. She’s like, ‘I can’t, Dad. I can’t.’ I said, ‘How many times have I told you not to use that word? I am not your Dad.'”

In each of these jokes, you can see that the expectation was inflated, then “popped, ” at the last possible second.

But surprise isn’t the only element that is the key to good humor. Today, the best comedians out there are using four major formulas to get laughs. That’s right: Four!

In fact, there are 10 comedy formulas that are used in conventional comedy. But only four are used by the best comics out there. Whether it’s Jerry Seinfeld, Dave Chappelle, Robins Williams, Kat Williams or any other comedian that makes you laugh, you’ll find that they pretty much use only four.

I teach all 10 formulas in my comedy courses. But you really only have to master four to be a successful comic, and yes, because they are formulas and contain structure you can teach them to anyone.

To learn more, sign up for my newsletter (located in the right sidebar). You’ll find it is very useful when it comes to writing or performing comedy, or humorous speeches.

In other words, it could give you the answers to the question: “What is the key to a good joke.”


Jerry Corley
Jerry Corley

Jerry Corley is a professional comedian of nearly 30 years, working nearly every venue imaginable. Writer for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Creator an Co-Writer for the movie "Stretch," starring Chris Pine, Patrick Wilson, Ray Liotta, Jessica Alba and Ed Helms, and founder of The Stand Up Comedy Clinic a full-time, self-owned comedy studio dedicated to beginning and professional comedian who want to have a place to improve their comedy writing and performance skills.