How to Understand the Structure of Jokes in Comedy Writing?

by Laura S James - Date: 2010-06-11 - Word Count: 844 Share This!

Different types of jokes have different structure. The stand-up comic tells jokes that are brief and to the point. Often they only have two or three lines, commonly called the set-up and the punch line. The set up is what makes the audience think the way you want them to think, while the punch line provides the twist or surprise ending, contrasting to what was used in the set-up.

These jokes work because they deliberately change the meaning of the set-up to be something quite different than what was expected. The set-up should take something like 20 or 30 seconds to deliver, while the punch line should be even less. Often the punch line can have one major word in it upon which the whole sentence hangs, so in this case it should come last.

The elements of the joke must be told in their proper order for it to be funny. In longer jokes, there can be an introduction to set the scene, thus: - Three men walked into a bar… A man goes to the doctor…. etc.

The set-up then follows this, with all the facts done in logical order, e.g.:

1.A man goes to a doctor. He says," (states the problem).

2.The doctor says, " (states the answer to the problem).

3.The man queries, '(Will this help…?)."

4.The doctor answers, '(The punch line).

The introduction is important in its role of creating trust with the audience. It usually starts off by saying something that is quite normal. It could happen. Three men often do walk into a bar; a man goes to the doctor - normal stuff. It should be fairly short because you don't want the audience to forget what you were saying by the time you get to the punch line.

The set up should expand the introduction and tell what happened next. This can be a bit longer, but not too long. Being brief is good; don't waffle on about unrelated things. So if we have the man going to the doctor we want to know why right away. The color of his shirt doesn't matter.

The punch line is, of course, the most important part of the joke, but on its own it wouldn't be much. It's only when you work the two together that the audience will laugh - and actually they are laughing at themselves in a way because it was what they believed in the set-up stage that tricked them into laughing at the punch line.

A good joke can be told, but comedians often act jokes out, so watch for this in funny shows. Often they are simply setting the stage for a joke. Once you know what to watch for, you'll recognize the intro, set-up and punch line - all acted out.

Brainstorming Creative Ideas in Comedy Writing

Once you have an idea, how can you turn it into comedy? One way is by the use of exaggeration. Once you start making the end results more than they would normally be, the result is frequently humorous. Or it could be that the effort expended by your character is out of proportion to the end result - or perhaps the end result is not what he expected.

This can be seen in the Roadrunner cartoons where the 'baddy' tries with great effort to do the roadrunner in but his plans usually backfire onto himself.

The use of literary devices is also an aid to writing comedy. You can make use of ambiguity where there is unclear or double meaning to a word or phrase. Alliteration also creates a comic touch to the sound of your comedy. Euphemism can also be used to lighten a serious subject such as death. This can be referred to as 'kicking the bucket' or some of the other phrases we sometimes adopt for death and dying, while 'doing him' in is how murder is often referred to in comedy.

Your ideas really need to be funny to start with and then using the above devices can strengthen the humor in them. If your ideas are not funny - if they don't make you laugh when you write them - then you must ask if they will make anyone else laugh. If not, revise.

Some writers start at the ending and work backwards. If you have a funny ending in your mind, you can write the second last line, then the last line, then go backwards from there in creating how this funny situation came about. You should never have too many characters in your comedic writing. You are not writing a novel. Two or three for each scene should be sufficient.

When you are writing comedy, don't forget to make use of silence. It is often the silent pause that makes something funny, or even funnier. And if you want a pause, you have to write it into the script. Not everyone will realize there should be a pause there.

If you are a complete beginner, it would help you tremendously to take a course or study in writing comedy. Getting one-on-one tuition can hone your skills dramatically; with an expert to guide you, your career could take off a great deal more quickly.

Learn how to become a writer today. Visit Laura's website, and learn about creative writing to earn money with your writing.n
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