3 tricks to write jokes
This might seem obvious, but the first step to writing funny comedy is jokes. So often people want to do stand up or skits but forget about the thing that ties it all together - the jokes.
Writing funny often starts with basic jokes and then working from there. When writing comedy from scratch you need to learn to drive with a set up and punchline to earn the right to go off road and smash the car up.
The good news is that to start writing funny doesn't need to be too difficult, there are a few tricks you can learn to get started writing comedy. First, you could just hire me to do it for you. But if you want to do it yourself, you can nail these tricks to be able to graduate to more subtle techniques. At this point you can get to the fun stage of playing around with these joke formats just like the pros do.
It's temping to go rushing in. Learn how to write jokes before smashing up the comedy car
The 3 tricks to start writing comedy
Trick 1 - Pull back / Reveal
There are similarities between comics and magicians. First off, both tend to be a bit weird. But they also use the element of surprise and keeping things backed up before a big reveal. The first step to writing funny is the pull back/reveal technique. This is pretty much the definition of a traditional joke.
Step 1: Set up - Set the scene, this can be anything but make it relatively normal. What you're doing here is the equivalent of saying, "this is just a normal box" before you chop it in half with a scantily clad woman inside it.
"I was in the park the other day"
Step 2: Laying the trap - This step isn't always necessary and could come under step 1 but what you're doing here is reinforcing that you've got something with a double meaning that you're going to turn into the punchline.
"I was in the park the other day, a woman started giving me the look"
Step 3: Pulling out the rug - Now you've established normality it's time to smash it to pieces, this is the bit that makes people laugh. Weirdly enough, people like being tricked and made to use their brains, this is what your punchline does - as long as your audience isn't one step ahead of you.
"The look of, if you don't stop staring at me I'm going to call the police"
You've linked to your set up but totally shifted away from what you were originally suggesting. In a really simple way this is what writing comedy is all about - tricking your audience by subverting normality.
This is an attempt to show how audiences need to be distrcted by a punchline different from the set up to get a reaction. Not an attempt to advocate misogyny. You've got the rest of the internet for that.
Trick 2 - Rule of Three
The rule of 3 is a useful weapon to have in your comedy arsenal. It can be slipped in throughout your comedy writing and is easy to use. The challenge is using it wisely. If you start spamming rule of threes all over your material your audience could see through it and start to get ahead of you.
Step 1: Set Up - Like all good jokes you need to set the scene. What your set up needs to do is introduce a list, the 3 things that'll provide your punchline.
"There are many ways of browsing the internet:"
Step 2: 2 boring things - Introduce 2 things that you'd totally expect here to link to your set up.
"There are many ways of browsing the internet: Laptop, phone, ______"
Step 3: Something more exciting - It's time to fill in the gap with something that's going to make your audience laugh. Write something that's intentionally jarring and different from the first 2 normal points. The trick is to put something that's really different but still on topic with the set up.
"There are many ways of browsing the internet: Laptop, phone, shamefully"
De la soul knew three was the magic number. Hopefully your audience will be more amused than them.
Trick 3 - Sounds Familiar?
The first guide to writing comedy that I ever read was written by British comedian Richard Herring. He suggested that the best way to start writing jokes is to take a famous phrase or saying and write a punchline for it. His example, from his own material was:
"To be or not to be, this is the first and only question on the bee keepers entrance exam"
Familiar sayings and expressions are great because your audience is so used to them that, when you start messing about with the phrase, it makes your subversion that much funnier.
Examples - Here's a few famous sayings and idioms. See if you can have a crack at writing some punchlines for them. Study all the words and see if you can find double meanings or alternative ways of looking at them:
I couldn't hold a candle to my mum...
Absence makes the heart grow fonder...
An apple a day keeps the doctor away...
Ok, I couldn't resist-
I couldn't hold a candle to my mum, her hairspray would set the street on fire.
Absence make the heart grow fonder, especially if you need a pacemaker.
An apple a day keeps the doctor away but that's a lot to spend on iphones.
If you're struggling then think of all the words you can associate with the phrase set up and see how you could work them into a punch line. Jokes are all about making connections other people haven't made. Like early online dating, before it got nasty.
We love familiarity as demonstrated by this meme. Memes are all about familarity too. They're like the internet's comedy comfort blanket.
So, now you're ready to smash comedy and play 10k seater venues. Ok, maybe that's not the case. This is just a start, these are tried and tested techniques to write traditional jokes but the real fun comes when you have these tied down and you're confident enough to start playing with these formats. Or, maybe, to use them to top off some more experimental material you want to try.
Of course, failing this you could still hire me to write your material or to punch up what you already have. You can always get in touch to discuss your material and give you some bespoke advice. I'm always keen to chat comedy with anyone with enough tolerance to listen. Happy writing.