DAVID GRANIRER, PSYCHOTHERAPIST AND STAND UP COMIC, shares more of his comedy writing tips.
Humour = Exaggeration and/or surprise
This is the basic formula for writing stand-up comedy. In general, humour involves exaggeration and/or surprise. For something to be funny there must be some sort of surprise twist and/or exaggeration of reality. If the punchline is predictable, then no one will laugh.
Setup = Factual statement about your topic
The setup is not meant to be funny. It often consists of a fact or opinion like: People often say to me, ‘David, you’re brave to do stand-up comedy.’ A good setup is also short and to the point, no longer than 15-20 seconds, and contains no more than one idea. Often a setup will include your attitude, how you feel about what you’re talking about. Do you hate it? Love it? Does it scare you? Often what’s funny is not your topic but your attitude towards it.
Here are some examples of setups:
Being a counsellor is a brutal way to make money.
It’s tough eating healthy.
I hate camping.
Punchline = Funny
The punchline is the funny part of a joke. It stands in contrast to the setup and contains an unexpected twist or exaggeration. The setup creates certain expectations, which the punchline then shatters.
Here’s an example of a complete joke. I’ve taken the fact I gave you earlier and used it as a setup:
People often say to me, ‘David, you’re brave to do stand-up comedy.’ This fact creates certain logical expectations. For example, we’d expect that the people who say it to me are audience members and that they say it at my comedy shows. To shatter this expectation I have to substitute a different thing than what people are expecting. In other words, other than audience members at my shows, who else and where else would people say, ‘David, you’re brave to do stand-up comedy?’ My alternative substitution is that, rather than being audience members, the people saying it are my counselling clients and that they’re saying it to me during our sessions. Thus the entire joke looks like this:
Setup: People often say, ‘David, you’re brave to do stand-up comedy.’
Punch: But they only say it when I’m counselling them.
Here’s another example. Let’s take this fact: As a counsellor, I meet some really bitter, angry, sick people. Obviously, we expect those people to be my clients. In my substitution I need to figure out who else these bitter, angry, sick people are. My answer is my colleagues. Here’s the entire joke:
Setup: As a counsellor, I meet some really bitter, angry, sick people.
Punch: And those are just the other counsellors.
The Punch Word Comes Last!
Make sure you put the punch word, the word that triggers the laugh, last. You’ll notice that the last word in this joke is ‘counsellors’. The punchline would be much less effective if it was:
‘And the counsellors I work with are the people I’m talking about.’
People will start to laugh when they hear the word ‘counsellor’, and if I continue on after that, they will quickly stop laughing to hear what else I have to say. In the comedy world this is called stepping on your laughs.
– David Granirer
David’s writing can be found via www.psychocomic.com