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How to Write a Joke

Arun Prabhu
I warn you now! This is a very serious story about a very serious affair. Writing a joke can often be a matter of life and death, especially for someone who is trying to make a living out of it. The art of making people laugh with words or speech is not everybody's cup of Darjeeling tea, because it's very expensive, you see.
If you've ever come across someone who writes jokes for a living, you'd shake his hand politely and smile. You'd think, 'fool around and get paid! Must be a funny life he lives'! Truth is, funny will often pull a fast one on the fellow, making him wish he took his life more seriously. We can all agree that writing jokeis not as easy as it seems.
It can be downright impossible, as some might put it. For me, it's not so hard; I'm a swift learner. I said that 11 years ago and I said it again one year ago, and the second time around, people did laugh! They were laughing at me of course. But hey, it's an improvement!
Doing stand-up is like trying to kill a 200 pound lion with a toothpick. It can be like a really bad dream where you're Russell Crowe, yelling, "Are you not entertained?", only to look around and see a million Joaquin Phoenix lookalikes giving you the thumb down. Because every member in the audience is like your emperor, just waiting for a chance to throw you into the cage with hungry lions.
But then hey, you're Russell Crowe, so you probably can go out and kill those other gladiators and the hungry lions along with them. All you need are the right weapons. So here's a list of things to improve your joke-writing form. Now, a true punchline comes from your mind and your thoughts and not the Internet. So, for this article, we will concentrate on the form of a joke and adding things into the mix to increase quality.

Your Audience

The pessimist thinks the audience is their worst enemy, the optimist thinks they are their best friend, and a comedian needs to know a little about both. Sometimes, you need to laugh at yourself, to laugh with others. This is an important concept to understand whether you're writing a joke for a book, a magazine or for stand-up.
For the Grown-ups
Adults are a lot harder to crack up. They can be slightly unpredictable in the feedback department. My worst nightmare is the heckler who makes the audience laugh more than I do. But these are just things you got to learn to deal with; nobody is going to come and clobber the heckler, they're having too much fun laughing with him, at you!
If you're writing a joke for a book, you have the freedom to be as elaborate (or as simple) as you want to be. Your writing style dictates your type of audience, who will probably get the joke you're cracking. Even if they don't, they have the time to ask their book club friends to explain it to them. Right?
Wrong. Unfortunately, modern media doesn't really allow jokes of the elaborate kind to be free of criticism and eat some often pointless flak. But what is important is that your joke revolves around your style of writing the book. So, if your entire book is intended to be funny, you need the ability to see the lighter side of life in dark situations, from the eyes of multiple characters. One such author goes by the name of P.G. Wodehouse, a brilliant old school writer who always made people laugh through situational comedy.
Literary humor can take any form; from a simple one-liner to an entire plot that revolves around an elephant, a loan shark and a hot potato. You can, unlike stand-up or spoken humor, use wordplay to make the reader laugh. Learn how to twist words around to fit into a setup to make it funnier. What you should stay away from, is describing slap-stick. It is very difficult to laugh at physically accentuated humor through words on paper.
You can use the following points to create better stuff.
  • You can connect with the audience through nostalgia, especially for a speech. If you're old, compare how things used to be done in your time with how they are done now. Avoid sounding overly pessimistic, although pessimism and stereotyping is actually the basis of the setup here.
Truth can be a very funny thing if you want it to be. It must be something that makes people go, 'hey, that's what happened to me too'!
You can use current events or something that just happened to you, which explains why you're wearing that weird zebra stripes polo neck sweater in the middle of summer ('it was an emergency I swear! All my tank tops and hot pants were dirty so I had no choice!').
Admitting that you ran out of antidepressants or tampons is something you may want to stay clear of if you're a beginner.
  • Since you are new to the scene, you also need to lower the hate in any racist joke you use. People may believe that if you're going up on stage, you're going to be funny. But it won't help much if you show unnecessary emotions on a racist joke. You really don't want to be the guy that makes racist jokes all the time now, do you?
  • You can change the point of view of a situation to express how funny it can look when you lose the context. The pun will depend on when you change this point of view and the ease with which you do it.
  • Using people in the audience is also a good way to keep the audience going. This is good if you're performing for your family and friends or in the workplace.

The Jokes that Make Kids Laugh

I don't think today's kids would be entertained even if Waldo and Barney joined hands to make a new TV show, directed by Bill Cosby. It can be hard to persuade a kid's mind if he is cranky or moody
  • A good option for stand-up with kids is to increase the interaction. A child is far more enthusiastic and indulgent in entertainment than an adult, use this to your benefit.
  • If you're writing a joke for kids, you need to put a lot of effort in imagining things. Even though the easiest way would be to crack a poop joke, I suggest you not to crack one; they stink. Also because you are responsible for creating an entire train of thought in a young mind.
  • In my view, the best part about entertaining kids is that they will be honest with the feedback. If you're funny, you get your laughs. If you're boring, you'll get to eat free cake; although it will be a little tricky to clean it off your face first.
  • Safer options for writing a joke for kids include animal or zoo jokes, knock-knock jokes and just plain silly jokes that often have a funny sound or a funny name.

The Form

  • Building a joke starts with either of the two - observation or research. Figure out what you're better at and come up with funny things that you can use for a joke.
  • The first step to a joke is by writing a setup. This consists of starting the plot and introducing the characters in the joke.
  • The other half of the joke is the punch line or the punch word. Know which one it is, because a punch word is something that usually comes at the end of a sentence.
Regardless of how awesome and funny you think your joke is, what stands above it for stand-up is delivery. A real good joke needs a real good comedian to tell it. Practice the jokes by yourself or do for someone who can give an honest feedback. A good habit would be to use an audio recorder to record your practice sessions.
In the conclusion, I'll add that whatever your style of comedy is, the common elements remain the same - good delivery and fearlessness. Also remember that your jokes, are your own, just like someone else has theirs. Be original, wear the same color socks and get your funny on!