How to Analyze a Joke

Humour, Jokes, Theoretics

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Wonder how a joke works? Sick of never “getting” it? In just a few steps, you can learn how to analyze a joke and figure it out.

Here are the few steps you need to take to analyze a joke.

Break it down to the leading line and punch line.

For the sake of the blog, I am going to use: “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.”

  • “Why did the chicken cross the road?” is a leading line. It directs and points the joke. The more detailed the leading line is, the more velocity it actually gives to the joke. This particular leading line can go to a lot of places in the punch line.
  • “To get to the other side.” is the punch line to the joke. This is where the joke explodes. This part needs to be timed right, have relativity to the leading line, and shouldn’t be too literal.
  • This particular joke isn’t very funny, but many people don’t get why. Well, there could be multiple reasons a chicken would want to cross the road, and why on earth does it want to get to the other side? Maybe it saw another chicken and wanted to hang out, or maybe the chicken was near a chicken farm and wanted to run away. Or, just maybe the chicken got shot in the butt with a B.B gun. Who knows, but the thing we will always know, is that the chicken crossed the road for the same reason everything else wants to cross the road, which is to get to the other side. The reason it isn’t funny is that there is no reason to get to the other side. We get to the other side for a reason, and that is not defined. How can we make this joke more powerful and thus, funny?
Swap a few words around to give it more detail and direction.

This will make it your own. Change “Why did the [chicken] [cross] [the] [road?]” to “Why did the [grandma] [get] [a] [Heimlich?]” That sounds a lot better already! It’s narrowed down to grandmas and Heimlich. It now has more direction because there’s only one reason to get a Heimlich. Obviously, if one were to guess, she was choking on something. But there is NO way to guess just what exactly she is choking on, and that’s where the funny power can come in. Now look here, she can’t just choke on any old thing, right? If it were an apple she was choking on, it wouldn’t be funny. (It would be funny if johnny apple seed choked on an apple. That’s relevant to an apple. Or maybe a pig with an apple shoved in its mouth, but you’d have to make sure the audience knows the cook forgot to kill the pig first!) The punch line has to have a relativity to the main nouns and verbs of the leading line(s). Therefore, we will do this… “To get to the other side” changes to “she swallowed her dentures.”

  • Now we have: “Why did the grandma get a Heimlich? She swallowed her dentures.”

Notice something, here, if you would please. What makes it funny is that she is choking on the dentures. The word “choking” is nowhere to be found in the joke. The word Heimlich takes care of that. If the punch line were “she was choking on her dentures” people probably wouldn’t find it funny, because HOW the dentures got there in the first place is missing, and people could think, “Well, that’s stupid! I’ve never heard of a granny choking on her dentures! That just can’t happen. It’s improbable.” That’s why the joke needs to force down the fact that yes, the grandma did swallow her dentures. How did she swallow her dentures? We’ll save that for later.

Create an image.

The secret part is the third part, and it is the most important part even though it isn’t the main part. The secret part is the idea or image put into the audience’s head that is not actually said verbally, like the fact that grandma was choking. You don’t have to choke to get a Heimlich, now, do you? An idiot could just walk up and give you one! BUT, the word Heimlich had relativity to the third part of the joke. It pointed out that the grandma was probably choking. The fact that she was choking was confirmed with the punch line, and what she was choking on exactly made it a lot funnier because it added the idea of choking on dentures to the third part. Punch lines usually bring up something unexpected without actually stating the unexpected thing verbally. Let’s look at some more.

  • “What makes a strange grinding sound in a car when you turn the key?” “A stupid critter”

Notice how detailed the leading line is. It gives a lot of direction to the joke. The word “strange” takes a big part of it, too. This isn’t any old grinding sound, it’s the grinding sound of something caught in your engine. It’s strange. The word strange gives the hint that it’s not the vehicle making the noise on its own. There’s a little raccoon in there munching on a half eaten grilled cheese sandwich you threw out last night. The word strange is an about averagely powerful word to use, which is perfect. Abnormal would work too. But if you were to use the word “morbid” it would be too powerful and give away the fact that there’s an actual biological critter creature in the engine with its legs wrapped around the engine propeller and it’s tail near the engine belt. (See how just enough detail puts funny images in your head and I don’t even have to say them? The detail makes half of the third part of what actually happens but is not said. That’s the funny part.) The punch line, “A stupid critter” is short, simple, and powerful. The word “stupid” lets the audience know that the stupid animal didn’t know any better, therefore it would crawl up into the engine and hang around. “Critter” lets the audience know that it wasn’t a dog, it was something smaller. The word “canine” would work if it were a tractor you were starting up. But in this case, it’s just a car.

“What would happen if you gave a suicidal person a jug of gasoline and you asked them to fill up your car?” “Nothing. They’d drink the gas.”

Analyze this one for yourself. It’s obvious.

Now we know that there are three parts to a joke.

The lead, the punch, and the indirect idea.

  • Joke analysis can also be a joke within itself. Analyzing jokes can be hilarious! It’s also a way to come up with more jokes, make new jokes, and write a comedy sketch.
  • Think of the structure of a joke in a pyramid form. There’s the top of the pyramid and the bottom two parts of the pyramid. The first bottom art of the pyramid is the lead(s), the second bottom is the punch. The top is the indirect idea that is brought up without being said, which is supported by the lead and the punch. They all have to connect somehow (relevancy). The punch has the job of giving the indirect idea away, the lead has the job of giving the punch it’s power without spilling it. The lead is like a boat that needs to go to a certain dock area, the dock being the punch. What’s inside the docking area is found out by going through it, and the lead can’t guide the boat through a wall. You don’t want to find out what’s inside by going trough the wall, you want to find out what’s inside by going through the docking bay. A good joke does just that.
  • Story jokes are fun. It has a humongous amount of lead lines that follow up with a single punch. You can take most question answer jokes and turn them into a story, which means you can read a story joke and get a question answer joke. Lets take our suicidal person with gasoline joke, for example. “One day, there was a man named Bob who was running late for work and remembers when he woke up that morning that he forgot to fill up his car with gas. He was rushing through his house, brushing his teeth, getting dressed, and looking for his shoes when all the sudden he notices his neighbor Joe walking by on the sidewalk. Bob knew that Joe was on the suicidal side and thought that it would be the perfect opportunity to ask Joe for a favor so joe could feel special and needed. Bob ran into his garage, picked up a jug of gas, opened the garage door and ran out to yell at Joe. “Hey Joe!” Bob shouted, “Would you do me a favor, buddy?! I’m running late for work and I need someone to fill up my car! Would you please take this jug of gasoline here and fill up my car while I finish getting ready?!” “Sure thing, there, bub!” Joe shouted back. Joe ran into the garage and took the jug of gas with utmost pleasure. Bob felt really good inside. “Thanks, Joe! You’re my man!” Bob said, walking back into his house. Later, Bob came back out to get into his car and found Joe laying on the ground motionless. Bob checked for a pulse and called 911 and an ambulance came and picked them up. They flew down the freeway to the hospital. Joe was unfortunately dead by the time they got there. A few weeks later Bob got a phone call from the morgue. “Hello?” Bob said. “Yes, this is the Morgue Bob, how are you?” “I’m fine. How about you?” “Oh, I’m a little confused, actually.” “Why?” “Well, I’m looking at your friend Joe right now.” “Really?” said Bob, with his interest sparked. “What about him?” “Can you explain why there is five cups of gasoline in your friend’s stomach?” 1. The lead: The story and its details with just enough description not to give the indirect idea away. 2. The Punch: Gas in the stomach. 3. The indirect Idea: He killed himself.
  • One liners can be a lead and a punch within itself. “You can tune a guitar but you can’t tune a fish.” What’s funny is that it’s a pun, the words sound the same and it works with itself and brings out the indirect idea. “After the parrot saw it’s dear mother get hit hard in the noggin, it never again said ‘Polly wanna crack her’.” Puns make excellent one liners.

Try not to hurt your head trying to figure out jokes or make up your own jokes. Usually if you have to try to figure out a joke or if you have to try to make a joke, you should just drop it. It’s probably not the right topic or it’s not specific or relevant enough.


Do you think you can analyze a joke now. If not then leave a comment below !!

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