Making Punchlines – Part 1

Humour, Jokes, Laughter, Theoretics

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A punchline in a joke is the last part of your joke and delivers the biggest laugh. It follows your set up and allows you to finish a joke with your own point of view and sense of humour. Punchlines are meant to make the audience laugh by offering a new angle on a topic that the audience wasn’t expecting. To write a punchline you have to have to follow your set up and should come up with several different options for how to end your joke. Brainstorm different endings that you find funny. Then practice your jokes and see which ones sound the best.

Following Your Setup

Brainstorm ideas.

Your punchline is your laugh line. Though your audience may laugh throughout your joke, the punchline is the part of the joke that draws the biggest laugh. come up with several potential endings to your joke.

  • Think about what your point of view is. You want to have a unique perspective to your punchline that makes it funny.
  • It will take a while to develop a joke. Spend time thinking about what makes your joke funny in the set up. Your set up is when you make a comment on something you find humorous. Your punchline is when you add your personal twist on the topic.
  • Take a look at Jerry Seinfeld’s joke about stain removal products: “Now they show you how detergents take out bloodstains, a pretty violent image there. I think if you’ve got a T-shirt with a bloodstain all over it, maybe laundry isn’t your biggest problem. Maybe you should get rid of the body before you do the wash.”
    • The set up is the first two sentences. Jerry explains what is funny about stain removal commercials. Here he takes a specific point of view and focus on one aspect, bloodstains.
    • The punchline is the last sentence. Jerry ends the joke with a comment on how weird it is that stain removal products use getting bloodstains out of clothes as a selling point.
Write out several punchlines.

Grab a notebook and a pen and write your set up at the top of your page. Then write down several punchlines for that joke. Try to have a different angle in each one.

  • Don’t censor yourself right now. Instead of thinking too hard on getting a perfect punchline down, free write the first things that come to you.
  • Attempt to keep your punchlines related to your set up. Pick out certain words from your set up to include or build on in your punchlines.
  • Using Jerry’s joke on detergents again, think about what kind of punchlines you might write from the set up. “Now they show you how detergents take out bloodstains, a pretty violent image there. I think if you’ve got a T-shirt with a bloodstain all over it, maybe laundry isn’t your biggest problem.”
  • What could you write to end your joke that calls back to this set up? Maybe you write something like “Maybe your biggest problem is that you’re a serial killer.” Probably not as good as Jerry’s, but that’s why brainstorming and writing out several options helps you. Even though this punchline may not be as funny as the original, it still ties into the set up. It also takes the joke in a different direction than the audience may be expecting.

Make sure your punchline follows your set up.

Writing that perfect punchline requires that your set up serves as a story the listener can follow to your punchline.

  • After you’ve written down some punchlines, read over each one and make sure that your set up leads to your punchline.
  • Cross off any punchlines that don’t tie back into your set up.
  • However, if you have a punchline that you really like which does not exactly tie back into your set up, you can rewrite your set up to better serve your punchline. Jokes are fluid and the process for writing great jokes often involves making several edits.
Keep your set up and punchline short.

Though many comedians have developed styles of telling jokes which don’t always follow the strict set up to punchline structure, most jokes are relatively short. Your set up should be only a few sentences, in most cases around one or two. Your punchline should be the same length or shorter ( See The Structure of a Joke).

  • Take a look at a Jimmy Carr joke that is two sentences. The set up is one and the punchline is another. “It shouldn’t be called the “Make A Wish Foundation,” should it? It should really be called the “Make Another Wish—We Can’t Do Anything About THAT Foundation.”

Writing Your Punchline

Tighten your joke.

Once you’ve decided on one punchline to complete your joke, go ahead and write down the whole joke. Look at how long it is and look for places where you can trim the joke down.

  • Is your set up too long or too short compared to your punchline? Are you including parts of the joke that don’t serve your point of view or make the punchline better?
  • In Jerry Seinfeld’s joke about laundry detergent, think about how much less funny it would be if he added a part about the other functions of laundry detergent. If he talked about the other kinds of stains detergents remove, or how silly the commercials are as a whole, the joke wouldn’t be as funny. There would be about three more sentences in the set up which had nothing to do with the punchline.
  • Additionally, make sure your punchline is about one idea. Look at the Jimmy Carr joke again. The punchline is: “It should really be called the “Make Another Wish—We Can’t Do Anything About THAT Foundation.” Here, the punchline touches on one idea that sums up Jimmy’s point of view. He’s not wasting time giving examples of other wishes or explaining how the first wish the kids would have is to not be ill. His punchline is tight enough that we the audience get what he is saying without him having to explain it. The emphasis on the word “THAT” is funny because we automatically know that “THAT” means the kids’ illnesses, without him wasting time explaining it.
Change course in your punchline.

Your punchline can often contain a reinterpretation of what you’ve established in the set up. This is a way to spin your joke or shatter the assumption you have established in your set up….

You can read the conclusion of this blog in 3 weeks time.

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