Making Punchlines – Part 2

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.

You can read Making Punchlines – Part 1 here
This blog ended when I was talking about Writing Your Punchline & Tighten your joke. So here is the conclusion of Making Punchlines.

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.

  • Say you have a joke about something that’s in the news. Here, your set up is like a headline that you might read in the newspaper on a news site. This is often what SNL’s Weekend update does. The anchors on Weekend Update provide the audience with information which is true in the set up. Then the anchor will deliver a punchline which is funny because it takes a left turn and shatters the audience’s assumptions.
  • For example, look at a joke from an actual Weekend Update. “David Beckham, the British soccer star, has signed a 250 million dollar deal with the Los Angeles Galaxy Soccer Team…” This is delivered like a news headline and isn’t funny by itself. Your audience is expecting that you will follow up with some joke about David Beckham, or money, or maybe even a British man moving to America.
  • However, it’s funnier to use your punchline to redirect your audience’s assumptions. Your set up gives you a lot of potential topics to cover. The audience may expect you to go on a tangent about David Beckham. But here, in the actual joke, the punchline takes a bit of a turn: “…which apparently… exists.”
  • Here, the punchline breaks any assumption the audience may have had about what such a deal means. Instead, it makes a comment on how no one in the U.S. knows or cares about one of the world’s most popular sports.
  • Use the 5 W’s to help you find your punchline. Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How. By answering these questions, you will have material to build on and which can help you find an angle your audience may not expect. In this David Beckham joke, trying to answer why he made the deal can lead you to your punchline as your own sense of humor makes you ask why anyone cares about this topic in the first place. Answering the “Who” also helps because whether you like soccer or not, David Beckham is a world famous athlete.
Target your punchline to your audience.

Knowing who your audience is will help you write punchlines that land better. You want to have a punchline that your audience can relate to and will find funny.

  • This means that you may have to watch your language if you’re going to perform your jokes in a certain setting or for a certain age group of people.
  • Don’t write a punchline that you know your audience won’t understand.
  • Knowing your audience will also help you to tailor your jokes and punchlines better. This might also make it easier to find a funny punchline. If you’re performing jokes for people in a certain profession, having jokes and punchlines that pertain to that profession will be funnier because those jokes are more relatable.
End on a button.

While your punchline doesn’t always have to end on the funniest word, it’s good to get in the habit of trying to do so. The punchline, is after all, a punch. It should be quick and snappy and end on the funniest note.

  • Find the punch word. In each punchline, you will have one word which connects to the idea of your joke and is the funniest part. You want that word to be as far back in your joke as possible.
  • Here’s an example from a joke by Mike Birbiglia. “My family is Italian, but we’re not real Italian. We’re more like Olive Garden Italian.” The funniest part of the joke is “Olive Garden Italian”. It’s placed at the very end of the joke because it’s the funniest part and since there’s nothing after it, it gives the audience time to react and laugh.
  • If you continue after the button, you don’t give your audience time to enjoy the joke.
  • Go through your punchline and find the button. If it’s not at the back of your joke, see how you can rearrange the structure of your punchline to end on the button.
Practice your joke out loud.

Read your joke out loud. Find the cadence of it. Part of what makes your jokes, and your punchlines funny will be how you deliver the joke in your own unique voice.

  • See how it feels to read the joke out loud. Check for any parts that seem awkward or drag on too long. Look for any more places that you can trim.
  • Read your joke to your friend and notice where he laughs and if the joke lands. Ask your friend for his opinion on it and see where you can make changes.

Adding a Potential Topper

Write a second punchline that immediately follows your original one

A topper is an extension to your joke which serves as a second punchline or a funny way to transition to another joke, or add on to your current joke.

  • Your topper is basically your next joke which feeds off of your previous one. You will see this a lot in sets that stand-up comics perform.
  • The topper is meant to help you slowly and naturally move onto a new topic while continuing to get laughs.It’s sometimes written to seem like you like you just came up with it on the spot while performing.
Use a topper to transition into your next joke.

Sometimes, a topper can be used to connect your jokes in the form of tags or one liners.

  • Connect the jokes you have written down by adding another punchline.
  • In another Mike Birbiglia set, he talks about kids in middle school starting to make out. He ends the joke by saying “I’m not doing that. And all the girls were like ‘that is fine. You’re not on the list.’”
  • Here, the first punchline is “…all the girls were like ‘that is fine.’” This punchline ends the first joke and draws a laugh.
  • The topper, or second punchline “You’re not on the list.” Continues the joke, draws a bigger laugh, and lets Mike transition into talking about social cliques in schools based on who is on, or not on “the list”.
Use a topper to reroute your joke if your punchline doesn’t land.

Sometimes your joke won’t land. If that happens, you can write a topper as a backup punchline.

  • Say you have a joke where your punchline doesn’t hit. You have a very simple joke like “A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar and the bartender says: What is this, some kind of a joke?” You deliver this simple joke and no one finds the punchline funny. You can have a topper in your back pocket to play that continues the joke.
  • It can be as simple as “The priest, the minister, and the rabbi look at each other and then the priest says, “What, are you some kind of comedian? Is that why you need a second job as a bartender?”
  • You can even go further and put yourself in the joke. Oftentimes, what’s funny is when people are capable of self-depreciating humor. Since this topper isn’t all that funny, you can use this opportunity to make fun of yourself. Add a second topper like “For religious figures, those guys did not tip me well. I had to pick up an extra shift to pay rent.”
  • By making fun of yourself and putting yourself in the joke as the broke bartender/comedian, you might create a bit of sympathy from the audience and draw in a laugh.


  • End your punchline, and therefore your joke on a punch word or button. Put the funniest words as far back in your joke as possible.
  • Write out several punchline options and perform each one out loud to see which one sounds the best.
  • Rewrite your set ups if you come up with a brilliant punchline that doesn’t quite follow the set up.
  • Use the punchline as your opportunity to bring your point of view and humor to the joke.


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