Just about anyone past the 6th grade can tell you that a punchline is the funny part of a joke.
And you don’t have to be a comedian to know that a punchline contains an unexpected element of surprise.
But here’s the big question…
How does knowing that information help any comedian produce punchlines in their stand-up comedy material that will actually work to get laughs? The reason that I ask is because…
You usually don’t get much more information about punchlines than that from most stand-up comedy books, workshops or classes.
What you will get exposed to are examples of punchlines — check out the ones I have for you below and make a note if providing those punchline examples help you in any way.
In the very first lesson in my online course, I transcribed two brief stand-up comedy bits word for word as delivered by popular, “household name” comedians.
Each transcribed bit is presented BEFORE the YouTube video of each bit is presented. Then, one of the four questions I ask after each transcribed bit is:
Can you tell which lines are the punchlines?
You may be able to pick out one or two punchlines from BOTH bits combined, but overall – I will bet my shirt that most people wouldn’t be able to pick out most of the punchlines as they “read” – word for word, I might add.
Let me give you a punchline from the first bit that is a powerful, big laugh, one word punchline:
So, here’s my next question:
What valuable information can you glean from studying that one word punchline that will help you develop punchlines in your stand-up comedy material that will get laughs?
Not much? That’s probably because it’s just a one word punchline, right?
So, here’s a longer punchline that got a huge laugh in the second video:
“Nice job cleaning up”
So, let me ask the question again — what valuable information can you glean from studying that punchline that will help you in any way develop punchlines in your stand-up comedy material that will get laughs?
The answer is none.
Here’s what you need to know:
I could transcribe stand-up comedy bits from 50 pro comedians, lay them out on a table and know in advance that you wouldn’t be able to identify most of the punchlines in any particular bit without seeing a recorded performance of the transcribed bit.
That’s because most punchlines that work on stage don’t read funny on paper. And that’s because stand-up comedy material that works on stage is not produced for a reader — it is produced for audience consumption.
Most of the laughter power of any stand-up comedy material doesn’t come from the literal words used by a comedian — it comes from how that material is delivered in relation to the words used.
Stand-up comedy material that generates laughs on stage is unique to the comedian and what they choose to talk about on stage.
Trying to study what another comedian has done to get laughs with their stand-up comedy material is much like trying to study a finished cake to try to figure out how to bake one.
Here’s my point:
There’s actually quite a bit to know about punchlines and how they are effectively generated. It’s pretty darn simple too, truth be told.
Actionable information about punchlines is essential, especially when you consider a comedian needs to get a minimum of 4 solid laughs per performing minute to start making any real headway as a comedian.
But if you don’t really know what a punchline is as it relates to you, your sense of humor and the content you want to share with an audience…
How are you supposed to generate punchlines that actually work to get laughs?
If you DON’T have actionable information about what a punchline really is as it applies specifically to you, your sense of humor and what you want to talk about and express on stage…
Then you are left with blind trial and error, just like most other new comedians out there who can’t even get 2 decent laughs in a 3-5 minute set, much less 4-6 laughs per minute.
If you don’t believe that, just go to any stand-up comedy open mic and see for yourself what happens when most new comedians hit the stage.