The Anatomy Of A Stand-up Comedy Joke

There is additional important information related to this article located on the new Addendum page.

stand-up comedy joke structureI want to give you an example of the incredibly lame information that is provided to new and prospective comedians in popular stand-up comedy books, workshops and classes as well as on online stand-up comedy tips sites.

As you go through this article, keep this question in the back of your mind:

How does the typical information provided as “must know” actually help you in ANY way when it comes to producing stand up comedy material that will actually work for your when you take it to the stage?

With that said, let’s get started.

The Standard Blah Blah

Here’s the anatomy of a stand-up comedy joke that you will get from almost every resource:

A stand-up comedy joke has 3 primary parts:

1. The set-up lines. These are the informational and unfunny parts of the joke.

2. The punchlines. These are funny lines or parts of lines that generate laughter from the joke.

3. The tag lines. This is an additional punchline or punchlines (optional) verbalized after the initial punchline in a joke.

Now that you know the “traditional” anatomy of a stand-up comedy joke, answer this question I asked at the beginning:

How does the information I have presented help you in ANY way develop a stand-up comedy act that actually works to get laughs on stage?

The answer is that outside of mere academic recognition of the parts of a joke, the “traditional” information I have just provided you is basically worthless when it comes to helping anyone develop stand-up comedy material — from initial concept to the actual stage performance that gets big laughs.

While knowing the parts of a joke is beneficial provided an individual knows how to structure their stand-up comedy material for the stage (which most new comedians don’t know how to do), it is of little help when it comes to:

  • Knowing how to identify stand-up comedy ideas and topics that have the best chance of success on stage, right from the start
  • Knowing how to generate bulk stand-up comedy material quickly
  • Knowing what a punchline is relative to them and their sense of humor
  • Knowing the punchline word structure that over 90% that all punchlines have
  • Knowing how to apply line length strategies to produce the tightest possible stand-up comedy material
  • Knowing how to make sure they are delivering an average of 4-6+ punchlines per minute

These are just some of the critical factors that have a direct impact upon the speed at which a comedian can progress to develop a stand-up comedy act that rocks a room.

However none of that vital information can be gathered from simply knowing how to define and recognize set-up lines, punchlines, and tag lines after-the-fact.

But what if I gave you these definitions AND gave you a ton of examples of actual stand-up comedy jokes from other comedians? Wouldn’t that help?

Does Studying Stand-up Comedy Jokes Help?

Let me start by saying that anyone can simply go to YouTube and find countless stand-up comedy videos featuring the most popular comedians performing stand-up comedy material that’s been proven to generate big laughs.

Anyone could spend many hours transcribing comedians material word for word.

There are no better stand-up comedy examples to be had than by having solid stand-up comedy jokes on paper.

This seemingly logical approach to discovering the “secrets” of creating and developing a stand-up comedy routine has one major flaw as identified in this question:

How does studying the verbatim transcribed stand-up comedy act of any comedian help show any comedian how to create and develop an original and high level stand-up comedy act?

Note: You can get a transcription of any spoken word video on YouTube after 2014 – just click on the 3 dots in the lower right hand corner just below the video then click open transcript.

Unless someone plans to blatantly copy a comedian’s material and delivery (which is theft in the stand-up comedy world and is hugely frowned upon), I can’t think of any way that transcribing another comedian’s stand-up comedy act would be beneficial at all no matter how long you study it.

That’s because every comedian develops an act that is specific to them, their sense of humor, their delivery etc.

Not only is a comedian’s stand-up comedy act unique to them, but is also the result of the refined process they used to develop that stand-up comedy material.

Consider this as well:

Most of a comedian’s laughter power comes from delivery — the non-verbal expression and the voice tone variations — not the verbatim words alone as they are “written” on paper. That part always seems to be missing too…

Even knowing the delivery style, attitude and method of expression used by the comedian who delivered the joke, it is difficult at best to even “see” what’s funny and why it’s funny from stand-up comedy joke examples on a piece of paper.

While there are certainly some things that can be learned from observing recorded comedian performances, discovering how to create and develop new and unique stand-up comedy material that gets laughs isn’t one of them.

The Bottom Line

You will make little if any progress as a comedian trying to use “traditional” methods and techniques because most traditional stand-up comedy education is based on non-actionable information that WON’T help YOU develop stand-up comedy material at the level you desire.

Some of the reasons that Killer Stand-up clients have a HUGE edge over virtually all other comedians because:

1. They are given actionable, step-by-step information designed to help individuals structure the sense of humor that they already have at every phase of the stand-up comedy material development process.

2. They understand effective punchline structure and frequency.

3. They don’t work on individual “jokes”. They work from a topic based approach and work on chunks of comedy material at a time.

4. They understand that we write differently than we talk and that most of a comedian’s laughter power comes from delivery.

5. They are able to use precision tools like Comedy Evaluator Pro for measuring true performance results and act improvement which can literally shave years off the time it takes to kill on stage.

But don’t take my word for it. Do some research and see if you can find ANYTHING useful beyond what I have provided on this single page:

  • Go to or any other website offering stand-up comedy “how to” info and check out the videos there on how to develop a stand-up comedy routine.
  • Get ANY of popular books on stand-up comedy.
  • Take a comedy workshop or class.

Related Article: Didn’t Get What You Wanted When You Took That Stand-up Comedy Class Or Workshop? Here’s Why…

I will promise you this…

You will get little or no usable information on how to effectively use YOUR sense of humor and YOUR personality style to develop stand-up comedy material that actually gets laughs on stage.

In my opinion you have 2 choices:

You can go about becoming a comedian the hard way or the easy way. The choice is completely yours.

Related video:

Do your friends and family think you're funny? Have you seriously considered taking a shot at becoming a pro comedian? If that describes you, I can only strongly recommend that you take a hard look at these 5 free lessons (instant access) before you take another step!

13 Replies to “The Anatomy Of A Stand-up Comedy Joke”

  1. The Killer Stand Up sequence of Jim Gaffigan’s Waffle House bit was incredibly beneficial and helpful to understanding tight writing. I agree with Larry and you about being our everyday selves. Telling the stories with the right nonverbals and our genuine voice makes for some pretty funny stuff. The hard part is maintaining that naturalness with the mic and blinding lights. When we can do that, it is quite a rush.

  2. I was thinking….when the average person in their everyday course of life makes people laugh (at work, school, a social event, etc.), they are NOT dissecting the anatomy of the joke into it’s three primary parts! They are simply using their God-given sense of humor to make people laugh. You can examine the “joke” after people are laughing to figure out it’s parts. But knowing the parts, in and of it’s self, does not help you “write” a joke in the literal sense! (Actually it could hinder your natural sense of humor by trying to figure everything out rather than responding to topics head on with your, not someone else’s, but your sense of humor!)

    • I know a guy who is considered “the funniest person I ever met” by some people, yet much of his humour comes from mimicking lines from old cartoon programs he watched as a child, or from repeating witty lines from others. The strength of his humour indeed does come from his delivery rather than from the words — his exaggerated facial expressions, his precise timing, his ability to recall and apply the appropriate line, etc. While he is “humorous” I don’t consider him naturally “funny” because he’s otherwise quite UN-original.

      I guess my point here is that, although there are lots of people who can make others laugh, not everyone is able to determine why or how that happens and certainly relatively few are willing to invest the time and effort required to analyze that, nurture it, and help it bloom and blossom on the comedy stage.

      My goodness, how I’ve rambled! And, yes, I do see that light in the back of the room. Looks like my time is up. 🙂

  3. Punchlines and tag lines can be as simple as the word “really?” (After that one word is said, the crowd goes crazy!) Or the comedian makes a facial expression or hand gesture (and again the crowd pees their pants!) The simple joke formulas don’t explain why either of those things would produce such a strong reaction! But Steve’s course does! Since I’ve been enrolled in Steve’s course, I have watched a handful of comedy DVDs. People laugh at lots of different things. Joke formulas only explain some of the laughs. Why miss out on all of the other laughs by following the joke writing formulas?

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