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. That is not an exaggeration.
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:
“You’re like “You go away from me.”
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 live 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.
Note: There is detailed information in the Killer Stand-up Online Course about what a punchline is relative to you and your sense of humor, the common word structure that most punchlines have, how to generate punchlines easily for virtually any material you want to deliver to an audience and a lot more.
Actionable information about punchlines is essential, especially when you consider a comedian needs to get a bare 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 (information, observations, experiences, etc.)…
How are you supposed to generate punchlines in your stand-up comedy material 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+ decent laughs per minute.
If you don’t believe that, verify this information yourself. Just go to any stand-up comedy open mic and see for yourself what happens when most new comedians hit the stage.
Related Article: 10 Questions You MUST Be Able To Answer In Order To Produce Stand-up Comedy Material That Works
Sometimes it’s the LACK of words that makes the humour work effectively. I’m thinking in particular of Brian Regan’s pauses, those silent tidbits that create the tension as I anticipate what’s coming next, resolved by an unexpected clever word or two — “Bacon….’ for example.
I am endlessly fascinated by those orchestrated clandestine techniques that trigger such laughter response from the audience. Those gifted individuals at the top of our game are true masters at using their complete arsenal of skills to illicit the desired responses from their audiences, much as a musician or conductor would do worth musical scores and instruments.
Whether its business or sports or performing arts, you can never place a value on having a good understanding of the mechanics of the trade. And while some books out there will devote sometime to mechanics, its almost as if its for filler or just to say it was covered. Steve actually takes the time over and over again throughout the links on this website to continue to emphasize not only the importance of mechanics. He goes the extra mile and emphasizes the importance of applying these mechanics to your individual approach and brand of comedy. It is a vast canvas of different breeds of comic, and Steve makes sure not to overlook that
Interesting. I never like when comedy is taught through a mechanical way. I always believe that comedy for me is something that you feel. This article really shows that you just cannot just focus on one part in comedy. Comedy is about the whole, “the sum is greater than the parts” as they say.