If you do a search online for “how to write a joke”, you will find an abundance of information that has little if any actionable value.
To be brutally honest — much of this information is absolutely worthless for trying to construct a stand-up comedy act — much less one that will actually generate any laughs.
So what I want to do in this article is identify some key terms and phrases that are used in association with the largely worthless “how to write a joke” content on page one and beyond on Google (or any other search engine for that matter) that should raise a red flag and more than a hint of skepticism as you find that info.
Let’s start with the overused term “premise”. It is usually used something like this:
“In order to write a funny joke, you need to start with a premise that will (fill in the blank here with any manner of unusable information).”
In virtually every instance where the term “premise” is used, it refers to some sort of fabrication of a person, place, event or thing that has some sort of “funny” implications to it.
So answer this question when you come across the term “premise” when it relates to how to write a joke:
How do you go about coming up with this funny “premise” that is so frequently referred to?
Oddly, there is no actionable information on how to do this ever provided. If you are provided anything, you are provided examples of some other comedian jokes or material generated using their individual sense of humor – not yours.
It’s kind of like that same deal where the so-called stand-up comedy “experts” say you need to develop some sort of special “character” for the stage, yet the instructions for how to actually do that in real life seem to always be missing.
So, the whole “come up with a funny premise” deal is actually some sort of elaborate PFA deal or “rectal extraction procedure” (that’s the politically correct description).
The Element Of Surprise
Then there is the all important “element of surprise” phrase that you will see with some significant frequency. It is usually presented something like this:
“All jokes have the element of surprise which causes the laughter. So you need to make sure that the jokes you write have that element of surprise!”
Again, I will ask these three questions:
What does that term really mean? How do you incorporate this element of surprise into a joke? What’s the step-by-step process or technique for adding that element of surprise?
Oddly, that information seems to be cryptically provided in examples — again from other comedians and their sense of humor without so much as a hint as to how to do that for yourself.
It’s kind of like telling someone that if they want to run faster, they need only grow another toe on each foot. Then all you got to do is review picture after picture of runner’s feet who have 6 toes. Easy!
The Joke Formulas
Then there’s the old “you gotta use the one of the 7 joke formulas” in order to get laughs in the jokes you write.
Really? That’s kind of odd and here’s why:
If you watch the end of a football game, do you know who wins? Yes, you do. If you watch the end of any sports game, do you know who wins? Why, yes you do.
This is one of the reasons why they don’t allow anyone in Las Vegas to bet on a sports game where the winner has already been determined. DUH!
So, what is a joke formula? It’s the after-the-fact identification of a recognizable “formula” some comedian used to get a laugh with their stand-up comedy material using their own sense of humor, delivery style, timing, etc.
In other words, you are given the score of the game AFTER it is over, then expected to be able to use that information to predict who will win before the game starts.
You tell me — how does this information help YOU in ANY way to write a joke or other stand-up comedy material that will get you big laughs on stage?
Let me put this another way:
How does knowing which team wins at the end of a game help you determine who will win before the game even starts?
There is never any mention of the custom fit joke formulas and unique tactics that each funny person uses everyday to get laughs or how to incorporate these into a stand-up comedy act.
Nope, you just have to start over from scratch using after-the-fact information that many times doesn’t even come close to helping your realize who you are, how you roll and how to refine and use your already developed comedy talent for the stand-up comedy stage.
All I ask is this:
As you ponder the question “how do I write a joke?” just keep the terms, phrases and questions that I have asked in this article in the front of your mind.
As you do, you may actually begin to experience the faint aroma of bull feces in the air as you read the answers that are provided from listings on the first page of Google on “how to write a joke”.