A Question About Writing Stand-up Comedy Jokes

write stand-up jokesOne of the things that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt is that it is tough if not impossible to get the right information if you don’t know the right questions to ask.

I also know that many of what people consider the “right” questions won’t actually produce much in the way of meaningful information at all.

So I am going to tackle a seemingly simple and straightforward question in this article which is:

How long should a stand-up comedy joke be?

Before I continue, let’s start with some background information related to finding the answer to this question.

1. Stand-up comedy involves talking. Duh.

2. Talking (verbalizing words and sentences) consumes time.

Note 1: If you have ever been exposed to a boring lecture, you know 5 minutes of the teacher talking can seem like an hour (or longer).

Note 2: There is usually someone at the back of a stand-up comedy room that will give you the “light” when your allotted time on stage is up.

3. Every stand-up comedy “joke” has a set-up and at least one punchline. Delivering a set-up takes time and delivering a punchline takes time.

4. There are 60 seconds in a minute. Duh again.

5. Comedians who can only generate 0-1 laughs every 1-3+ minutes are bombing (engaging in a public self-humiliation event).

6. Comedians who “kill” an audience are able to generate an average of 4-6+ audience laughs every performing minute.

Note 1: You can verify this by finding stand-up comedy videos of your favorite comedians on YouTube, count the total number of laughs they get in any particular video, then simply divide that by the number of performing minutes.

Note 2: Top comedians can usually generate 8+ laughs per minute for many minutes of their stand-up routine.

I haven’t broken any “new” ground with the information that I have provided so far. All the information above is either known or can be easily verified for accuracy.

So given this most basic information, break out ANY of the popular stand-up comedy books (#ad) or any other resource for that matter, you may have accumulated and try to find the answer to this question:

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How long should a stand-up comedy joke be?

Realizing that this single question may be too broad, here are some related questions:

How many words should a stand-up comedy joke be?

How many sentences should a stand-up comedy joke be?

Can’t seem to find anything about that in those stand-up comedy books (#ad) or other references you have that will answer these questions either?

Now that’s odd, considering that virtually ALL of those types of resources focus on “writing” in the traditional sense.

In other words, these resources focus specifically on words and sentences, almost to the exclusion of all else, when it comes to “writing” stand-up comedy material, which is interesting as well because…

We do not just use words and sentences when we talk – we express what we want to say using congruent means of communication while we talk (body language, facial expressions, voice inflection and tone changes).

Seems like that should count for something give the fact that this is the reason why talking takes up less time and involves fewer words than writing anything.

We have already established that talking takes up time (one need only check the minutes used on for their cell phone service in a week or month to verify that).

Here’s another related question that might help to illuminate how important it may be to know how long stand-up comedy jokes should be:

If a comedian takes 60 seconds to set up a joke and deliver a punchline (that actually gets a laugh), how many laughs can they get in a 3-5 minute stand-up comedy routine?

Here’s the hard answer to that question:

It doesn’t matter. The comedian is bombing. They will continue to bomb at this laughter rate no matter how long they are on stage. They truly need some serious help if this is the case.

So, back to the question at hand, which is:

How long should a stand-up comedy joke be?

Now there’s probably somebody reading this that would say:

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Well, there’s no way to determine how a long any specific stand-up comedy joke can be.

And my reply would be:

That is correct. There is no way to determine how long any specific stand-up joke should be and it would not be prudent to focus ones efforts towards such activities as a general rule.

However structuring a stand-up comedy bit or routine properly can have a significant impact in the process of producing a stand-up comedy act that generates 4-6+ laughs per minute, taking into account some critical factors including but not limited to:

  • Set-up line length (talking before a punchline)
  • Punchline length (talking to deliver a punchline)
  • Punchline frequency (number of punchlines in a minute)
  • Punchline intensity (seconds of audience laughter a punchline generates)
  • Timing (time given for an audience to laugh at a punchline, among other things)
  • Audience size and seating (has a direct impact on punchline frequency and intensity)
  • Normal speech rate (how fast a comedians talks)

So maybe a some better questions you might want to look for in your stand-up comedy books and other resources are:

How do these factors affect the stand-up comedy material that I am developing?

How can I use this information to my advantage?

Oh, wait a minute – can’t seem to find anything about these aspects of stand-up comedy material in those popular stand-up comedy how to books (#ad) or other resources that are focused on how to “write” jokes for a stand-up comedy routine?

That’s odd because…

Otherwise how would anyone know how to produce, much less edit stand-up comedy “jokes” or material in any meaningful way to get 4-6+ laughs per minute from the beginning?

Like I said at the beginning, it’s hard to get the answers you want and need if you don’t know the right questions to ask to start with.

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