Creating humor is part art, part science, and part guessing because you will never really know if it is truly funny until the audience responds with laughter or throws rotten fruits at you. This article will try to minimize the guessing part (and hopefully the throwing of objects at you) and increase the chances of forming a fantastic joke by breaking down the mechanics of comedy into simple techniques. These methods are not the only ones nor are they absolute, but they provide a foundation for delivering a well crafted joke.
The basic structure of a joke is the set up and the punch line. You might be asking, “Okay, I’ve heard this before but what does that mean?” The set up is a simple truth that you and/or your audience accepts to be so. And the punch line is just a twist of that truth. So how do you twist the truth? You can do it several ways. These are just some of the ways you can do it. Once you’ve gotten the hang of these types of punch lines, you can do it more naturally without consciously thinking about it, kinda like riding a bike. In fact, you can probably come up with other types of punch lines which might actually even be funnier but can’t explain why they’re funny. You’ll just know it. Here they are:
Most jokes are in some form of misdirection. Get your audience into a line of thinking, then you quickly give them a turn that they don’t expect. It is this element of surprise that makes them laugh. A good example of this is the popular tool called Rule of 3’s. The first two elements form a pattern then you twist the third. For example (taken from one of my old comedy bits):
“I’ve heard all kinds of excuses from girls who don’t want to go out with me – I’m doing my hair tonight, I’m watching my favorite show, I’m your cousin.”
Mix and Match
This tool works by putting a character or yourself in an inappropriate situation. It answers the question “What if?” Example would be a doctor who can’t stand the sight of blood, a black member of the Klu Klux Klan, or a terrorist who is always late. Some call this fish out of water.
However, you must be careful not to just try and use this right away because it might come off as inauthentic or hack, like if you say “Hey what if Kermit and Miss Piggy were making love?”
There has to be some basis of truth in the setup first. For example, if you have a traditional Filipino mother who wants you to marry Filipino woman and she keeps saying, “The white woman will only divorce you!” Then you put her in a deli and she says, “What kind of bread do you want? The white bread will only divorce you!”.
There are many other tools in making punch lines but the key is really in the setup. The more unique or insightful your truth is, the better because most of the time the punch lines will just write themselves, assuming you do have a sense of humor.