Wouldn’t you love to tap into the secrets of professional comedy writing?
Well, I want to teach. And as a teacher, I hope to stand at the podium, tell a joke, and cause an uproar of belly laughter to break the student?teacher ice.
I also want to study, and as a student, I hope to introduce an essay with an original but telling joke. Or, alternatively, I hope to introduce a speech with a gut-busting blurb. Or lastly, I hope to sprinkle subtle words throughout an anecdote that ignite guffaws.
But, I’m not bonkers enough to tell good jokes. I’m just not funny. So, what can I do to finally get a funny bone?
Looking back, as a young teen, I once had a funny streak, mimicking popular dance styles and spurting self-deprecating jokes. But, life’s pitfalls led me to bottle up my funny comebacks.
But later, I tried bursting through the mental block with the plan to perform on comedy stage shows. I crafted a character to enact. I had props. I even had a plan. But I didn’t execute.
You see, friends said my comedy act sucked.
But now, I’ve had an epiphany to share with you. The book Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV, by Joe Toplyn, spits out how to write original jokes. Joe wrote doozies for a few late-night shows, including Jay Leno’s show. Got your attention?
To learn how to craft jokes from scratch, let’s slice up Joe’s key trick for joke-telling. Better yet, let’s use Joe Topylin’s formula for cracking a joke about The Voice Magazine.
You start by considering that your joke has three parts: a topic, an angle, and a punch-line. don’t just say a punch-line, lead into it. That’s right, start with a topic statement that is about something true and compelling but not necessarily funny, for instance, something about popular culture or a news item you heard. You could say, “Last month, the Voice Magazine reached a readership of 10,000, a record high.” Then, you would create an angle, which leads into the punch-line. You’ll get a sense of it soon enough.
And keep in mind that the topic shouldn’t poke fun at things people have no control over (like disabilities or cultural upbringings). Also, the punch-line should feel “safe? and not at all threatening to the audience.
So, That’s all good, but how do you make the actual punch-line?
First, grab the handles from the topic and link them to associated words.
Now, let’s take the topic sentence, “Last month, the Voice Magazine reached a readership of 10,000, a record high.” With that topic, find two handles, or, in other words, two key components. Here’s one handle: The Voice Magazine. Here’s another handle: readership of 10,000.
Now, make two lists, one for each handle (one for “The Voice Magazine” and the other for “readership of 10,000”), Write down as many related items as you can think of: these items are your associations.
My preliminary list of associations off the cuff looks something as follows:
HANDLE 1: The Voice Magazine
ASSOCIATIONS 1: Dear Barb, From Where I Sit, the Study Dude, the editorial, Writer’s Toolbox, comic, music reviews, AUSU watchdog, summer themes, online, In Conversations, student run, camping, free, extra income, student hub, personal confessions, the only place to meet other students
HANDLE 2: Readership of 10,000
ASSOCIATIONS 2: record students avoiding studies, students seeking the only place to meet other students, isolated and sometimes lonely students, students across Canada, students too poor to afford paper magazines, stay-at-home moms, students in remote places, 10,000 maybe similar to the population of Balzac.
Next, take one (or more) association from each list of associations and craft your original joke, starting with the topic. I will use “10,000 maybe similar to the population of Balzac” and “Dear Barb” and “isolated and sometimes lonely students.”
So, voila! Here’s my attempt at an original Voice Magazine joke by linking one (or more) associations from each list:
“Last month, the Voice Magazine reached a readership of 10,000, a record high. That means that all of Balzac’s undergrads had at least one identifiable school mate: Dear Barb.”
David Letterman even had a penchant for Balzac cracks.
Well, now that you’ve learned a key way to crack a joke, if you want to read more tips, buy Joe Toplyn’s book, Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV.
But, before I go, here’s a tad bit of a teaser: the funniest letters are k, g, d, b, t, p, with k being the funniest of them all, says Joe. That’s why Balzac and Dear Barb work wonders.
Truthfully, I won’t crack jokes for Conan O?Brien any time soon, but now I’ve got tips for introducing essays with on the button smart cracks.