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May 10, 2006

 
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Joke-Writing 101
With Marty Sherman


Let me give you an example of a joke you all know:

"Why did the chicken cross the road?"

"To get to the other side."






Henny Youngman wrote:

"Why did the chicken cross the road?"

"To get to the egg."

These jokes were written around the riddle: "Which came first the chicken or the egg?" which we all know from hearing it as children.

Unless of course, you’re a child at the moment, which means you’re not in our demographic anyway, so why care whether you get it or not? Chickens lay eggs. The eggs we eat for breakfast are kinda like chicken babies. Okay?

Remember: there are permutations to every joke, and levels of acceptance. Let’s take the above joke and offer a slight re-write:

"Why did the chicken cross the road?"

"To fry an egg."

Also remember that a joke is: concise, universal in appeal, and offers a surprise.

The surprise is the key to the joke, though, and it’s quite possible to sacrifice either or both of the other two elements that are normally needed to tell a good one, and still be funny.

For example, you can tell a joke to a specific group of people (e.g. co-workers) that only they might find funny. This also includes groups of people that have particular types of humor (e.g. sick and/or morbid).

Also, it’s not absolutely necessary to be concise. In fact, one can ‘milk’ a joke into what is known as a ‘shaggy dog story’, which is a long, often difficult-to-follow humorous narrative, the punch-line of which is sometimes, disappointingly, merely an obvious pun. This only works on occasion.


Structure and Approach In an Accepted Joke Form...
Johnny Carson perfected the ‘How bad is it?’ joke, which really isn’t a joke at all. It’s a formula which can be applied to any situation. How bad is it? It’s bad. It’s damn bad. It’s fuckin’ horrific. Take that something bad and make it so bad that it’s funny. Goddamn funny. Fuckin’ hilarious!


The Set Up Level One - It’s Bad...
"I came home kinda late last night and my wife said ‘Do you have any idea what time it is?’"


The Punchline - Add To It...
"That’s kinda like being pulled over by the cops and being asked ‘Sir, have you been drinking?’ No matter what you do, you know things are only going to get worse."


The Set Up Level Two - It’s Damn Bad...
"I came home kinda late last night and my wife said ‘Do you have any idea what fucking time it is?"


The Punchline - Add To It...
"That’s kinda like being asked ‘Did you hear Bush got re-elected?’ No matter what you do, you know things are only going to get worse and, believe it or not, even fucking worse."


The Set Up Level Three - It’s Fuckin’ Horrific...
"I came home kinda late last night and my wife said ‘Do you have any idea how many cocks I had to suck before you got here?’"


The Punchline - Add To It...
"That’s kinda like being on the 90th floor of the World Trade Center and being asked ‘Did you hear that a plane crashed into the building 15 floors below us?’ No matter what you do, you know things are only going to get worse."


A.) He’s right. Things are only getting fucking worse.
B.) You’re depressing me, but it is fucking bad out there.
C.) I just want to hang myself. After getting high one more time.




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