Getting a Laugh: How to Make Something Funny

published on July 17, 2020

Well comedy is essentially anything that makes you laugh that itself and come in many forms and genres ranging from stand-up to talk shows to films all the way to inside jokes you have with your friends with all these different mediums where we consume comedy very few people

Have ever tried to create something funny themselves and if you ever do you realize it's very very hard none of your ideas are original none of your sentences are interesting and whenever you think you have at least something

Funny when you say it out loud you get flashbacks to Hamlet in high school English even if you wake up in the morning and decide you're going to become funny by learning the rules of comedy that ends up being about as

Useful as decided to become good at math by remembering the numbers in reality the way that funny people make something funny is not by filtering content through an elaborate rule set and having jokes come out the other end but by

Starting with one tiny idea even just a word and building on it they take one boring sentence and turn it into one interesting sentence then into a funny sentence then into a punchline then they add a setup to get there then they do it

Again and again continually regrouping and rehashing material until finally they have something to perform or a show to release but if you're sitting there with a blank Word document or empty thoughts wondering how you're gonna

Write anything creative how do you even come up with even an original boring sentence let alone an interesting one or a real joke and that brings us to the first goal of comedy writing which is going from literally nothing to

Something anything that's funny and that means starting with the simplest possible form of joke which is a setup to establish a premise and a punchline that breaks the audience's expectations so let's take the easiest

Type of setup that you get every day which are questions so here's the question thing you do in your kitchen so now the problem here is not only do you have to break the audience's expectations you have to do it in a way

That still fulfills the initial premise the setup has established otherwise the joke isn't funny and this creates a comedic dilemma out of the infinite number of things you could respond with some are funnier than others so how do

You generate and narrow down the range and the first thing you need to do is establish what are the audience's expectations and in this case it's very obvious it's something you would physically do in the kitchen but

More complex than usual so let's start generating responses by adding an additional layer each time what is the most complex thing that you do in your kitchen make a big cake this is literally the most complex thing you've

Done in a kitchen and it's not funny build a giant rocket ship this might be the most complex thing you can think of done in a kitchen again not funny what is the most complex thing that you do in your kitchen make microwave noodles this

Breaks the audience's expectation of complex it's not that funny but it is interesting argue with my wife this breaks the audience's expectation of what is usually done in a kitchen it's

Not that funny but it's interesting what is the most complex thing that you do in your kitchen sometimes I ask myself of a half carton of eggs is considered a meal this breaks the audience's expectations that what you were doing was physical

And their expectation of complex and it's sort of funny so then what have you broke the expectation of complex the expectation of physically doing something and the expectation of what is usually done in a kitchen I think kind

Of sort of cream units the most complex thing you do in your kitchen so after generating a joke the next step in building something comedic is one of

The most important which is delivery or how you tell the joke the reason this is so important is because no matter how well a song is written if you can't sing the song is gonna be complete garbage and this is a lot harder than you think

Because for good delivery you also need a good setup here's an example of a bad setup and bad delivery which comes quite naturally I have a problem right now I have too much pickle juice leftover at home so what I've been doing is putting

The extra pickle juice on my sandwiches to make them taste better so this joke is actually technically structured correctly you establish a premise you state your position on it which sets an expectation and then you break the

Expectation in a way that still satisfies the premise setup punchline it's technically a joke the issue is is that it doesn't flow at all it sounds like I'm reading the joke the language is super boring the audience is confused

Because after the second sentence everyone is wondering why you have too much pickle juice not what you're gonna do with it so you have to close that loop before moving on to the punchline in essence it doesn't sound right and it

Doesn't make sense here's a better version I have a situation in my apartment right now have a surplus of pickle juice in my apartment too much pickle juice laughter the pickles of all I don't like throwing

Out the pickle juice excess feels wasteful so lately I've been differing my fingers in the pickle juice and I flick it on my sandwiches for flavor so a key takeaway that all comedians

Employ is always committing to the joke if you start mumbling or lose confidence in your delivery the audience always senses it and you lose them you see that a lot when someone is telling a joke or story in conversation because they're

Trying to gauge their audience's reaction to see you they're still listening which is a mistake you have to always tell the joke with the assumption everyone is going to listen because that's what makes people want to listen

If people still ignore you or interrupt you have to rethink the material not deliver the joke more timidly hoping for encouragement here's a segment of one of Louis CK's bits where the delivery is the crux of the joke the most important

Part being his use of complete silence that most people would be scared to use out of fear that get interrupted okay like of course of course children who have nut allergies need to be protected of course we've to segregate their food

From nuts have their medication available at all times and anybody who manufactures or serves food needs to be aware of deadly nut allergies of course but maybe maybe if touching and that kills you you're supposed to die

Of all people you'd think you know the damage you can inflict for a misplaced nut so one more example of a good delivery is comedian Norm Macdonald who often has jokes that fall in the category of so bad they're good but he

Delivers them with so much confidence you know it's absolutely calculated here's an example is this two-hour season finale of Melrose Place there's this movie coming out yeah title undetermined at this point chairman of

The board oh all right do something with that usually the board is felt Bo re do so once we have a setup and a punch line and you can deliver it well and get a

Laugh you have to be able to revise the joke one of the most important techniques that you can use to improve your comedic writing in speech is increasing your specificity for example saying there I was in my car hoping it

Was powerful enough to make it up the hill isn't nearly as funny as there I was in my four-door Fiesta hoping the gradient wouldn't crack 15 degrees or saying that's the saddest thing I've ever seen is not nearly as funny as

Sadder than a club thumb girl who loves pistachios a little bit niche there but you get the idea for another example if someone asks if I love football I could say yeah one of the higher-ups in the NFL could kick a kid with his shoes on

And I'd still watch the game on the weekend which isn't very funny it's actually kind of mean but when you're a lot more specific what they would have to do to get me to stop watching you know I love football you want the

Commissioner could literally punt a baby across this office and what you might notice there is the language bill Byrd uses is actually far more brutal than what I used but it's somehow way funnier and what you'll find is that refining a

Joke and adding specificity to make the punchline hit harder you run the risk of offending the audience as an example if you replace the word punt with kill in the previous example it is absolutely not funny at all even though you would

Literally accomplish the same thing which brings us to one of the most useful rules of thumb in comedy which is no subject is off limits as long as your joke is funnier than it is offensive and Pepsi doesn't pay your bills the theme

Being you can't laugh and be offended at the same time so in addition to specificity the next element that is essential to good delivery is the cadence of the joke this is an area where literary skills are actually

Useful because to me cadence is just so much about how you write the words as it is about how you say the words and there's really no way of teaching this because what you're aiming for is the precision of writing with the fluency of

Speech and this is why most stand-up comedians improvise their setups and have their punchlines memorized to the word ultimately you just have to practice a lot read a lot listen a lot and you get better because it's

Fundamentally a matter of taste the same way inexperienced decorators these colors and shapes go together you're trying to do the same thing with words one of my favorite exercises is taking common feelings that are

Difficult to express and then shorten them down to be brief and punchy which is what a lot of the word of your British comedians do an example is instead of saying feeling sad in hindsight you could use debilitating

Retrospection or sadness when I remember instead of not bad you can use repressing melancholy these are the techniques that got us Internet cliches for always sad like crippling depression and constant despair which are now all

Common parlance in the British and Canadian lifestyle so I think with that anyone who gets started building something funny it might only be enough to write one line that's worth two laughs but that's where you start

Literally that's where you start one day you'll find yourself with four or five and then you can use the same techniques to tie them together into something bigger eventually you might get to the point where you need to learn further

Skills to realize a bigger goal like how comedians such as Bo Burnham went from singing funny songs on YouTube to entire hour-long musical performance and then to directing his own movie or how the Simpsons started the shorts that weren't

Even that funny and then went on to the most celebrated cartoon ever made it really for myself the thing that I love the most about comedy compared to most visual or literary arts is that you can't fake it you can write bad fiction

Make uninteresting paintings or take cliche photos because artist's objective you can shelter your ego from criticism and even think your profound because no one could or cares to prove you wrong but when it comes to comedy if you're

Not good no one laughs no one has a good time no one says well at least though I think you're talented and you realize it's not the world that doesn't get it it's you and I think the pursuit of being funny

Does best show that it isn't about giving up or trying again it's about giving up or getting better so I guess I'm saying comedy is like cancer so I'll leave it at that


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