How to Write a Joke for Stand Up Comedy

Writing jokes is a business in the world of stand up comedy. The jokes a comedian writes will be most effective if they match his or her character. Developing a comedic personality on stage takes years but in the meantime it is necessary to get a start on that route to funny. Following a simple joke formula is the first step to writing for the comedy stage.

The formula “set up – punchline” is the most reliable comedic equation. It is a wonder that many comedians get so far off base when writing their first jokes. Usually this waywardness occurs because a new comedian usually imitates someone he or she has seen on stage at a concert or on television. What results from imitation is usually a very long and rambling set up and a punchline which is just as long and just as wordy.

An effective exercise for an aspiring comedian who is writing jokes for the first time is to write down all of these rambling words, thoughts and phrases and immediately begin the editing process. One of the hardest exercises is reducing these ideas to two sentences – one sentence for the set up and one sentence for the punchline. The most rewarding part of this type of tight editing is that if your resulting joke is funny, your laughs will come more quickly. A series of one-liner jokes will give you confidence. The laughter will affirm your instincts and give you the confidence to relax and start to write in a style that is comfortable to you.

Often times a new comedian will get ideas about how to perform by watching Cable TV. Unfortunately, these comics are not the best role models for their peers. Foul language and obscene subject matter are more often tolerated when a comedian gets his or her own HBO special as opposed to when they walk into a club for the first time. A new comedian whose jokes are filled with profanity will cause a club owner to wonder if the comic knows how to write a decent joke at all. A new comedian’s stage presence is generally not strong and a trail of x-rated jokes will only highlight their desperate attempt to be funny.

The basic element of a clean joke is to create a surprise ending. Write a one sentence set up and write the joke or “pay-off” in a direction the audience would never expect it to go. The standard “set-up, punchline” formula for joke writing will get a new comedian on stage in order to begin the journey of discovering what it is that makes people laugh.