You don’t have to perfect the art of joke writing to be funny. You don’t even have to be an off-the-wall character or inherently talented; you simply have to learn how to surprise people. It’s something anyone can learn to do. Here are a few ways to keep the audience on their toes and create an environment that gets them laughing.
DO get to the punchline fast.
The phrase “brevity is the soul of wit” is too long. Brevity is wit. Edit your jokes. The longer your setup, the better your punchline must be.
DON’T use a joke you’ve never told.
Test out your jokes before telling them to an audience. Try them on your spouse or a trusted friend. Even a little feedback can go a long way.
DO draw on your life experiences.
The best way to be original is to speak about your own experiences. No one can claim your stories as their own. Be willing to be vulnerable and share yourself.
DON’T lead them to the joke.
Always end on a twist. Most jokes aren’t bad; they’re simply misdirected. Set up a line as if you’re going to turn left and then take a sharp right.
DO paint a picture.
The stage is your canvas, and comedy is in the details. Don’t settle for “you had to be there.” Bring them there. Make your words specific.
DON’T just stand there.
Move around. Don’t be afraid to use your hands or shake your body. If you’re telling a joke about someone, think of ways to physically portray that person.
DO laugh at yourself.
Humility will endear you to an audience. It’s brave to tell a joke about yourself. Talking about your first times and failures will get the audience on your side.
DON’T start without energy.
If you weren’t introduced to applause, ask them to give it up for the last speaker. If there wasn’t another speaker, ask them to give it up for themselves!
DO have fun.
Laughter is contagious, but so is smiling and being happy in general. If you’re having a good time, the audience will have a good time, too.
People want to hear what you have to say. They’ll laugh because everyone likes to laugh. Once you realize they want you to succeed, the rest is easy.
Nick Jack Pappas is a comedy writer, stand-up comedian and one of the founders of Comedywire in New York City.
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