Put The Laugh Last: A Simple Trick About Writing Humor

There are two basic parts to any joke – the set up and the punch – the first part (set up) where you seriously set up a premise, and then the second part where you surprise the audience with an unexpected ending. It’s that second part where the humor lies. It should be obvious that the funny part should go last. But I have seen many comedians try to put it in the middle. So remember this simple rule of humor: The punch line always falls at the end of the joke. Don’t add anything after the funny. End on the funny. Say the funny and get out.

What is a punch line? The punch line is the part of your statement that makes it a joke – the funny part – sometimes a word, sometimes a phrase. It’s the part where you expect them to laugh – the surprise to your serious set up. If you don’t have a punch line, then you need to do a little more work on your humor.

Why is the punch line last? When the audience hears the funny part they will laugh (hopefully). And while they are laughing they aren’t listening. So anything you say after the punch will not be heard by the audience unless you wait for them to stop laughing, and then the rest of the line probably isn’t necessary unless it’s funny too.

So what if your next line is funny? If your next line is funny, you still want to wait for them to stop laughing before you deliver it. When you have a funny following a funny, you are tagging off the first funny – so comedians call that a tag. Audiences love tags and you’re pretty much guaranteed a laugh with a tag to an earlier joke. Probably because the audience feels like you have an inside joke together, and probably because they think you are making that joke up on the spot – and audiences LOVE IT when they think you just came up with the joke right there on stage.

Even in writing humor that is simply funny, rather than jokes, I will try to get the funny part to the end of the sentence where they will be more surprised – and end on that by putting a period. So repeat after me: I will put the punch line at the END of my joke.

And as every motivational speaker knows – it’s the small things that make a BIG difference!


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