People tell me that they’re afraid to SAY the joke after they’ve written it because they’re worried that they won’t remember it exactly. I kick off my keynotes with at least a dozen or so jokes on the group, so memory is a BIG issue for me. I’ve got a few techniques I use, but one is the one old fashioned “set list” in which you write out a word (or maybe 2 or 3, but no more) that queues your brain to say the joke. What word do you use for the set list? Well, I use three options.

For example purposes, if the new joke is:

“I just switched health plans, though I almost didn’t get the new plan. . .I had a paper cut back in ’82 that was haunting me. Apparently that’s a pre-existing condition.”

Then I use either. . .

The subject. The most obvious word to use is a word that is about the joke. In the example above, the joke is about “switching health plans”, so I’d put those 3 words on the set list to queue my brain. Then when I glance down, and have practiced a bit, I know how the “switching health plans” joke goes.

The punch line. You can also use the last words. . .”pre-existing condition” to queue your brain where to go. Think about it, in daily life, you speak without thinking out each word in advance. . .your brain knows where you want to go with your thought. Telling a joke is the same thing. So RELAX, know that you need to end with “pre-existing condition” and, again if you’ve practiced a bit, it will happen just as it does in conversation.

A word I can’t remember. Invariably every once in a while there’s a word in the joke that I just can’t seem to remember, so I put that word on the set list. For this joke, I kept forgetting the word “paper cut”. . . for some reason, I kept thinking “hang nail.” Paper cut is funnier (has the “cuh” sound), so I really wanted to use that, so to remind me, I put in those 2 words. And again, my brain remembers what the “paper cut” joke is.

There are tons of other ways to remember a joke, but these 3 set list ideas have been a big help to me. And again, remember to RELAX. Don’t worry that you don’t get the wording exactly the way you want. That comes with time and practice. But You will most likely get close enough.