Do a word search.
The simplest way to find callbacks in a speech or document that you’ve already written is to do a word search in and see if you can find a word that keeps cropping up. If you talk about cats in one place, you may talk about cats in other places but you just don’t realize it. Once you do find the similar word, see if you can tie the two together by using a similar punch line or referring back to the original cat joke (see below).
Use the same solution.
A lot of comedy is about finding solutions to problems. . .so see if you can use the same solution (i.e. punch line) in several different jokes. For me I talk about staring at my cat and wondering “how long do they live” and then later I joke about my mom staring at my dad wondering “how long do they live” and then still later I joke about my crazy boss and wonder “how long do they live.” This is a great way to develop jokes too. . . if you’ve got a punch line that hits particularly well, or some sentence you keep repeating, just start looking for places that you could use it and you’ll develop new jokes. I could apply the “how long do they live” to any frustrating situation and come up with new material that ties in this theme.
Pay attention to the industry.
Whatever industry I’m speaking too, I try to mark a connection to the jokes in my act pertain to that industry. So just as above, I do a word search for that industry in my act. . .if it’s nursing, then I look for all the medical jokes in my act and see if there’s a way to connect the two. Maybe it’s a simple as perhaps I do some opening line that makes fun of their rival hospital, and then during my joke about the emergency room taking a long time, I toss in the name of their rival hospital again for the second laugh.
And Finally. . . .
Make sure you structure the callback the exact same way you structured the original line – I always use the same wording “how long do they live” on the cat example because that’s what people remember.
Callbacks are an “aha” moment for the audience. . . sometimes just mentioning the prior joke, without making it much of a punch line, is enough to make people laugh because they’re remembering the earlier joke. So don’t miss these easy, easy ways to add humor.