So much of what we focus on in joke writing is the punch line, but one way to make a great punch line is coming up with a great set-up line. My first three tips for a great set-up line are to:
Make it Short.
Bill Cosby can go on forever and ever, but the rest of us should make it short. I try to keep my entire joke to 3 lines (not sentences. . .lines).
Use Only What’s Needed.
Put in only the things that need to be known in order for the joke to be funny. For example, when I write about my nieces and nephews, people need to know that they are kids, but they don’t need to know their exact ages for it to be funny. So instead of saying “my 5-year-old nephew” I can say “my little nephew”. . .people will get it – unless it’s something particular to a 5-year-old.
Here I am above @ the FontainBleau Resort in Miami. . great place but too many syllables!
Watch the Syllables.
Words with shorter syllables take less time for people to process, which means they can take in the whole joke, and aren’t left back at “Ironically”. . .it’s Ironic. I know, it may sound preposterous. . .I mean silly. . .
Use Familiar Words.
This isn’t the time to show how huge your vocabulary is. . .most people stick to a very limited selection, and you should too. Every time I hear the flight attendants tell us before take-off that we need to set our electronics “in the off position” I want to scream. No one talks like that. . .we say “turn it off.” I don’t know if that’s some sort of legalese that they HAVE to use, but it’s ridiculous. . . I mean STUPID (to use less syllables)!
Don’t Worry ‘bout Grammar.
If you’re saying the joke. . .or writing it so someone else can say it. . . then don’t worry about the grammar so much. My “take your daughter to work day” joke has the words “there less women in the workforce than men.” Grammatically it should be “fewer women than men,” but “less” is a shorter word and gets the point across. Not many people are going to stop me and point it out. What you’re trying to do with a joke is get the IDEA across and you can do that without following writing etiquette.
So that’s a few do’s and don’ts for short joke writing. . .so that your set-ups really do set you up for joke success.