How to Make Your Writing Funnier Using the Tools of Standup Comedy

Words humor writing mini course in front of a messy teacher desk

This information is excerpted from a two-week, humor writing unit plan for teachers: Introduction to Humor and Comedy Writing.

In this lesson we’ll discuss some basic principles of writing jokes for standup comedy and how these might apply to your writing.

Four basic parts of a standup comedy and how these might apply to your writing

Here is a very condensed summary of how standup comics write jokes

There are three parts of a joke: The premise, the setup, and the punch.

Sometimes there is also a tag, which is an additional punch line without a new setup.

Premise: introduces a topic, your feeling about the topic, and your reason for that feeling (in any order).

  • “I hate parking for this class because there’s always a line.”
  • “You know why I hate parking for this class? There’s always a huge line.”
  • “I love coming to class. I just wish the parking line was shorter.”

Setup: Leads from the premise to the punch line, and provides the information needed to understand the punch line.

  • “All the way here, I was so happy I avoided traffic, then…”
  • “There was actually a cop directing traffic. I said, ‘what happened, is there some type of big event going on?”

Punch: The funny part. This is where the audience should laugh.

“Then I get here and the entrance to the parking lot is like a… parking lot,”

“The cop says, ‘yeah. English 101.’”

Tag: A line that allows you to get another laugh after the punchline without doing the setup and premise for a whole new joke.

“If I’m going to wait in a line this long, there better be a roller coaster at the end of it.

*Note: These jokes are not particularly funny, but that’s okay. They’re just meant to illustrate the parts of a joke. Also, as discussed in the class even the best comics write tons of jokes before they get a good one.

The material above is a part of a lesson from from a six-week, online humor writing class. In the rest of the class, we discuss specific joke-writing techniques from standup comedy that might also apply to your writing.

If you’re a teacher who would like to teach a humor-writing unit in your classroom, you can find a classroom-ready unit plan on Teachers Pay Teachers.