100 Hours of Humo(u)r – Hour 37: Comedy Writing Pitfalls
Two Common Mistakes that Smother Punch Lines – and How to Avoid Them
By Dave Fox
Regardless of the style of humor you’re working with, the punch line should always be the very last part of a joke. If extraneous information follows your punch line, that information swallows the funny part.
Having to explain your punch line is another sign a joke isn’t working. You know how it is when someone tells a joke that’s met with awkward silence? Everyone stares, trying to figure out the point, sometimes wondering if it was meant to be a joke or not. The joke teller shifts nervously, laughs to fill the silence, and says, “Get it?” He or she then tries to explain why it’s funny, but it’s too late. The joke is dead.
If you have to explain a joke after you tell or write it, it isn’t funny. This doesn’t mean it can’t be made funny. It just hasn’t been structured right. The needed explanation needs to be worked into the set-up – before the punch line.
As you write, if you ever find yourself explaining to your readers why something is funny, you need to back up. Look at the order in which you’ve presented the information, and be sure the funny part is at the end.