Creating a Comic

Bombing, killing, and other occupational hazards of stand-up comedy


I'm your host, CJ Alexander.
This is my blog about breaking into stand-up comedy.

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When writing a joke, or any other humorous material, try to arrange your punchline in such a way that the funny word goes last.

This is an old axiom among TV comedy writers, and it applies equally well to stand-up comedy. Since the key element in humor is surprise, leaving your funniest and most surprising word until the very end gives your joke the most punch. And you want your punchlines to be as punchy as possible, right?

If you have a joke or story that ends with “and he was eighty-three years old,” for example, drop the unnecessary “years old” at the end. The funny part is that he’s eighty-three, so just end with that.

It’s not always as simple as cutting excess words; very often it’s necessary to rearrange the story in order to put the funny word last. For example…

“I tried to shield my junk, but her kick was too fast for me to block!”

…is notably inferior to:

“And then, out of nowhere, she kicked me right in the junk!”

Junk is a just plain funny word, so that one’s pretty self-explanatory. However, sometimes the funniest word in the punchline isn’t inherently the goofiest word, it’s the word that packs the biggest surprise. I have one punchline that I originally told as follows:

Everyone knows that when you’re on vacation, (stuff) doesn’t count as gay.

Out of context, gay is the funniest word in that sentence, so it wasn’t an entirely stupid mistake on my part. But the funniest part of the joke is actually the word vacation, because that’s where the surprise is embedded. I started getting bigger laughs when I rearranged the punchline to:

Everyone knows that (stuff) doesn’t count as gay… when you’re on vacation.

Sometimes getting the funniest word to the very end requires mangling your point beyond grammatical recognition. Making sense is more important than strict adherence to this rule, so in those cases, just get it as close to the end as possible. Make sure the funny word is in the very last sentence clause, at least.

And remember, if all of your punchlines rely upon extreme vulgarity in the “funny word last” spot, then they’re probably not real punchlines, and you’re probably just being an unfunny foul-mouthed motherfucker.

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    2 Responses to “Joke writing: the funny word goes last”

    1. […] stumble on one of the punchlines in the middle. I suddenly realized that it didn’t follow the joke-writing rule of funny word goes last! It had always been a little weak, and would be incredibly simple to […]

      Absence makes the joke grow funnier | Creating a Comic

    2. This is still my favorite blog post you’ve ever made. I constantly have to remind myself what I’m doing wrong when I’m writing. Something with a joke just doesn’t feel right. Then I remember the order is wrong. :)


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