How do you write a joke?

13 Oct

If you were expecting this blog to be a searing political commentary then you have been shockingly misled (a bit like this country under the coalition, eh? EH?). But those of you who are aware of me from Twitter will know joke-writing is something I’ve been wrestling with for a while. So I thought it might be interesting to share the way I compose jokes; to see whether this bears any resemblance to the way other people write. To do this, I’ll slap one of my jokes on the mortuary slab, tug on the gloves and get Quincey MD on its ass.

So here’s a joke what I wrote:

“I used to do a bad impression of Eric Morecambe, but now I’ve seen the error of my waheys!”

So there it is, spread out like a literary reference anaesthetized on a table. Firstly, we must consider its medical history. Nurse, my thinking pants.

This joke began life as a conversation I overheard on a bus. Most of Twitter – perhaps, even, most if life – is overheard on a bus. The conversation in question took place between two ladies of grandmotherly demeanour who had just visited a relative and were now taking advantage of some “bus-time” to “have a brain dump” (they must have worked in marketing). Anyway, Doris says to Deidre: “I see he has started going to church again?” to which Deidre replied “Yes, let’s just hope he’s seen THE ERROR OF HIS WAYS”. That’s my emphasis, incidentally. She didn’t stand up and shout “THE ERROR OF HIS WAYS, YOU HEAR ME PEOPLE??” to everyone on the bus. But the phrase stuck in my head.

Now for the science bit.

Pun formula = think of pun, derive set-up, invert.

Dermot the TV presenter taught me that. “Oh, really?”. No, O’Leary.

So what can you do with “error of my ways”? “Error” doesn’t pun with much. For “ways” you’ve got “weighs”, which is dull. I toyed with a Frank Sinatra joke, ending with the punchline “the error of My Ways” but even I couldn’t get that to work (he says, not in a shy way). But as soon as I hit on “waheys” and applied the golden rules (see below), the bad Eric Morecambe impression leapt out. The world was a happy place and the little woodland creatures danced to the sound of pixie disco.

I did consider framing the joke as though it were being told by Eric’s partner. But decided that would be un-Wise.

Other shit that seems to work. Sorry! I mean “Golden Rules”:

1. Celebrity references – people are a bunch of evil bastards who like laughing about/at other people.

2. Bathos – start serious, finish stupid (like the coalition government eh? EH? OK – I’ll stick to puns)

3. Get the rhythm right – I’m not suggesting having sex with tramps is wrong, but as Giles Coren will attest, it’s bad to climax on a downbeat.

There is also a lot of shit that doesn’t work. I’ll do a separate blog about that some time, when the scars have healed.

So there you go. As I say, not exactly The Wasteland, but hey. Wo weilest du?

Still, you don’t know if it’s funny till you tell it. Likewise I wont know if you enjoyed this trip through my head till you’ve read it. There is only ever hope.

*weak smile*

Thank you for reading 🙂



7 Responses to “How do you write a joke?”

  1. Matt Fishwick October 13, 2011 at 11:12 am #

    Nice to see you go into a bit of detail regarding how you come up with your stuff.

    I’ve enjoyed reading your stuff, both on Twitter and the articles from Chortle, too.

    Keep up the good work.


  2. Benedict Farse October 13, 2011 at 11:28 am #

    Brilliant feller.
    How did you come up with the Arbeit McFly one? Same process? I love that one.

  3. Alasdair Murray (@Alconcalcia) October 13, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

    I always enjoy your offerings on Twitter. They knock mine into a cocked hat. A famous comedian once told me that it was all in the timing? Did he? No, Doddy. 😉

  4. Sam October 13, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    Nice to get an insight – and laying it all out on the slab to examine makes me wonder whether there’s much difference between a good one-liner and a cryptic crossword puzzle. Do you do them? Another (relatively) recent article about jokes and their composition is here: Tim Vine discussing how/why they work…

  5. justin craigon October 13, 2011 at 3:13 pm #

    I’ve read similar formulas before which try and break the process down. And sometimes I find brute force just trying alternative word meanings best fruit but my best ones are always more inspiration than perspiration. If I can only figure out how to be inspired …

    P.s. its a great joke!

  6. Simon October 14, 2011 at 3:12 am #

    I love your stuff to but I’m not reviewing it, you obviously like a laugh, or pixie disco’s. I found this utube offering the other day you might like Charloete Church & Amy Winehouse doing MJ’s Beat it. Pixie Disco be damned; that was like seeing woodland pixies who have been left off the guest list, blowing the bunnies on the door so they can get into the disco,

  7. Garth Jenkins October 18, 2011 at 10:06 pm #

    I was going to start this message by carefully crafting some imagery of female gentalia with magnificent wordplay, but then you’d think me a twat.

    This really a really cool post, and genuinely informative and, believe me, I’ve clicked on a lot of shit twitter links.

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