Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 6: Even More On Joke Forms

The forms that we have described in the previous post are the basic ways of structuring humor. However they can be enhanced with special helpers to make the jokes even more funny.

Good tellers of jokes and humorous stories tell them in such a way as for the audience to be able to visualize all the little adventures in their heads. Visualization can be done through very detailed and vivid descriptions, but also through the use of metaphors and similes.

In order to create a picture in someone head’s, you need to be as descriptive as possible. Be detailed and specific and use as many adjectives as you can. Instead of saying it was a small car, say it was a diminutive, red Honda Civic that was nearing its expiration date. See how that second description creates a better picture than the first?

Sometimes being detailed and descriptive doesn’t create the image that you want and you need some other way to create the desired effect.

With metaphors and similes you describe an abstract concept by comparing it to something more familiar. These are often added by comedians in order to create funny pictures in your head.

Your brain often thinks through analogies, basically by using familiar concepts to try to picture and find relationships between objects that are a bit more fuzzy or unknown. These types of comparisons are often done using metaphors or similes.

That’s why putting in metaphors and similes can have such a powerful effect.

With a metaphor you are saying that one thing is another thing in a figurative way. This is the highest level of comparison. With a simile you are saying one thing is like another thing.

Examples:

My friend is LIKE a baby.
– simile

My friend IS a baby.
– metaphor

Notice how each of them has a slight difference in meaning. A metaphor is usually a much stronger way of putting that comparison.

The choice of metaphors and similes gives the joke a special meaning and often reveals hidden aspects of the opinion you hold about the subject of your joke.

An organization is like a tree full of monkeys, all on different limbs at different levels. The monkeys on top look down and see a tree full of smiling faces. The monkeys on the bottom look up and see nothing but assholes.

The author of the above joke uses a mix of similes and metaphors in order to paint a picture in your head. This then brings out the point of the joke in a much better way than if a different technique was used.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 5: More Joke Forms

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There are two basic types of humor: verbal-based humor and content-based humor. With verbal-based humor you play around with the meanings of words and if you use different words than the ones initially used in the joke, then you will lose the humor.

We have looked at verbal-based humor or play on words in the last post. In this post, we will focus on content-based humor or what I like to call play on things.

Play On Things

With content-based humor, the humor is not in the words used themselves, but in the entire idea that is being conveyed. As such, a play on things passes the translation test. You can retell the joke in different words and the humor is still there.

Let’s have a look at some of the main types of content-based humor.

5) Using exaggeration or understatement

Exaggerations and understatements are one of the most effective ways to create humor. They create a mismatch between the actual situation and the words being said, which then produces the laughter.

Exaggeration by itself does not create humor and is in fact often used in normal non-funny ways. To make things funnier you have to exaggerate so much that it is obvious that you are exaggerating. That’s the key to exaggeration in comedy.

If you want to put an emphasis on someone being fat, then make the comparison as unrealistic as possible. This unrealistic comparison is what makes it funny. Say the guy weighted more than a pick-up truck or that he weighted two tons.

There are several ways of creating funny exaggerations, for example through the use of hyperboles, metaphors or analogies.

Hyperboles are extreme exaggerations in order to make a point. They are comparisons just like similes and metaphors, but very extravagant and over the top. They amplify what you are trying to say.

For example if you are trying to make the point that something is too expensive and unaffordable, you can say that it costs a gazillion dollars. Or when someone says that they are buried under a ton of paperwork, they don’t mean that the ceiling suddenly opened up and inundated the room with a bunch of paper. Instead what the person means is that they have to fill out a lot of boring forms.

I knew a girl so ugly, I took her to the top of the Empire State building and planes started to attack her.” Rodney Dangerfield

If it weren’t for pick-pocketers, I’d have no sex life at all.” Rodney Dangerfield

All my wife does is shop – once she was sick for a week, and three stores went under.” Henry Youngman

I have been a gigantic Rolling Stones fan since approximately the Spanish-American War.” Dave Barry

Went to the paper shop – it had blown away.” Tommy Cooper

Metaphors, similes and analogies are also good ways to exaggerate the description of a particular scene or situation. These types of comparisons often paint vivid pictures in your head.

Our primary living-room sofa looks like a buffalo that has been dead for some time.” Dave Barry

In the example above, in order to illustrate the point of how decrepit his sofa is, Dave Barry compares it to a dead rotting buffalo. Can you picture the dead buffalo and can you imagine how the sofa must have looked like? 🙂

Jokes also often rely on the use of stereotypes (about blondes, Scots, hillbillies…etc.). Stereotypes are a type of exaggeration.

They say that a “True Scot” in North America is one whose ancestors came from Scotland – but who were born in North America to save the fare.

The above joke uses the common stereotype that Scottish people are cheap, which is the premise of many ethnic jokes.

Understatements are the opposite of exaggerations in that they downplay the situation instead. They are correct in a literal sense, but fail to convey the magnitude or graveness of a particular event.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 4: Joke Forms

Most people think that humor is a free-flowing thing without any structure. That’s not true at all.

Most theories of humor state that the act of finding something funny is a result of things like surprise or incongruency. However these things don’t arise by themselves, but are highly dependent on delivery.

You can create these incongruities and surprise by putting in the right words, following a certain word order, and through the use of highly-paid actors (optional).

That and anything with O.J. “Orange Juice” Simpson in it, is funny. 🙂

The surprise or incongruency comes from the way the joke is structured. You can make or break a joke just by the specific form you put it in.

We’ve all heard someone bumble up a joke really badly. Fat Joe hears a great joke, jots it down into memory and then later tries to retell it in front of a crowd. Nobody laughs.

What makes it funny was lost on him. He did not get the essence of the joke right. The problem was that he did not put the joke in the correct structure and did not use the right form.

Let’s start off with a little exercise. Look at the jokes below and try to identify what makes them funny (well at least to some people 🙂 ):

Never argue with an idiot. He will drag you down to his level and beat you with experience.” George Carlin

War does not determine who is right – only who is left.” Bertrand Russell

I chased a girl for two years only to discover that her tastes were exactly like mine: We were both crazy about girls.” Groucho Marx

I had a flight attendant on the last flight who was so old, after she demonstrated the oxygen mask she left it on.” Bob Hope

A drunk was in front of a judge. The judge says “You’ve been brought here for drinking.” The drunk says, “Okay, let’s get started.”” Henry Youngman

Honesty may be the best policy, but it’s important to remember that apparently, by elimination, dishonesty is the second-best policy.” George Carlin

We live in an inherently sexist society, in the sense that a lot of women who get ahead do so through the sexualisation of everything.” Omid Djalili

People who lose sleep over the stock market are lucky. I lose money.” Melvin Helitzer

Got it? We will come back to looking at these jokes in a little bit. First let’s get familiar with the basic joke forms.

There are many comedians, countless jokes and even more people trying to be funny, but luckily most jokes can be broken down into a limited number of formulas. If you learn to recognize these formulas, you can construct your own jokes much more easily.

A mathematician about his late colleague:
“He made a lot of mistakes, but he made them in a good direction. I tried to copy this, but I found out that it is very difficult to make good mistakes.”

Learning to tell jokes is a lot like learning any other skill. You will make a lot of mistakes at first, but over time you will get better and better. Having some joke frameworks in your head will help you get started in the right direction.

The trouble with learning from experience is that you never graduate.” Doug Larson

As the great Cicero observed more than two millennia go, all the different joke formulas can be divided into two categories: those based on words and those based on things. So between verbal and content based humor.

How do you tell the two categories apart? You use the translation test! 🙂

If you can tell the joke in different words and it still remains funny, then it is content-based humor, a play on things. If the joke depends on the particular meaning of a word or phrase and if you use different words, it loses its humor, then it is verbal humor, a play on words.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 3: How To Write A Joke

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Now that we know about the structure of a joke and the different parts that it consists of, how do we actually go about writing it?

What creative process do you need to go through in order to come up with an idea for a joke and then craft it in a funny way?

Watch the video below to see Jerry Seinfeld’s process:

A lot of humor is based on things happening around you, whether in the news or in your own life. These are the basic starting points of all jokes or funny stories. You just need to be able to capture that, process it and then deliver it in the right way.

You can write a simple story about your day, job, life and use comedy formula to shape it to create laugh points and make the audience start rolling in the aisles.

Aside from velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe. You can’t see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upwards of seventy-five dollars per hour for it, without necessarily fixing anything.” Dave Barry

Edgar E. Willis (author of “How to be funny on purpose”) states that every joke has what is called an expressed idea and an inferred idea. The expressed idea is what the joke teller says in an explicit form, while the inferred idea is the idea that the listeners should get out of what he is saying.

So basically the joke is delivering two ideas simultenously, what is said literally and what those words are implying.

Since you have two basic ideas in a joke, you also have two main starting places for a joke: either think up the inferred idea (what you want the audience to draw out of what you say), or come up with the expressed idea (material that will lead audience to make inferred idea).

Listen again to Jerry Seinfeld’s description of his joke creation process. In the example he gives, he is starting out from the inferred idea: Pop Tarts are weird and food is crazy.

Once he has the message he wants to pass in his head, he goes about crafting the words that would deliver it.

Here is another Jerry Seinfeld clip which has as its inferred idea the craziness of the shopping experience. Notice the words he uses in order to show this:

How do you craft the words themselves? Even if the inferred idea is good, the actual words that you use can be the difference between the audience giving out a slight chuckle or breaking out in roaring laughter that makes half the people end up in the hospital due to the fact that they were cracking up so hard that they forgot to breathe.

One way to do this is visualization, describing in such a way as to paint a vivid picture in the head. Another good joke formula is the use of exaggerations, either overstatements or understatements in order to better convey your idea.

This can be done by combining metaphors or analogies with hyperboles. Your brain often thinks using metaphors and analogies and that’s why their use can really underline what you are saying.

These are very powerful ways of expressing an idea. Using these tropes in different contexts can often give a very different spin to your message.

A metaphor basically says that A is B. For example the “war on drugs” is saying that there is a war on drugs.

On the other hand, a simile compares two things that are similar in some way. A simile often states that A is “like” B. In order to tell apart a simile from a metaphor look for words like “like” or “as”. For example when Forrest Gump said that “life is like a box of chocolates” or when you say something is “as cute as a kitten“.

An analogy is essentially an extended, more elegant simile. For example this quote from the character Matt McGrath in the movie “Broken Hearts Club” is an analogy: “Dumb gorgeous people should not be allowed to use literature when competing in the pick-up pool. It’s like bald people wearing hats.
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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 2: The Anatomy Of A Joke

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George Washington was the first President of the US and is often given to kids as an example of what they should aspire to. When he was in his late teens, he wrote out a list of rules that a gentleman should abide by.

The list contained such wise rules as don’t turn your back to someone when you are speaking, or that the gestures of the body must be suited to the discourse you are upon.

Do you know what his number one rule was?

🙂

Don’t scratch your balls in public! 🙂

🙂

Well, actually it was number 2!

🙂

The list itself can be found here, but that was not the point of this little section.

The short story above (inspired by an A.J. Jacobs presentation) very nicely demonstrates the anatomy of a joke, as well as many elements inherent in comedy.

First there is some sort of an introduction, which explains the premise and leads the audience to think in one direction.

Then boom, an element of surprise suddenly appears, and the joke teller comes up with an unexpected unravelling of the story.

Sometimes this can be followed by another element that continues the joke, an add-on joke.

These things are called the set-up, the punchline, and the tagline and form the basic structure of a joke.

This is a formula that can be replicated in any type of story or joke on whatever subject you want. With any joke, first you need to set up the scene, then you finish it up with a punchline.

The key to the audience laughing is surprise. With the set-up you lead the audience to assume one thing and then suddenly hit them with something totally different, something that they weren’t expecting.

You can feed off of this by quickly adding up another short phrase which is called the tagline or topper. This is basically a short second joke that builds upon the punchline and in many cases can make you look spontaneous and witty.

An important part of any joke is what is sometimes called the connecter, which is something in the set-up that has a double meaning or can be interpreted in different ways. It can be a punch word or even an entire phrase.

My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.

Let’s illustrate the structure of a joke by decomposing this classic Rodney Dangerfield joke:

The set-up:My wife and I were happy for twenty years.” This sets up the audience to paint a picture of an old happy married couple.

The punchline:Then we met.” However this line totally destroys any image of a happy married couple that the audience might have had in their heads. It gives a totally different spin to the previous set-up.

Watch this Rodney Dangerfield video and try particularly to notice how he structures his jokes, how he sets them up, when he delivers his punchline and when he uses taglines.

You can use this with any of your favorite comics. Go find their videos, watch them and try to pay attention to how they structure their jokes and where the laugh points are. Most comics will usually use some sort of a version of the standard set-up, punchlines, taglines structure.

The overall themes of humor structure are based around tension, surprise and relationships. Melvin Helitzer in his book “Comedy Writing Secrets” describes what he calls the THREES formula, which are the very basic elements needed for a joke to be successful.

THREES stands for target, hostility, realism, exaggeration, emotion, surprise and I have broken down this concept in more detail in a previous article which you can read here.

EXERCISES:

Now for the exercises:

1) Start creating a collection of jokes that you come across and write them down somewhere. To start off, find 30 short jokes. They can be about anything you want. Once you have found them, try to look at how they are structured. Try to find the punchline, the set-up and any potential taglines.

2) Find videos of your favorite comics. Watch the videos and look for the laugh points. When does the audience laugh? Then go back and rewatch the clips, noticing how they structure their jokes and stories. Which part is the set-up, which is the punchline, which phrases or words serve as the connecters and are there any taglines? When watching, also try to look for elements from the THREES formula.

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Your Simple Guide To Being Funny 1: Mindset And Finding The Comic In You

You have probably met those types of people, the ones that always have a witty remark that fits every occasion and that always brings the room to laughter. How do they do it? And how can you be like them?

The good news is that you can. Any skill can be learned and humor is one of them. The first step is to begin thinking funny.

You need to start finding the funny in everything. Funny people are just those that see the world in a different way. Stop being so serious and start seeing the absurdities of the world. The world isn’t serious. You can find the humorous part in every daily action imaginable.

What you need to do in order to do that is to reframe your mind. Put a different spin on daily events. See the humor in everything.

Start by observing what is around you, see the funny relationships and connections. Train yourself to see the humor.

Use what Jerry Seinfeld calls your “third eye”. It’s something that every comedian has in order to be able to view life with an ironic dettachment. This eye is the one that looks at what is happening from the funny angle, distances itself from the situation and sees its ridiculousness.

Life is full of humorous things, but you need to be able to see under the surface of what appears a serious world.

Here are some examples to point out the absurdities of the modern world:

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How do you find the picture above? The clothing is a little ridiculous right? You would probably chuckle at anyone wearing that today. However in the 18th century that was perfectly normal clothing and nobody would even bat an eye, if they saw it.

And now something from the modern world, just a different continent:

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For Papuans this is pretty normal clothing. Nothing to laugh about for them…

How about for you? 🙂
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Bro, Do You Even Lift And The History of Trending Lifting Terms

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So I got a little curious where terms like “bro science” come from and decided to do a little research over the interwebz. Turns out some of these terms have very recent origins, while other terms didn’t come from the sources that I thought they came from.

If interested in the history of such terminology as “bro” and “swole”, then you are very welcome to join me on a journey down memory lane. On the way, you will get your mind blown (literaly) and your life will be enriched by deep thoughts from modern culture’s greatest thinkers.

Let’s start with “bro science”.

There are actually two most frequent spellings of bro science, one where the two words are separate, and another one where the two words are spelled as one word: “broscience”. Mind blowing, isn’t it?

No matter how it is spelled, bro science is composed of two basic words: bro and science. The word “science” is pretty obvious, however what is a “bro”?

Bro is a shortened version of the word “brother” and the first instances of the use of the shortened version come from hundreds of years ago. However the real popular use of the word started only in the 1970s among black communities in the US.

Somehow in the 1990s this term jumped over to the white populations and began to be used more extensively, probably first among the whiggas (wanna-be you know who) and then among fraternity douchebags.

Now, the most common image of “bros” are the frat type, baseball hat wearing or scruffy haired white boys who like to jug down beer from funnels. Sometimes these are referred to as “brahs”, which comes from a Hawaiian English pidgin word and began to be used among surfer dudes in the 1960s.

Don’t tase me, bro!


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Sharpen Your Wit: Tips On Humor From The Ancient Romans

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Humor is a powerful thing. The person who wields it can change the moods of the people around him just by using a simple word or phrase. Humor can serve as a tremendous weapon, one that can circumvent the outer defenses of others and capture hearts and minds.

It has the ability to speak to people’s inner emotions and provoke a physical reaction. This reaction is called laughter. The Ancients recognized the power that humor has and used it to their advantage.

Catulus, a Roman prosecutor was once challenged by one of his opponents:

Why are you barking, catule?

Because I see a thief!” retorted Catulus.

This exchange became the stuff of legend. It was recounted at gatherings of the Roman elite and the story, even though retold a thousand times over and over again, could always amuse. Roman philosophers, orators and historians would keep on writing about this story for hundreds of years after it had happened.

How does it strike you today? Did you laugh at that joke? Probably not. Did you find the exchange witty? Maybe or maybe not. Some of you might have let out a chuckle, but most of you probably read it in dead silence, not understanding the context. Yet the Ancient Romans found the above story extremely funny!

You either get a joke or you don’t. However since we are going to be discussing humor and what makes things funny, I will try to decompose the jokes in order to further the analysis. The best way to kill a joke is to explain its meaning, but that is precisely what we will have to do in order to arrive at a set of greater principles. 🙂

These principles can then guide you to become funnier yourself and also to be able to use humor in different contexts. For this, we can use the wisdom of the Ancient Romans to guide us in turn.

Those of you who let out a chuckle, might have visualized an image of a dog barking due to the use of the word “bark” and that of a thief due to Catulus replying “because I see a thief“. Even in our days, dogs guard houses against thieves and this is a common association that we have. You let out a chuckle because you probably had a previous association of dogs and thieves and something funny that happened whether due to you owning a dog or maybe seeing something on TV.

Oftentimes humor works on associations. A joke can reawaken a funny memory that people have stored deep in their brains. So people who in their past might have heard a joke about dogs or had experienced a funny event involving puppies put this event into their long-term memory.

Upon hearing the word “barking”, this memory was accessed and associated with the current joke, prompting laughter. This is the associative part of humor. If you can relate a joke to someone else’s experiences, that makes the joke funnier for the other person.

However there is further context for the story that you are missing. The name “Catulus” actually means the word “puppy” in Latin and the word “catule” that was used by the guy taking a swipe at Catulus can be translated as “puppy dog”. The opponent basically used a clever play on words that was meant to belittle Catulus in front of the audience, using his name as the basis.

It backfired, as Catulus, with his quick wit used that jibe and threw it back at him with the reply that he sees a thief. We have to remember that this was done in the context of a trial and Catulus was the prosecutor trying to land a guy suspected of stealing in jail.

In fact, he used that attempt at aggressive humor by his opponent to strengthen his case by coming up with a witty reply. Now can you see why some Romans, especially from the elites, could have found it funny?

Humor and finding something funny is very subjective. Humor can be:

1) situational
A certain joke might be funny in one situation, while not funny in another one. You would not be telling the same joke at a wedding and a funeral for example.

2) personal
Jokes can vary and whether they are funny can heavily depend on the person. One person might find the joke hilarious, while another will not. This can depend on the person’s background, their history, their personal opinions and many other personal factors.

3) cultural
Jokes can also be very cultural. You need to understand the cultural context in them in order to find the humor. A lot of jokes depend on the subtleties of the language they are said in, or might be a reference to some particular book, regional stereotype or incident that you might not always be aware of, if you are not from that particular country or region.

The exchange between Catulus and his opponent is funny because it happened in the context of a trial. So in that situation it left the entire court room laughing. It might not have had the same effect if it had happened while the guys were having a picnic.

There was also a strong personal factor. The incident was discussed by friends of Catulus and fellow lawyers and orators. For them, this was a prime example of wit. The guy on trial probably did not find it that funny. 🙂

The joke has a big cultural element as well, as the primary tactic of the opponent was to use a play on words based on the fact that the word “catulus” means puppy in Latin. This is a very language specific thing. For someone who speaks English or any other language, this association between the name and a puppy dog are not clear.

After this brief introduction into the world of Roman humor and witticism, we will try to dig deeper into what makes things funny and how to be funny. We will use some tips and advice from the Romans themselves in order to do that.

Catulus himself can serve as an inspiration for you. Because of his quick wit and humor skills, he was able to fend off an opponent’s attempt at humor and ridicule and actually strengthen his own case. At the end of this article, you too will have the tools necessary to do what Catulus did in whatever situation you may find yourself.

While the Ancient Romans lived two thousand years ago, their works keep on having a profound effect on our world even today. There are amazing parallels between their world and our world. They were an inquisitive and eloquent people and had the amazing ability to grasp at problems and come up with solutions. Many of their ideas are still as pertinent and applicable today as they were millennia ago.

Actually the Ancient Romans also had a wicked (sometimes very perverted) sense of humor! 🙂 🙂

Just take a look at some of the graffiti that was found in the ruins of Ancient Pompeii:

Weep, you girls. My penis has given you up. Now it penetrates men’s behinds. Goodbye, wondrous femininity!

Restitutus says: “Restituta, take off your tunic, please, and show us your hairy privates”.

Satura was here on September 3rd.

I screwed the barmaid.

The one who buggers a fire burns his penis.

Palmyra. The thirst quencher.”

Lesbianus, you defecate and you write, ‘Hello, everyone!’

Secundus likes to screw boys.

Theophilus, don’t perform oral sex on girls against the city wall like a dog.

written three times:
Secundus defecated here
Secundus defecated here
Secundus defecated here

Floronius, privileged soldier of the 7th legion, was here. The women did not know of his presence. Only six women came to know, too few for such a stallion.

LOL 🙂

Those silly Romans! 🙂
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What You Can Learn About Humor From Chris Rock

Being funny is a very important asset that you need to have. However not everyone knows how to deliver a joke properly. I recently read a great book on this titled “Comedy Writing Secrets” by Melvin Helitzer.

In the book, Helitzer breaks down the anatomy of humor. He does this by using what he calls the THREES formula:

Target
Hostility
Realism
Exaggeration
Emotion
Surprise

Helitzer writes that humor is often criticism and that’s why it has a target. This can be a person, place, thing or basically anything. We all have some bad feelings towards some things. With humor you can unleash all this hostility towards the target. All good jokes have truth to them. So they have a very honest realism built in. You start off with this truth and then build upon it using exaggeration in order to get your point about it across. You should incorporate your feelings here. Using all this, you need to heighten the emotion in the audience. Your aim is to build up tension. They should be at the edge of their seats waiting for the unexpected resolution. The unexpected resolution is what is the key behind all the laughter. You need surprise in order to have a joke that people laugh at.

A great way to understand these concepts is to look at what comics have done. Notice how they use these elements in order to get people to laugh. We can use one of my favorite clips from comic Chris Rock in order to analyze this. Watch the clip below. Look at who he picks as the target, how he builds up hostility, where the realism is, and where the exaggeration comes in. Examine how he builds emotion with his structure and his words. And then notice how he suddenly brings in the surprise.

In order to better understand surprise, let’s look at another clip from Chris Rock.

From the clip above, also notice how humor has its situational, personal and cultural parts. When you are telling jokes, there is always an audience you are telling them to. In which situation, to which people and in which cultural context would you tell the above joke and in which you wouldn’t tell it? What about other jokes?

So now some homework for you. Go watch some of your favorite comics and try to pick out the above elements in the THREES formula from their routines. Also notice the context they are telling the jokes in and what type of people might find them funny and which won’t.

Then go out and practice on your own!
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