Punchlines and Pay-OffsPunchlines and Pay-Offs5 years ago in Writing
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Set-Up and Punchline: Using Narrative to Tell a Joke
"Three blokes go into a pub. Something happens, and the outcome's hilarious!"
-- Bill Bailey
That's the basic recipe for any joke, isn't it? Set the scene, add a verb or two, and everyone laughs. But there's a problem with jokes, and it goes something rather like this:
"Three blokes go into a pub, and the whole scene unfolds into a tedious inevitability." -- Bill Bailey (again)
The formula to telling a joke is a bit more complex than just the basic recipe. The recipe is what you need to tell the joke; milk, eggs, flour, shortening, baking powder, saffron. But if you just look at the recipe, you don't really know what's going to happen. Are we baking a cake? Biscuits? Some sort of rock-hard bread that'll keep in the pantry for two million years? We don't know!
Telling a joke is the same thing. Just having the set up, verbs, and payoff without knowing how much of each, or if you should use the verbal equivalent to