Improve your writing by joke-writing and -telling

For those eager to write prizewinning stories, consider mastering the art of joke-writing. Jokes are miniature stories with a definite beginning, middle, and end. Get the sequence wrong, or leave out something essential, and it falls flat, giving you instant feedback.

Master comedian and joke-writer, Sid Caesar, once said, “A joke is a story with a curlicue.” A tale with an added twist.

Successful stand-up comedian, Jerry Corley offers an online joke-writing clinic and says, “We must first understand why people laugh. Fact: the number one element that triggers human laughter is SURPRISE. It’s like magic, only with words. A magician surprises the audience when he does his trick. If there is no surprise, there is no trick…. Without surprise, you’re gonna have a…boring act.”

Steven Wright was a successful early stand-up comedian in the 1980s. He often looked through newspapers for interesting words. “There was no joke, it was just a word, like…electrolysis—I wrote a whole joke on that. For the first six months, I would sit down and try to write jokes, but after that, I didn’t sit down anymore. My subconscious was scanning all the time the things that could be a joke. My mind was looking for stuff, and some of it would leap out as a joke. It was just like a factory in my head…. It never shut down, it never stopped. I don’t go, ‘I’m gonna write a joke.’ I just go through the world and see stuff. It’s like I exercised the part of my mind of noticing things to the point where I now notice without even trying to.”

That’s how writing is meant to be. Hear an interesting news item and tuck it away for a story possibility, or pass it on to an author friend. Look at life with awareness. Joke-writing offers miniature practice units that can build to longer pieces, or maybe even the long-awaited Great American Novel!

Sure enough, my favorite jokes feature word confusion, like the Polish man who told a lawyer his wife wanted to kill him because a bottle in the bathroom labeled “polish remover”. When asked if she had any grounds, the husband replied, “Ya, two and a half acres.”

“No, no, does she have any reasons?”

“Sure, in our cereal every morning.”

It gets crazier, and may not be funny to you, but I’m on the floor laughing.

Now share your favorite joke and identify the trigger that makes it happen. Better yet, practice writing one and telling it soon.

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