Anatomy of a Joke

Anatomy of a Joke


One of the most often asked questions of me after a show is “how do you come up with your material?”  My stock answer is “ I think of funny shit.”  The truth is, this is the first time I analyzed how I write jokes. I know my enthusiasm over the years  has waned for the writing process.  In the beginning I did my homework.  I’d cassette tape every show and go home that night and transcribe it onto a legal pad long hand.  I underlined all the um’s ah’s and other utterances I wanted to take out. I’ve never been a joke machine, preferring quality over quantity.  I write jokes that aren’t time sensitive for the most part and deal with the human experience.  My focus is on adults because I’m usually talking to grown folk.

There seems to be two ways I get to the funny.  One is when something bothers me and really ticks me off.  I write down whatever that is and ridicule whoever does it.

The last time I was at the Laundromat, I thought about somebody I saw on the train. It was about 4 in the morning, my favorite time to write so I took out my phone and wrote a draft on my email.

When somebody pulls onto the road to ridiculous a good friend should be your GPS system and recalculate your dumb ass. To the dummies out there trying to beat father time..give it up. All that botox doesn’t make you look younger it makes you look like a botoxaholic.  Like an alcoholic,you know one  when you see one and it hurts to look at them. You can’t tell what they’re gonna do. It appears they are happy all the time. Where are the good friends at this point?  I bet they have given up.

“She’s gonna do what she wants,I can’t talk to her anymore. ” and who’s telling these frozen faced freaks they look better or good at all?  It looks like thousands of women prepared for a role as ghoul in a horror flick.  You want your face to be expressive, be proud to show how long you’ve stuck around.  I bet this whole thing started when one woman told another woman “look at her,she thinks she’s cute “. We are either going to die sooner or later so instead of fighting a battle you gotta know you’re gonna lose learn how to get the most out of life and all it’s various stages. Wrinkles and lines have stories to tell.

(The above draft will probably boil down to a couple of jokes)

The next step is to go back and remove everything that doesn’t sound funny right away or that I can’t re work.  Then I figure out what order to put the words, and try saying them in front of an audience.  A positive response and it stays. If I get absolutely nothing, I never say those words in that order again.   Most comedians have at least one joke that gets moaned at.  We’ll keep them in the act because we love them for our own entertainment, or use it as punishment for a crowd that we feel doesn’t deserve our best stuff.

The other way I usually find some funny is  to think of something while on stage.  Those moments are highly rewarding.  I liken it to giving birth.  The joke is healthy and weighs in with good poundage.  In the late 90’s I stopped smoking marijuana for a while. The plan was to go onstage one night and make that announcement and see what came to me.

“I quit smoking marijuana….tomorrow”.

William Stephenson


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