Beat That Joke


Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

One unfortunate fact of life is that we all have an ego that lies to us.

Don’t throw those jeans out! I’ll be able to wear them again after I stop eating for a year or two.

The classic example of ego: our personal appearance is a daily challenge, and our ego rarely allows the person that we see in the mirror to be judged honestly. Men all want to see great biceps and six-pack abs that they toned by lifting the TV Guide, and women all want to see natural beauty or dimmer lighting.

Writers sometimes forget that ego also impacts our writing, and this is never more certain than when writing humor. A humorous line that springs forth from our keyboard and makes us laugh to ourselves must, in our less than humble opinion, be a great line.

It may be.

However, there are a few steps that you can take that will give you a more objective evaluation.

Never Stop At One
Your first funny line may fit well for the scene or character of your story. Then again, there may be a much better line lurking somewhere in the hidden recesses of you mind.

Consider, how does a really funny standup comic come up with so many killer lines?

I was dating a fashion model. When I dropped her back at her apartment, she’d forgotten her key, so I slid her under the door.

The truth is that professional comedians will often write 100 or more jokes and skim off the top two or three to use in their act. They then inject forty-five seconds or so of new material into their act, testing with a live audience. However, even without an audience available, a writer can use a somewhat similar method.

Once you determine the topic for your funny line, write as many jokes as you can in a reasonable period of time—say ten to twenty minutes. With practice (We were all beginners at some point!), you should be able to come up with three to five jokes in a ten minute timeframe. That’s one joke every two to three minutes. If you can do more, great. If you write less than five, don’t worry. It’s not an exact science.

Now that you have several appropriate jokes, be critical. Pick the funniest one.

That seems so simple, but it requires that you really try to divorce yourself from the material and be objective. Was your initial laugh just your mood? Are you in love with your own words(ego again)? Or, is your line really objectively funny?

My ex was a frog prince. I wanted him to croak.

Granted, individual judgements can be wrong, but simply trying to evaluate your work objectively tends to give you, over time, a better and better sense of what will work with your audience (readers) to achieve that LOL moment.

Are you now done? No.

Beat That Joke
Now that you have chosen a funny line, take just a few minutes to beat it. Sometimes, this is simply a matter of editing and tightening up the line. Sometimes, it’s as simple as replacing a single word or a phrase. Sometimes, you’ll be working on one line and think of a completely different, but much stronger replacement.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"
Isn’t this a lot of work for just one joke?
In the beginning, perhaps it is. However, as you become more proficient at writing humor, you will be able to beat nearly any joke much more quickly, often in less than a minute, and you’ll be giving your readers yet another reason to enjoy your work.

We all want to look our best. Let’s laugh our best as well.

Parting Funny: When you’re in love, it’s the most glorious two and a half days
    of your life.
Richard Lewis

Next Up: What Do You Think Is Funny?

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