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13 Comedy Structures

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A good joke has structure and it follows a certain formula. Just like learning the notes to play a song, comedians must work with these structures to build their stories, bits or acts. Most times great jokes are rooted in the element of surprise. This is because the framework of these formulas operates through leading on the audience by creating an assumption and shattering that assumption just when they least expect it. Thus the element of surprise comes very handily in the comedy business. This piece is highlighting the 13 known comedy structures alongside examples of their usage.

  1. Double Entendres

  2. Reverses

  3. Triples

  4. Incongruity

  5. Simple Truth

  6. Superiority

  7. Paired Phrases

  8. Slapstick

  9. Observation

  10. Compare & Contrast

  11. Comedic Irony

  12. Benign Retaliation

  13. Paradox

Double Entendres have to do with a simple play on words that have cliché takeoffs and reformations. Here’s a common joke to elaborate.

A football coach was having a terrible season and when he was asked of his opinion concerning the execution of the offense, he replied ‘I’d be okay with that’.

The Reverses structure infuses the element of surprise through the last-minute switch in assumption, like so:

My daughter kept crying because she couldn’t tie her shoe, ‘dad, I can’t do it.’ She said. I replied ‘I keep telling you not to use that word…I am not your dad’.

Triples is more of a 3-way buildup with tension, framework manipulation via two logical words or conditions driven towards an expected end, and finally, a third exaggeration which shatters this assumption, like so:

Synistriphobia is the fear of having something by your left side, Dextraphobia is a similar fear but to the right side. So what’s the fear of having something behind you?... That my friend is Homophobia. 

Incongruity is all about juxtaposing dissimilar elements and it’s a pretty popular structure.

The Simple Truth framework is like the Double Entendres but with phrases which imply truth in a comedic way, like so:

I remember the first time I had sex, look it’s right there on my bank statement.

The Superiority formula lures the audience to feel superior. It could be through self-deprecation of the comedian or through attacking people the audience feels inferior to, like celebrities.

Paired Phrases has to do with using the rhythms of the English lexicon like antonyms, synonyms or homonyms.

Slapstick formula is all about infusing physical gestures into your jokes by ‘acting out’.

Observation-Recognition formula exaggerates simple everyday items, events or conditions which are easily recognizable by the audience.

Compare & Contrast framework operates through inducing surprise by starting out complex but finishing simple. 

Comedic Irony this instills surprise by its representation of dramatic irony.

Benign Retaliation is a framework which glamorizes comedic vengeance in a relatable way.

The Paradox framework is somewhat self-contradictory but allows the audience to think inversely. Like so:

The distance can be measured in time like one could say a store is 15 minutes away, but the reverse isn’t the case as time cannot be measured in distance. Imagine saying you get off work in about 4 miles

These 13 comedy structures have been used in scripts, plays and on stage by actors, show hosts, and comedians for several years now. When used right, they will definitely stir an uproar from the audience.

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