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What Makes A Good Joke

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Ever thought about what makes a joke funny? Well, some may say this question is somewhat rhetorical, pointless even, like asking why the sky is blue or why water is wet. However, it’s a very valid one. What exactly makes a joke funny, like what are those identifiers that make an audience gasp for breath and laugh to the point of tears? We want to know and due to the validity of these questions, we’re about to find out. 

What makes a joke funny is derivative of what makes a good joke to start with and from the previous posts we’ve established that content, structure, pace, delivery, and ability to subvert expectations are all embedded in a good joke. Good jokes trigger laughter no doubt, but there are different kinds of jokes to begin with.

A joke could be 

  1. Observational: These are based on everyday reflections in life. They could be based on anything and everything).

  2. Self-deprecating: Self-deprecating jokes are usually a big hit. Here the comedian is the target in his own joke. 

  3. Topical: Topical jokes are generally about news-worthy items. This is the type that Trevor Noah practices in the daily show.

  4. One-liners: These jokes are told in a single sentence. Most comedians use one-liners but not solely throughout the show.

  5. Anecdotal: These jokes are mostly personal jokes which could be taken out of the comedian’s life, but they are audience-relatable.

In light of these 5 joke types, there are still certain determining elements concerning the effectiveness of a joke I.e if it’s funny or not. These elements are called triggers and basically, they help the comedian or comic writer figure out beforehand if his/her joke is going to be funny or not. Hence, it helps them write better jokes, jokes which make people laugh and roll. These triggers are all based on the structure of the joke. They are dependent on the plot of the joke and how it is woven. These 9 triggers include:

  1. Surprise

  2. Superiority

  3. Embarrassment

  4. Release

  5. Incongruity

  6. Recognition

  7. Ambivalence

  8. Configurational

  9. Coincidence 

Each of these triggers has laughter as a consequence. They are pointers that help a comedian work their audience till their applaud. Now, how these triggers work with respect to the joke type is like so: supposing a joke is about what one saw or witnessed which is obviously an observational joke. The comedian could introduce the surprise trigger in the sense that the audience is taken by surprise in the twist embedded in the joke. Here's a common example:

‘My 11month old daughter has a new interest. She's suddenly into chest hair and all its squigglyness. It hurts when she pulls them out so I tell my wife it’s high time she goes and gets that lasered.’

See where we’re going with this?

Likewise, either of these triggers could be used in any joke type and it’ll come out as funny. Hence, what we’re trying to say is that it’s the comedian’s fine use of these triggers in the diverse joke types that makes a joke funny.

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