jokes Archives - GOLD Comedy

Are any jokes off-limits? How to know if you’re punching up vs. punching down

A student in one of our workshops once tried out a joke about wanting to hide a knife in her hijab to cut the boys who tried to take it off.

Can she do that? It’s edgy, but sure.

But could a white dude do a joke about trying to take off a girl’s hijab? NOT RECOMMENDED.

This is all a way of answering the very, very common question: Are any jokes off-limits? The answer is YUP! But the real questions are: Which ones, and how do you figure it out?

Put another way:

Is stabbing people funny? NOT REALLY.

Can you do a joke about stabbing people? MAYBE!

It all depends on your joke, on your intention, and on you.

This is why people talk about punching down versus punching up.

Simply put, punching down means making jokes about people with less power than you. Punching up means making jokes about people with more power than you. When you make fun of a mean principal, you are punching up. When you make fun of the dweeby kid, you are…bullying.

Comedy is better when you punch up.

Punching up is morally preferable, generally kinder, and most likely to make the world a better place, as awesome comic and beloved friend of GOLD Negin Farsad notes. “It’s vital to understand the job comedy can do in actively providing a counterbalance to bigotry and prejudice, as well as understanding the types of humour that reinforce negative stereotypes,” she says. “I want to make sure I’m punching up, not punching down.”

But let’s also look at it simply from the level of craft. A punch line is a surprise. A punch line takes some work. A punch line reveals something new, or says a familiar thing a new way. A punch line may even, at best, not just be a rando wisecrack, but a joke that only YOU can tell: a window into your unique point of view.

So for instance when you make fun of someone short, you’re revealing that they are SHORT—and showing us nothing about what makes YOUR POV unique. When you make fun of the mean principal, you’ve got much more to work with: you can reveal something about how you relate to the grownups who boss you around, and you’ll get people on your side without ganging up. And bonus: no one in the crowd will think, “Eeep, that comic’s kind of mean.”

At the level of craft, it’s lazy to write the easiest joke about the easiest target. Comedy is about being CREATIVE and getting people to LIKE you. Do the harder work on your end and you’ll make easier for them.

Where are your up and down?

Up and down are different for different people. It all depends on how up or down YOU are on the existing power structure (#fighthepower). Straight cis white dude, up. Young woman of color with a hijab, farther down. Let’s call them Norm and Nora. Nora could make jokes about Norm. Norm probably should not make jokes about Nora.

But wait. It’s not really that simple. If Norm makes a joke that puts Nora down for being female, of color, Muslim: that’s punching down. If Norm makes a joke ABOUT sexism, racism, Islamophobia with Nora as his main character: bruh, that’s punching up. Because then he’s making fun of the existing power structure itself. Go, Norm.

#elephantintheroom

Can you make rape jokes? YUP!

Quiz: Will the better jokes be about (a) rape victim(s) or (b) perps and the culture that excuses rape, etc. etc.?

If you answered (b), go write some jokes!

There it is: there is no TOPIC that is off-limits. Not even rape! It’s the joke—the target, the POV, the intention—that requires evaluation.   

When in doubt, answer these key questions.

  1. Who or what is my target? Starting point: make sure the target of your joke—the who or what you are making fun of—has more power than you. (Margin of error: one bratty kid sibling.)
  2. Who is my audience? Do they have roughly the same up/down as you? You should be good. If not, tread more carefully. (This interesting counterpoint to the up/down idea is relevant here.)
  3. How’s my tone? YOU KNOW (and so does the crowd) if a joke is coming from a place of snarky mean, or a place of legit anger. (Sometimes legit anger can justify snarky mean, but that’s an advanced move.)
  4. How’s the joke doing? If it’s crushing with the people you want it to crush with, then you’re probably doing fine. (If it’s crushing with a**holes, maybe let it go.) And if it’s just not working at all, even after some tinkering, it’s just not working. Let go of the idea (usually pushed by people on the higher end of the up/down) that COMEDY IS SUPPOSED TO MAKE PEOPLE UNCOMFORTABLE or whatever. Naw. It’s supposed to make people laugh.
  5. What does my gut say? How do you feel when you tell this joke? Delighted and energized, or a little tight and squinched up? Your gut knows what’s up. Your gut is a tough crowd, but a good one. If your gut feels off, maybe the joke is, too. If your gut feels good, punch on!

Read Lynn’s bio here.

How to write jokes: use our patented set of comedy “wrenches”

As you know, the punchline of a joke is the surprise. The switch, the twist. But what KIND of surprise? What direction is the twist?

Or, if you think of the shift from setup to punch as where the comedian throws a wrench into the joke, this is about what KIND Of wrench it is.

Let’s look at the most common wrenches that comedians have in their toolkits. I’m using one-liners for the clearest examples, but wrenches are at work in almost any type of joke.

OPPOSITE wrench.

  • Emika: “I love to inspire people [SETUP]. I also love to see them fail [PUNCH].”
  • “I believe that each person can make a difference [SETUP], but it’s so slight that there’s basically no point [PUNCH].” —Lauren Lapkus
    • These jokes go in the exact OPPOSITE direction from what you expected. (Inspirational/cynical; positive/negative)

WORDPLAY wrench.

  • “I got my hair highlighted [SETUP], because I felt some strands were more important than others [PUNCH].” — Mitch Hedberg
    • Hedberg takes a wrench to the word HIGHLIGHTED. Highlighting hair turns into highlighting like you do with a book. So it’s a good old fashioned wordplay wrench.
    • You could also call it an ABSURD wrench.

ABSURD wrench.

  • “I’m a lousy cook. I burn sushi.” —Joan Rivers
    • Rivers uses an ABSURD wrench to how just how bad a cook she is, because you don’t cook sushi in the first place.
  • You could also call this an EXAGGERATION wrench.
  • “So I met my boyfriend’s parents recently, which stressed me out. Because he’s white, so his parents are white. Hate when that happens. Why can’t it just skip a generation?” —Phoebe Robinson
    • Phoebe Robinson uses an ABSURD wrench — race can’t skip a generation — to underscore how un-psyched she is to meet her boyfriend’s white parents, and generally how stressful situations like that are. “Hate when that happens” is also absurd. He’s white because his parents are. It didn’t just “happen.”

EXAGGERATION wrench.

  • Sasheer Zamata, hating that women are expected to be un-hairy: “I found out that Native Americans would keep all their hair long because it helped them with battle and hunting. It made them more aware of your surrounding, and if something was coming to attack you you would feel it and sense it quicker. So if that’s the case, women—of all people—should have ALL OF THE HAIR. We’re at risk of being attacked just for walking out of our house. For safety purposes, I want to be Chewbacca-level hairy.”
    • Chewbacca is as hairy as you can get. (Also a funny word.) Women will not actually get that hairy if they don’t shave, so, exaggeration.
  • Here’s GOLD student Romaissaa on her obsession with YouTube: “I  can’t breathe air without knowing my favorite YouTuber’s opinion on breathing air.”
    • Do we think that’s actually true? No. But the exaggeration effectively illustrates her obsession.
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UNDERSTATEMENT wrench.

  • “I broke up with my girlfriend. She moved in with another guy, and I draw the line at that.” —Garry Shandling
    • He’s using an UNDERSTATEMENT wrench because for him to “draw the line” at her OBVIOUSLY breaking up with him is a tiny reaction to a huge move. What’s great here is that he uses that understatement to make fun of himself.
    • “I don’t know if you’ve ever been sad on a roller coaster. It’s doable.” — Ryan Hamilton

DOUBLE DOWN wrench.

  • Thea: “I am not just a nerd [SETUP]. I am also a geek [PUNCH].”
    • You thought Thea was going to say I’m more than “just” a nerd. Instead she doubles down.
  • “I get so frustrated when people think I’m trying to look like Ellen Degeneres [SETUP]. It’s so frustrating because I’m trying so hard to look like Nick Carter [PUNCH].” —Emma Willman
    • You expect Emma to to say she’s frustrated because she’s not trying to look like anyone! But she’s like, I AM trying to look like someone. Just someone ELSE. (She’s taking the wrench to “Ellen DeGeneres” rather than “trying to look like.”)
  • “It wasn’t that no one asked me to the prom. No one would tell me where it was.” —Rita Rudner
    • You think she’s going to say…LOTS of people asked me to the prom. But then she doubles down on not being asked. They hid the entire prom from her.

So, when you’re writing a joke, you can look at your topic or setup and ask yourself: what kind of wrench could I throw in here? Play with different ones and see what works.

1. TOPIC/PREMISE. What you want to talk about…PLUS

2. ATTITUDE/EMOTION. How a person with your persona would feel about it…PLUS

3. TYPE OF JOKE. Which type of joke would best match what I want to say?

4. TYPE OF WRENCH. Which type of wrench will make the joke work best?

Read Lynn’s bio here. 

5 ways to discover your comedy persona: your unique, authentic comedic voice

They say it takes a comedian ten years to develop their comedy persona. But with the head start we’ll give you here, you can totally nail it in like eight. So what are you waiting for? Let’s go! (My comedy persona is positive, high-energy, impatient.)

So first let’s talk about what a comedy persona is. Then we’ll talk about how to identify yours—and what to do once you have.

What’s a persona?

First, here’s what it’s not. For our purposes, it’s not a “character.” Some comedians do deliberately develop fictional identities or caricatures that may or may not align with their off-stage personalities—like super-ranty Lewis Black, who is much more of a marshmallow in real life, or María Elena Velasco-Fragoso, early deliberately-dim Sarah Silverman, Maria Bamford, or Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson, who do stand-up as their Broad City characters.

If that comes naturally to you, great (and consider exploring sketch comedy and/or being YouTube-funny). But generally, that’s an advanced move because it’s actually very challenging to sustain. And what we want to get at here, first, is authenticity.

So a persona is not a character, it’s your character. It comes from your personality, your take, your attitude, your bearing, your point of view, your general lens on life.

Your persona is what makes your jokes your jokes. Anyone can write a joke about parents or dogs vs. cats or homework or taxes or gentrification or doughnuts. But only you can write a joke about your unique take on those topics.

Example: Take this joke from Lauren Lapkus. You can get a sense of her persona without seeing or hearing her—just by reading these 18 words:

“I believe that each person can make a difference. But it’s so slight that there’s basically no point.”

From this (superb) joke, we can surmise that her persona is perhaps cynical, maybe glass-half-empty—at any rate, not the Pollyanna peppiest.

Of course, neither Lauren nor you are just one thing all the time. In real life, you shift somewhat according to context and mood. Your industry-standard five minute comedy set—and your persona in general—will not be all one-note either. Not every joke will be angry, not every joke will be bubbly. You can have one pretty constant persona in one set, but lots of different attitudes and emotions can come from it.

 

Where do you find your persona?

To find your authentic comedy persona, we are going to start with your original factory settings.

#SPOILER: Your persona is who you already are. At least that’s where it starts.

This is TOTALLY NOT AS BORING AS IT SOUNDS. In fact, it is GREAT NEWS.

Why is this not boring? Because, nerds, we get to do some MATH! Because when you do comedy, you are not acting, but you are performing. That means your persona isn’t you just wisecracking at your locker or water cooler or Instagram, it’s you standing on stage with a mic (and, on a good day, a crowd!). So your performance persona is a slightly exaggerated version of you. Here’s the equation:  

PERSONA = REAL YOU x 1.3

And why is it great news? Well, let’s say you’re reading this thinking: “But I don’t haaaave a ‘persona’! I’m boooooring.” Guess what? Are you ready? THAT’S YOUR PERSONA.

I’m not saying you’re boring. I’m just saying you don’t have to work that hard, or go into analysis, to know what the kernel of your persona is. Even if it’s something you think might be negative or unappealing about you, FINE! That’s FUNNY! Don’t apologize for it or try to hide or fix it; instead, double down. Embrace it and take control of it and let that flag FLY. Own it. PWN it. That’s how BORING can become INTERESTING, say, or being a loner can be loveable, or being a downer can crack people UP.

OK then! What is your persona?

So let’s see. Are you cynical? Sarcastic? Shy? Super-trusting? Lazy? Nervous about everything? ANGRY ABOUT EVERYTHING? Shy? Puppy-dog positive? Generally just confused? Scornful? Tightly wound? Awkward? A rebel or rule breaker? The eternal teacher’s pet? An insider? An outsider? An outsider who only looks like an insider? A nerd? Also a geek?

Your goal here is to find ONE WORD that describes your persona. Maybe two words, maximum three, if one of them is a really short word.

If you’re not sure yet, start by answering these questions. Do them sort of quick. Don’t overthink. NOTE: If you can’t help but overthink, then perhaps OVERTHINKER is your persona!

1) What would be your high school yearbook superlative? As in “Most likely to…”.

2) Which one are you: Winner, or (and I say this with love) loser?

3) Fill in the blanks:

1. “Dear Diary, I wish I were less/more [BLANK].”

2. “Dear Diary, The thing I love/hate most about myself is [BLANK].”

4) If you were one of these comedians/comic performers, which one would you be? Not which one do you WANT to be, or which one do you most LOOK like—which one’s personality is most like yours? Don’t overthink it!

1. Kate McKinnon

2. Gina Rodriguez

3. Leslie Jones

4. Mindy Kaling

5. Joan Rivers

6. Lucille Ball

7. Ali Wong

8. Issa Rae

9. Melissa McCarthy

10. Sarah Silverman

11. INSERT YOUR CHOICE HERE

 

5) Locate yourself on our Axis of Attitude. Are you generally positive in your attitude, calm in your presentation? Highly critical and super spazzy? Literally point to the screen to the spot on this image where you imagine yourself.

 

OK! You should start to see some consistency emerge. If you don’t, your persona is “All over the place!” or at least “indecisive.” Voila.

HERE’S WHAT YOU DO. Now that you’ve chosen a word or two that capture your persona, you know that as you write and perform material, it should generally come from that place. Not rigidly or across the board, as we said above. Not every joke needs to be crafted as sarcasm, not everything you say has to come out of the mouth of a rebel or teacher’s pet. But do think of it as a lightly tinted lens that colors your jokes, or at least your overall point of view.

So, wearing that pretend lens like a spiffy monocle, NOW you’re ready to write some jokes or longer bits —or even to practice refining that persona on stage. Or, if your persona is CAUTIOUS, start with some exercises to get you going.

Did you discover your comedy persona? Even if it’s not OVERSHARER, let us know! Tweet @goldcmdy!

Read Lynn’s bio here.

9 best commencement speeches by comedians

Nothing says springtime like graduation! And nothing says graduation like long, cliché speeches about “following your dreams” and stale jokes about bad dining hall food.

via GIPHY

But we here at GOLD prefer a commencement speech with a bit more flair. So before “Regalia” makes it into this year’s list of top baby names, we wanted to share with you some of our favorite commencement speeches ever given by comedians. Sorry, Steve Wozniak. Maybe Rutgers will call next year.

This list includes speeches given at a diverse group of schools including a few prestigious Ivy leagues, some southern gems, and even a high school in Lexington, Massachusetts (Lynn’s hometown. Also, Rachel Dratch’s!). So what do they all have in common? Every speech acknowledges that we comedians are never truly qualified to do anything, let alone give a solemn commencement address. Hell, I still have trouble remembering whether the word “address” has two D’s or one. They both look right to me.

Ranked in no particular order, here are some of the wittiest speeches given at some of the weightiest ceremonies:

1. Maya Rudolph – Tulane University, 2015

Hilarious, versatile, and fresh, Maya Rudolph never disappoints. She certainly didn’t disappoint during her 2015 speech to the seniors of Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. In her address, she covers her dreams of being on SNL, a roast-like description of herself as a hippie college student, and her identity crisis as a closeted thespian.

“I didn’t know who I was or what I was going to do with my life when I finished college. I wasn’t any clearer about my direction than the day I graduated high school. I wore Birkenstocks and smelled like a patchouli fart.”

This speech is particularly appealing to us comedy nerds as Rudolph invokes the crucial improv concept of “Yes, And.” Not to mention her passionate “interpretation” of the National Anthem.

Check out the speech here: http://time.com/3883091/maya-rudolph-tulane-university-graduation-speech/

2. Jon Stewart – College of William and Mary, 2004

At the height of his show’s popularity, Daily Show host and comedy god Jon Stewart took a break from his busy schedule to give a gut-busting and rather cynical warning to William and Mary’s graduating class of 2004.

Early in his speech, Stewart apologizes on behalf of his entire generation for “breaking the world.”

“I know some of you are nostalgic today and filled with excitement and perhaps uncertainty at what the future holds. I know six of you are trying to figure out how to make a bong out of your caps.”

Check out the speech here: http://www.wm.edu/news/stories/2004/jon-stewarts-84-commencement-address.php

3. Stephen Colbert – University of Virginia, 2013

Former compadre and counterpoint to Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert is a top dog when it comes to political satire.

Though Colbert has imparted much graduation wisdom over the years, no speech compares to his 2013 speech to the Hoos of UVA. Colbert cleverly muses on secret societies, the infamous Thomas Jefferson, and even his own marriage.

“But perhaps the real reason UVA is so great is that it trusts its students. You have the nation’s oldest student-run honor code. Say it with me – on my honor, I pledge that I have neither given nor received help on this assignment, so help me Adderall.”

Since giving this speech, Colbert has “graduated” himself, making the shift from his Comedy Central show to hosting primetime’s The Late Show on CBS, where he has recently found a new pastime in poking fun at President Trump.

Check out the speech here

4. Mindy Kaling — Harvard Law School, 2014

Former intern to Conan O’Brien, Mindy Kaling has been a dynamite actress and writer since bursting into the comedy spotlight as Kelly Kapoor on The Office. Since then, Kaling has found massive success with her own show The Mindy Project—and her address to the Class of 2014 from Harvard Law.

“You are the nerds who are going to make some serious bank, which is why I am here today…to marry the best-looking amongst you.”

As to whether or not she was qualified to speak at the commencement, Kaling claimed, “I do know a ton about the law because I sue everyone.”  

Check out the speech here

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5. Conan O’Brien — Dartmouth College, 2011

Former boss of Mindy Kaling, Conan O’Brien has been a late-night staple since the early 90’s. Standing proud behind what he describes as a podium like something a bear would use at an AA meeting,” Conan brought his self-deprecating charm and good-natured quips to the graduating class of 2011 at Dartmouth.

“New Hampshire is such a special place. When I arrived I took a deep breath of this crisp New England air and thought, ‘Wow, I’m in the state that’s next to the state where Ben and Jerry’s ice cream is made.’”

As most comedy geeks know, Conan went to Harvard, not Dartmouth. But in his speech he claims, “If I had gone to Dartmouth, right now I’d be wearing a fleece thong instead of a lace thong.”

Check out the speech here

6. Ellen Degeneres — Tulane University, 2009

Mononym queen and daytime sweetheart Ellen Degeneres has been crushing the comedy scene for almost four decades. From her work on her own ‘90s sitcom to the more recent Finding Dory, Degeneres has found popularity across a huge variety of age groups and demographics. I can say with 100% certainty that my 62-year old mother is catching up on Ellen clips at this very moment.

Her speech to the so-called 2009 “Katrina” class at Tulane is both funny and poignant, goofy and incredibly sincere. Degeneres tackles topics such as sexuality, tragedy, and fame.

“I thought that you had to be a famous alumnus, alumini, aluminum, alumis; you had to graduate from this school. And I didn’t go to college here, and I don’t know if President Cowan knows, I didn’t go to any college at all, any college. And I’m not saying you wasted your time, or money, but look at me, I’m a huge celebrity.”

But there’s one thing she has in common with the grads, Degeneres says:  “I was born and raised here, I spent my formative years here, and like you, while I was living here I only did laundry six times.”

Check out the speech here

7. Will Ferrell — Harvard University, 2003

A USC grad, Will Ferrell had no business giving the commencement speech to the Harvard University class of 2003. And yet, here we are.

Packed with jokes, Ferrell’s script is full of twists and turns, outbursts, and even some impassioned singing. Hard to believe his 50th birthday will be occurring later this year. (I could’ve sworn he was 60.)

“Some of you will be captains of industry and business. Others of you will go on to great careers in medicine, law and public service. Four of you—and I’m not at liberty to say which four—will go on to magnificent careers in the porno industry. I’m not trying to be funny. That’s just a statistical fact.”

As of 2017, Ferrell is both a comedic powerhouse AND a household name. And with all those houses, his upcoming 2017 flick co-starring Amy Poehler, “The House,” is sure to be a winner.

Check out the speech here

8. Eugene Mirman — Lexington High School, 2009

These days, it seems like high school humor consists of nothing more than a few well-placed emojis, fleeting dance crazes, and more shareable memes than original jokes.

But in 2009, Bob’s Burgers actor and human beanbag chair Eugene Mirman gave a hilarious five-minute speech to the 2009 graduating class of Lexington High School that perfectly incorporated teenage angst and youthful energy. The speech is one of the wittiest and most honest of the bunch.

“The main difference for you, between life yesterday and life tomorrow, is you can go to the bathroom whenever you want. It’s a pretty big responsibility, but you’ve earned it. A few more things: you can vote, start a family, go to war, even buy a beer. Just kidding, you’re only mature enough to shoot our enemies in the face.”

Mirman knows how to use absurdism to appeal to distraction-prone high school audiences, saying “I won’t lie to you, there is an asteroid heading for the earth and you only have four days to live. I’m sorry, where was I?”

Check out the speech here

9. Amy Poehler — Harvard University, 2011

Last but not least, one of the grand empresses of comedy: Amy Poehler. Armed with experience and talent out the wazoo, Poehler is the kind of comedian who can do anything– including ending a hysterical graduation speech with a quote from OutKast’s “Hey Ya.”

Harvard clearly has no shortage of comedic guests (or anything, for that matter.) Poehler’s speech to their 2011 graduating class was punchy and sharp.

“And I am here to tell you, life is like a heist that requires good drivers, an explosives expert, a hot girl who doubles as a master of disguise, and this is a hard and fast rule: if the Rock shows up, they’re on to you.”

As of now, we’re looking forward to her new BBC show and apparent biographical series about my life, Zero Motivation.

Check out the speech here

Did someone give a funny speech at YOUR graduation? Tell us about it!

Tweet to us @goldcmdy!


CARSEN SMITH (intern, branding and content) performs standup and improv in New York City. She co-created the improvised cooking show “I’ll Have What She’s Having,” which ran at Nashville’s Third Coast Comedy Club. @carsenasmith

The 5.5 essential types of jokes

How do you take an idea that sounds funny—dorky parents, stupid dress codes, the fall of Rome—and turn it into an actual joke? The first step is to learn, practice, and master the 6 essential types of jokes.

Maybe you’re thinking: “But when you deconstruct a joke, it’s not funny!” MAYBE NOT. But if you don’t CONSTRUCT a joke, it won’t be funny in the first place.

Of course, these six are not the only types of jokes in the world. But we think they’re the best place to start.

1. Setup…punch

If you had to boil all joke structures down to one, this would be it. You set people up to expect one thing, but then POW! Surprise! You went in a different and unexpected direction—yet one that, once you hear it, makes sense in a whole new way. That’s the punch.

Can you guess the classic, quintessential example? Hint: it’s perfect because it’s so short—only four words! We’ll give you a second.

Don’t know? Well, it’s an oldie. Hint: it’s sexist!

Here you go: “Take my wife. Please.”

See how Henny Youngman did that?

“Take my wife” = “Take, for example, my wife. I am about to tell an amusing story about how much I love and respect her.”

“…Please.” = OH SNAP! “Take her away from me, for she is an annoying unattractive nag!”

(We like the Cameron Esposito/Rhea Butcher version better)

Maysoon Zayid, who has cerebral palsy, uses a classic setup/punch to open her set and introduce her physical condition: “I’m not drunk. But the doctor who delivered me was.”

Here are two more little gems from GOLD’s own pilot workshop alums:

Emika: “I love to inspire people. I also love to see them fail.”

Thea: “I am not just a nerd. I am also a geek.”

2. Triple/Lists

Triple

Otherwise known as the “rule of three.” Basically, it’s setup, setup, PUNCH. The #3 doesn’t have to be a knock-your-socks-off M. Night Shyamalan shocker; it just has to be different from #s 1 and 2. This structure can follow many patterns, such as:

  1. Normal, normal, RANDOM. (Spot the example in the first sentence of this article!)
  2. Normal, normal, ALARMING. Here’s a seasonal offering from Jon Stewart: “I celebrated Thanksgiving in an old-fashioned way. I invited everyone in my neighborhood to my house, we had an enormous feast, and then I killed them and took their land.”
  3. General, general, SUPER SPECIFIC or short, short, REALLY LONG. Elicia Sanchez: “I was a super nerd when I was a kid. I liked video games, I liked comic books, I was the youngest mage in the D&D campaign I was part of with 30-year-olds at the Yardbirds in Centralia, Washington.”

List

Most famous, least safe for work/school: George Carlin’s “7 words you can’t say on TV,” which he refined and supersized over the years.

Lists:

  1. Have more than three elements (otherwise they’re triples!)
  2. Work best when the elements contrast all over the place. Here’s one from GOLD workshop alum Uma: “I have a bunch of really weird fears. Wax Vacs, heights, loneliness, darkness, Russia, transphobia, homophobia, white supremacists, nails, and push pins.”
  3. Can be funny by virtue of being extremely, even uncomfortably long. (Then it’s more about form than content, and also about delivery–the faster the better.)

3. Comparisons

Simile

You know this one! From English class! Here’s one from GOLD ComedyTM founder Lynn Harris, who used to play ice hockey. “You guys, we just won a tournament in Canada. We actually even beat a Canadian team. That’s like beating the Italians at opera!”

“It looks like a Bedazzler threw up on it.” – Tiffany Hadish in Girls Trip

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4. Character/Act-out

This is more about imitation than impersonation. You’re not showing off your DeNiro impression (please don’t); you’re following the age-old rule of “SHOW, don’t TELL.” Instead of just saying “My bio teacher has the most annoying voice,” DO THE VOICE. It doesn’t have to be accurate. It just has to be funny.

Advanced: Character can also be commentary. See how Sasheer Zamata slams the racist caricatures on radio ads targeted to black people. If she didn’t actually do the voices, she’d just be angry. Doing the voices makes her FUNNYangry.

5. Callback

A reference to an earlier joke or standout word. Callbacks themselves don’t even have to be funny. Audiences love them because they feel in on things. They’re also great to close with. YARDBIRDS!

5.5 Tag

A tag is just that…a bonus joke tagged onto the end of what is already a complete joke. The joke is complete without it. But the tag gets you a free extra laugh.

Here’s the great part. A tag actually doesn’t have to be a fully formed joke. You can actually just:

  1. Repeat a word or underscore an emotion from your joke. As in: “Yup. Weird.” or “YIKES”. Or even just: “Yeah, so THAT happened.”
  2. Add detail that builds the joke and stretches out the laugh. As in this bit from Brooke Van Poppelen: “Do you ever put on your workout clothes, and then you’re like, ‘Yeah, that feels like enough’-? And then you watch eight hours of House Hunters? International!” “International” is a tag. Not a separate joke, just a tiny add-on that gets a bonus laugh.

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