Lesson 11: Writing Wordplay One-liners

How do you write one-liners? It all starts with words and phrases the comic encounters (or seeks out) in life. One approach to turning a phrase into a one-liner is misdirection which we explored in lesson 8. Misdirection jokes work on the ambiguity of phrases. Typically misdirection jokes are playing with assumptions, but sometimes there is a wordplay element too. In this blog we focus on wordplay jokes, including ones that are born of phrases. Let’s begin though by considering gags that are based around unpacking a single word. COMPOUND WORDS Words like ‘inkjet’ are compound words and can be unpacked to their constituent parts: in this case, ink and jet. For comic effect, you can also unpac

Lesson 10: Turning true stories into stand-up

There’s a problem with true stories in a stand-up context. The long set-up followed by the quick payoff is often the form that anecdotes take; they have this in common with the ‘shaggy dog story’ type of joke. It’s like we learned in the playground at school, and the format is perhaps about two minutes of set-up, with the quick payoff at the end. In modern stand-up you can't often get away with this long a set-up. You need to keep those payoff moments coming repeatedly. If you were doing a five-minute open-spot and had a couple of these two and a half minute stories with a solitary laugh at the end of each you'd only have two laughs! One laugh every 2.5 minutes does seem to be short-changing

Lesson 9: Using social gags in stand-up

In 2007 I interviewed Richard Herring in a Caffe Nero in Hammersmith for the short-lived comedy magazine The Fix. I’d recently seen him perform and was struck by an extended dialogue he performed between an elderly couple consigned to a bonfire. (Yes really). This took the form of an act-out. An act-out is a solo stand-up performing a dialogue between two or more characters. Often just two voices, it sometimes features mime and movement too. We explore act-outs in a future blog. In the interview, Herring remarked that his early comedy double-act with Stewart Lee had left him thinking comedically in terms of two voices. In the bonfire act-out he was literally performing two different voices b

Lesson 8: Misdirection

Let’s zoom in and look more closely at a technique I mentioned in the last lesson: misdirection. I would unconsciously have laughed at misdirection for years, but I first became consciously aware of it watching Have I Got News For You in the 90s. (A formative decade for me.) I didn’t yet have a word for it, but I began to notice that host Angus Deayton would often make the audience assume he was talking about one news story and then, at the last moment, would reveal he was talking about another. The exact examples are lost to me in the mists of time, but here is a more recent one from Private Eye that I used to illustrate misdirection at a talk on satire at the BFI in London: The Daily Mail,

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