The Punch of the Line.

March 21, 2009 at 10:29 pm 2 comments

punchlineAs many of you know, doing stand-up comedy and being funny have sadly not a lot to do with each other.  If only being a successful stand-up were only about being a funny person — although being funny certainly helps.  Lawdy knows I’m still learning but I’ve come to understand that stand-up comedy is so much about presence, attitude and timing.  Think of all the funniest stand-ups and how you can’t always explain why what they’re saying is funny but it just is: that’s presence. Sometimes, when I’m telling a funny story to my friends at a social gathering, I think to myself, “Wow, Carrie, everyone is laughing, perhaps this would make a good bit.” — but this is a trap, because when you’re telling a funny story to friends there are things at work that aren’t at work when you’re on stage.  Generally speaking:  1) On stage, you aren’t bouncing off the funny things your friends say or ask.  2) The pressure is off to get a laugh; you’re just telling a story.  3) There is no expectation of a punchline.

Ah, the punchline, my best friend and my mortal enemy.  Turning a funny story into a concise joke is an art form and often the hardest part of the being-on-stage element.  You have to say the joke out loud to hear where the funny parts are.  And sometimes the punchlines are formed through a conversation with a funny friend.

An example of a funny story with no punchline:

I love my stupid cheap watch — had it for years.  When the battery died, I went to get it replaced at the watch/shoe repair place.  The guy said it would be 10 minutes and $7 which seemed reasonable.  When he returned the watch, I could see that the second wasn’t moving, so I said, “Um, it’s still not working,” and the guy didn’t act surprised and took it back and “fixed” it again and handed it back to me a few minutes later.  This time, the second hand was painfully jerking in one spot. “Um… it’s still not fixed” I said, confused.  On the watch face, the ONLY thing that moves wasn’t moving.  Did he think I wouldn’t notice that the ONLY thing that illustrates a working watch wasn’t working?  That’s all a watch does and he tried to Jedi mind trick me into seeing it work? What the hell?

Now, that’s a [sort of] funny thing that happened. But it’s not a joke.  It’s a passing story about bad/weird customer service.  So, can I appeal to my friends to help me with the punchline? Possible ways to go:

1) Imagine if airline pilots tried this technique: “Here we are in sunny Hawaii.  Everybody off the plane.”  Like you wouldn’t notice you were still in Newark.
2) It’s like, “Is my watch fixed?” [Jedi hand gesture] “You don’t need a wrist watch.”
3) It’s like a waiter trying to convince you a glass of water is a steak dinner.  [Same basic joke as example 1]

I could potentially use all three of these.  Can any of you think of a better punchline?  Is story not worthy of the stage?  Does it take too long to get to the point?  More than a couple of sentences for a set-up is pretty dicey.  What do you guys think?

Also: can someone tell me if “punch line” is one word or two?  Even Wikipedia switches back and forth in the same article.

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Entry filed under: Finding material, Not funny enough for the stage, The business, Tricks of the trade.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dan Springer  |  March 23, 2009 at 3:17 am

    I think #1 is the best- it takes it farther than the other two and still makes the same point. I can’t think of anything better off the top of my head…

    Reply
  • 2. carriegravenson  |  March 25, 2009 at 11:02 pm

    Thanks, Dan. This one’s still in the workshop phase. Funny things keep happening and it’s hard to get them stage-ready.

    Reply

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