Increase the humor content (and laughs) of your professional presentations, informal business talks, and every day conversation.
As Monty Python used to say, "And now for something completely different," you will read the comments of guest writers instead of Cantu and Giles.
In an essay published by the San Francisco Chronicle titled "I'll Remember You" I wrote:
"It's a ritual I've repeated for more than 20 years. At the start of every class, I scan the faces and wonder: Are you the one? The one who will so stand out that I remember your face for years?
"I do not teach in a school. I am a comedy teacher. My classes are self-produced, and through the years I've discovered that every class has one student who seems a sparkling jewel.
"Yes, that student's face I'll remember."
Comedy writer Michael Bass from one of my Holy City Zoo comedy writing classes was just such a person. I remember him. He's gone on to write for many comedians including Bob Hope and Pat Paulson
This was originally a private email from Michael to another writer (Norm Goldblatt, fellow classmate in same class who's also written for many comics including Jay Leno). The comments by writer Michael Bass are so astute, anyone interested in humor writing or delivery will find his insightful comments of value. This essay is for neophytes and wanna be comics as well as professional comedy writers.
The following essay also illustrates one of the major differences between civilians and humor pros. When civilians hear something funny their tendency is to simply think 'That is a funny joke.' When comedy pros hear something funny their tendency is to both, think 'That is funny', and also 'Could the construction be changed to make it stronger?' I.e., funnier. Sometimes not, but the analysis is still important.
In an interview with Larry Wilde, Jerry Seinfeld says, "I will spend an hour trying to get an eight word sentence down to five."
Too many comics get on stage and simple spew out ideas and premises without the thoughtful analysis of how to precisely say what one wants to say.
Too many writers mistake inspired writing for perfect writing. (The 'If it feels right it must be right', school) - Yes, passion can tell you are on the right track with regard to subject matter, but it is sweat and hard work to chisel just the right nuances into your meaning.
Norm, someone sent me a bunch of great, ingenious one liners by comic wizards and the masterminds who write for them. It is a perfect way to look at honed humor words and discuss the decisions which went into choosing them and their arrangement.
I'll give each joke with a comment, and you can tell me whether I am making any sense. Again, I am letting Cantu in on this because I think he, more than anyone besides you, would enjoy the attention to the details of comedy.
When I mention a comic's joke by using his or her name, it means the comic AND his or her writer.
One might follow lexicographical tradition and say something like, "From 'di', the Latin word for 'two, plus 'vorci' the Latin word meaning to rip. . . ." but Robin spit in the face of how it is REALLY done for the sake of brevity, the soul of wit. Good choice.
The content is quintessential Rosanne. It's a good solid joke and it triples in value by going through her mouth. It's like "I'm thinking! I'm thinking!" in the mouth of Jack Benny.
It's a valid joke. With regard to wording, it's perfect. If he had said ". . . a place to have sex" instead of just "a place" it would have lost some of its punch.
Good. If someone tried to tell it and forgot to exactly say "I never would have thought of that!" but said "You are brilliant!" or "How do you think of those things," I think it would lose most of its humor.
A very knowing joke about the foibles of females. Routine fare for Elayne. Her charm level is so high that her lines are better than they need to be. Her big make-or-break decision which she may have gotten many comedy consults over is whether to put in both "fight" and "kill."
She was right to do it. I can't explain it but I can feel it. "Walk over to the women" is an interesting phrase. It says in the fewest words possible that the women are all together with no men close by. It is hardly noticeable, but very important to getting the full punch. Also, he could pass along ANY insult (e.g., "ugly bunch of cows") so the most important element in the joke is the topicality of the uniforms to the women. It is foremost on their minds.
Simply the altered completion of an aphorism. It's an unusually funny one though. I think anybody would word it that way, once the concept arrived at the brain station.
"Again" could have been left out and the joke would still work, but with one word he garners the comic power of speaking from experience.
I like verbal mischief in comedy and in real life, but that seems so simple that I am left waiting for the REAL prank. "At the end of the night" is only in there to remind you of the long hours of drinking.
Logically, it is not required because the designated driver would not take people home before the party even started. Of course it's at the end!
But pro comics often assume that the audience came directly from the track and the field of the Special Olympics. They assume the audience says: "Let me get a joke; and, if I can not get a joke, let me be brave in the attempt!"
Perfect wisdom. Perfect wording. How did Robin come into possession of such a joke?
This reminds me of the Dr. Serious character. (Editor note - Dr. Serious is a character created and performed by Michael Bass. One of the most perfectly created comedy characters ever created full bloom - and I regret Bass' decision to retired him after such a short run).
When I liked Dr. S. best, he was having this kind of almost innocent lack of contact with morality and appropriateness. I like the joke a lot. Its weakness, when you get past the sound of it, (I mean weakness compared to the greatest jokes of all time) is that the hypothetical choice is so unlikely as to be ridiculous to bring up as a one liner. If you wanted it to be perfect, you could work it into a play about saving babies at Yankee Stadium.
A valid pun. Putting it in the form of an innocent question is good. My problem with this one is that I've never actually heard anyone say those specific words. You would know better than I, but I only hear, "The computer is down" or "The computer went out on me."
I say words like "kaput" and "on the fritz" a lot, but that's just me. Maybe it is brilliant to authoritatively say that people say something funny, when they don't! Then hide your assertion behind a question, like you had nothing to do with the wording. Way to go, Marilyn!!
OK. He found a premise and did a routine list, ending in the one notion that he might hang a joke on - - the absurdity of a girl finding you a girl to take her place. Frankly, I forgot to laugh. True to my thesis though, I'll look at the wording. "Temp" is the punch line's punch word, and I must admit it is much funnier than "replacement," "substitute," "temporary worker," or "temporary girlfriend."
To the point. Not the best of Poundstone. She could say it funny though, and most people could not.
My kind of joke. I think "Duh" when inflected properly is very verbal thought. Also, women are better at inflecting duhs. Nevertheless, yet, and still, the joke is great.
"Halfway through" is the secret key. It could be told other ways, but "halfway through" means you are guilty of eating the poor thing, and also that there is still a decision to be made. To eat or not to eat - -that is the question.
This is an example of a joke that makes no sense at all, but it strikes the ear as funny, people laugh, and it's better for all involved if nobody goes back and analyzes what was said. There is no reason to think that the crime and the poverty would go west with them.
The "bunch" of people in New York could be the criminals and the poor of New York, deciding to take it all west, but that's not what the audience is thinking as they laugh. I noticed this "don't look too closely" type of joke many years ago when Milton Berle acknowledged that Dick Cavett had bested him in an exchange.
But what Cavett said was total nonsense with the snappy suggestion of wit and humor.
Me (thinking): "Ha ha ha! But wait! Even a microscopic brain would fit in a huge checkroom. There can't be anything so small that the container has to be made smaller in order to fit it in!
This is nonsense! Yet, Ha ha ha ha ha!" (It is the very mention of the word small and brain in the same context that garnered the laugh).
An interesting topic would be whether "quietly" is important to the joke; and, if so, how important.
"The key is that the person 'thought UP' Muzak, rather than just 'thought OF' it. That makes the thinker active and dangerous."
It's interesting that he maximally truncated his punch line. Many people would say, "Monogamy is the same thing."
That's a pretty good way to say politicians are idiots, and it must have been a knee slapper before the too-easy idea got worn out. It could be updated to a Bush joke, but there is little humor left in the idea.
Michael P. Bass, M.D., Neurologist, Comedy Writer, and Medical Humorist for Meetings of Stuffy Sophisticatea.
(You can read more of Michael's philosophy by joining the international humor discussion group he participates in: LaughLovers To join send any email to (no message or subject line since all queries are all handled by computer).
Erik Thornquist had some thoughts on some past Humor Mall Jokes Weekly jokes from the August 30, 2002, issue
And for those who can tolerate a little spice in their humor, Erik took two jokes:
Original Joke: The trouble with our love life is that my spouse thinks 'headache' is the generic term for sex.
Cantu says: "I don't drive, - it's one of the reasons I live in San Francisco (seven square miles - easy to get around in by bus, cab, or walking), so I could never have written Erik's version which is better:
That's the way a pro approaches a joke book or a joke ezine - as if each joke were malleable clay to be fashioned into your version of a funny truth. This is my standard reply to people who tell me the jokes in Humor Jokes Weekly aren't funny:
"What you are actually saying is "I'm not funny!" It's not the joke(s), it's what YOU do with the joke that makes it funny.
Erik Thornquist sent in some new versions that past jokes sparked for him. This is the way you take an old joke and update it or make it fresh. This is the way you find a joke in a joke book and make it yours.
This personal re-write is the type of creativity that only you can provide and it is what will make you stand out amongst the others who only read these jokes here and recite them some where else.
Cantu says: I'm not sure if Erik means this joke sounds like a Woody Allen joke which is quite plausible since he is one of my favorite comics - as a stand-up not his artsy fartsy movies, most of of which I seldom understand.
But one of the highlights of my professional career was seeing Woody Allen live at the Circle Star Theater here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was a 20 something neophyte and I was shocked to realize I knew all his routines.
It never occurred to me that comics did the same material over and over and just pretended as if it were the first time. GREAT learning experience.
If Erik means the joke is not just similar to a Woody Allen but actually is a Woody Allen joke - well, (needless to say, I hope), that was unintentional.
In a previous edit Giles wrote: The car salesman had a really bad-fitting wig. During the test drive, his top went down more times than the convertible's. (Not a great improvement, but just trying to do a little better with the concept.)