What makes a joke? Well according to Greg Dean, it’s surprise. In Step by Step to Stand-up Comedy Dean lays out how jokes are fundamentally about causing the audience expect one thing while delivering another. Of course,what you surprise them with must be related to what they assumed. In short form, a joke is two stories that are connected. The trick is to get the audience to think of the first story while the comedian finishes with the second. While I think that there are other definitions for what makes up a joke – and even more about what makes funny – I like Dean’s definition because it’s easy to work with and create material. You take anything that can mean two things and you can make a joke out of it.
Dean walks you through a process of creating jokes by looking for the places where you can have two premises that can come out of one idea. The process is somewhat mechanical – but that’s sort of what you want when you’re beginning. It is something that you can teach, practice, and perfect.
Beyond the introduction to jokes and joke writing are guides for assembling the jokes into a routine, practicing, rehersing, and performing. These sections are very helpful if you need to know how to practice and prepare – for me the material was mostly review since I do that sort of thing for my regular presentations. So while the material was good, it wasn’t new to me.
From my perspective this was singlehandedly the most effective joke writing book for beginners. I’d say that this provided tons of insight into the process that I can use – even if I don’t follow the process precisely. If you’re trying to figure out how to write jokes Step by Step to Stand-up Comedy is a great place to start.