How to Write Your Own Jokes

I’ve recently discovered that I have a talent for writing jokes, some of which are truly funny. While there doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast rulebook for writing your own jokes, I’ll share my process in hopes that it will help you become the life of the party. And if I ever learn to tell them effectively, I’ll share that with you, too.

How to Write a Joke #1: Pick a topic.

Don’t even try to be witty before you pick the topic of your joke. When you’re writing your own jokes, it’s a lot harder to come up with a punch line until you know what you’re supposed to be swinging at. I thoroughly recommend picking a one-word noun as the topic of the joke you’ll write. If you’re determined to poke fun at the idea of running as a sport, for example, keep it simple and pick running or joggers as your subject.

For our purposes, let’s pick glasses. For all the folks reading this with their safety goggles on, don’t worry-I feel your impending pain.

How to Write a Joke #2: Brainstorm potential punch lines and puns first.

For any noun that you pick, you should be able to come up with words and phrases commonly associated with the thing you’ve chosen as your object of ridicule. Make a list of all the ones you can come up with. Don’t worry about how the words and phrases will fit into the joke you write yet. That comes later.

Let’s keep going with our example.

Glasses

-Half-full or half-empty?
-Four eyes
-Rhymes with molasses (and other words, too)
-Glasses make you look smarter
-Broken
-Nearsighted, farsighted

How to Write a Joke #3: Make a list of typical joke scenarios and formats.

Before you even decided to read this article and attempt to write your own joke, you had a list of common joke scenarios already banging around inside your head. You should compile a master list to run through every time you need to write a joke. Think of it like a high school cheat sheet. It’ll save you time on the test, and eventually you’ll just memorize the darn thing.

Here are some examples:

-A man walks into a bar�
-Knock, knock�
-Two people go on a date�
-A man is trapped on a deserted island�
-What do you get when you cross a ______ with a _______?
-What’s the difference between?
-Why did the ______ cross the road?
-What did the ______ say to the ______?

I’ll stop there, because you get the point. You’ll notice that you prefer some of the joke scenarios and formats over others. That’s okay, but don’t leave anything off the list.

How to Write a Joke #4: Match a punch line with a scenario, and fill in the story.

This is where the joke writing tutorial gets a little fuzzy. This crucial step relies mostly on trial, error, and perseverance than anything else.

When you go back to your original list of punch lines, you’ll probably be able to eliminate several right off the bat. Hopefully you’ll have one left to work with.

For our example, here’s what I got rid of initially and why:

Half-full or half-empty?-I decided to get rid of this one because it deals more with optimism and pessimism than actually wearing glasses.

Rhymes with molasses (and other words, too)-This might be helpful if I wanted to write a dirty limerick, but I don’t.

Broken-I can personally attest to the fact that there’s absolutely nothing funny about broken glasses.

That leaves us with:

-Four eyes
-Glasses make you look smarter
-Nearsighted, farsighted

Of the three that are left, the phrase with the most punch line-potential for me is “near-sighted, far-sighted.” The “four eyes” thing seems unoriginal, and “glasses make you look smarter” seems too much like a blonde joke for my taste. So I’m going to take the nearsighted, farsighted phrase and try to make a joke.

The key to writing a successful joke is to twist your phrase just a little to make a play on words, a pun, or a double entendre without making the connection to your subject too obscure. For “nearsighted, farsighted,” I think I want to make a play on the concept of vision. There’s eyesight vision, and then there’s that other, more elusive kind of vision that can involve the divine or personal ambition. Sounds like this is turning into some sort of priest joke. (If you don’t like priest jokes, you can easily think of several other types of people who have “vision,” like entrepreneurs or ghost hunters.)

It’s easier to start writing jokes that have a prescribed formula than it is to write a free-form story joke, so let’s just pick one off the list. I’ve always liked “What’s the difference betweenâÂ?¦” jokes, so let’s use that.

In this case, what can we compare? We know we want priests, glasses, and a play on vision in our joke. If vision is the punch line, we should either compare two priests (one with glasses), or we should compare glasses and a priest.

Here are two alternatives:

Q: What’s the difference between a priest and a pair of glasses?
A: One has perfect vision, and the other doesn’t.

How to Write a Joke #5: UmâÂ?¦Your joke probably isn’t that funny the first time.

Hmmm�.I think we can do better.

Q: What’s the difference between a priest who wears glasses and one who doesn’t?
A: One is more farsighted than the other.

That’s it. That’ll be our joke.

Spend some time tweaking it until it sounds just right. My final version:

Q: What’s the difference between a priest who wears glasses to read the Bible and one
who doesn’t?
A: One is more farsighted than the other.

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