How to Tell a Joke — Comic Wonder's 13-step Guide to guaranteed laughter!*

Stunned silence isn't the response most of us are looking for when we tell a joke. To help improve your odds of laughter, you may want to try a couple tricks of the trade.

  1. Start with Great material. If you don't know any jokes, but are itching to tell some, go on over to joke-limbo and find some text jokes that you like. (Joke-Limbo is where we store 'joke scripts' until people turn them in to real jokes by actually telling them.) In Joke-Limbo you'll find thousands of text jokes. If you are drawn to a particular genre of joke, start there. Once you have identified a joke you like, start adding details to it. If there is an element you don't like, chuck it or change it. Once you are happy with the joke's components, start practicing!
  2. KNOW your material. The fastest way to ruin a joke is to read it instead of telling it. Practice telling your joke several times before telling it. Try it out in the shower or while pushing a shopping cart full of stuffed animals down a deserted alley. If you know the joke (without reading it) it won't sound like you are reading it. *Bonus tip* In real life, nobody says, "he replied" or "she responded." These are telltale signs of someone reading a joke instead of performing it.
  3. Consider your audience? For example, my grandmother LOVES racy jokes about drunk Irishmen taking advantage of barn animals, but your drinking buddies may not.
  4. Change the ending. You're telling a joke, not remaking Casablanca. If you (and everybody else) has heard the joke, you can change the major details, the way it's delivered or the ending (or even all three.) You have now restored the element of surprise back to a time-worn joke.
  5. Embellish! The best jokes are rich in interesting detail. If you mention a car in your joke, try giving it some personality. Is it a burnt orange Dodge Durango or a lime green Pinto? The more specific you are, the more your audience can believe that it is a personal story. Add names of bars, restaurants or intersections.
  6. Misdirection. All jokes end with a twist. That's the point. Your job is to tell the story in a way that distracts your audience from the inevitable. Character voices and funny detail are the tools of this trade. If getting there is more than half the fun, the punchline can still be a surprise.
  7. It's all about me. Another great way to disguise the twist is to frame the story as your own. If your friends think you are telling them a serious story, the punchline can come out of left field. The difference between, "Two guys walk into a bar" and "Mark and I went to Tony's pub last weekend" is pretty significant.
  8. Keep it short and sweet... but not TOO short. You are not doing a stand-up routine, so you will start to lose momentum 10 minutes into your 'joke.' Keep it around a minute. But, trim it all the way down to a one-liner and you may start to drift into the cheesy zone.
  9. Be the Joke. Give each character a voice or an accent. Add some sound effects. A joke is a story and the better the production value, the better the joke. (Like this or this)
  10. Don't use accents unless you have mastered them. Nothing's worse than an Irish brogue that sounds more like an Indian accent or a cowboy that sounds like a drunk muppet. (we are bringing in some pro's and will have some great voice lessons real soon)
  11. Keep the rhythm. Flow with the story and tell it until you get it right. When you are telling a joke on our phone system you can redo it if you trip up. Even if you post it and don't like it, you can delete it and re-record. The final performance should be flawless before you release it to the world. Umm's and missed cues should not make it into a Comic Wonder -worthy performance.
  12. Is your material offensive? If so, to whom? It doesn't take much talent to make people giggle when you drop the f-bomb. Unless you are Eddie Murphy or George Carlin, it's probably just nervous laughter. there are very few jokes that are actually better when you spice them up. The Aristocrats, however, is one of them!
  13. Listen to your favorite joke-tellers carefully. From all-out theater, to your friend telling you a story, to great accents or just plain masterful pauses, there are a lot of different joke-telling styles on and each brings a lesson of their own.

* This statement should in no way be construed as a warranty or guarantee of any kind


The Art Behind Joke Telling

Learning a new skill, whether riding a bike or rattlesnake hurling, requires an intense amount of practice. Sadly, we are unlikely to master any new skill if we fail to engage in some form of mind-numbing repetition. The good news is that our brains can and will rewire themselves. In the case of joke-telling, that means even the most dower old sour puss can learn to tell a great joke.

But before we head off to the practice mats, let's think a bit about why you want to become a joke-telling Sensei. You may be interested in mastering the skill of joke-telling to woo a love interest, get free beer, or entertain the street performers. Whatever your motivation, just make sure you have some. Mastering any new skill requires dedication, which in turn requires a good bit of obsessive self-interest.

Once you feel properly motivated, take some time to listen to our master joke-tellers. Don't forget about our Sense of Humor rankings which rank the funniest members on Comic Wonder.

Now listen carefully. What makes their jokes so funny? Is it their accents, details, embellishments?

The next step is to find a good joke to practice. We suggest Joke Limbo, which is our repository of text jokes waiting to be saved. There you'll find hundreds of text jokes. If you are drawn to a particular genre of joke, start there. Once you have identified a joke you like, start adding details to it. If there is an element you find distracting, discard or change it. Once you feel satisfied with the joke's components, write it down and start practicing.

For a 101 joke, try to avoid material that requires accents, too many details, or a pun. Accents take a great deal of practice to master, as do intricate details. As for pun-based jokes, they are almost never funny.

One word of caution: joke-telling practice can have a deleterious effect on your closest relationships. Start practicing your joke in the shower or while you are driving - SOLO! Record yourself and play it back. What do you hear? Are there lots of weird pauses, ums, and ahs? Keep practicing.

Think you have a winning performance? Try your joke out anonymously on the unsuspecting masses first.


Comic Wonder Best Practices

Don't read your joke
The best jokes told are the ones not read from a script. Try to memorize and practice your joke before telling it. If you can tell it without looking at notes, it will sound much more natural. NOTE - No one really says, "he replied" or "she responded." These are purely written joke phrases. Get rid of them!
Get into character
Change your voice or accent for each of the characters in your joke and try making some impromptu sound effects to accentuate the story.
Joke-telling is storytelling. Use details (place names, character descriptions, etc) to make your joke sound more like a real story that you are recounting to a friend. Details draw the audience in and disguise the impending, and hopefully hilarious, twist ending.
Go retro with a Land Line
If you don't have a great cell signal, or a high quality cordless phone, you may be better off going old-school with a landline.
Don't distort
Don't hold the phone too close to your mouth and don't yell. You'd be surprised how sensitive telephone microphones are.
Record it again
If your train of thought derails halfway through the joke, re-record it. Umm's and missed cues should not make it into a Comic Wonder-worthy performance.

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Dead Frog is Todd Jackson's comedy blog chocked full of industry news about stand-up and comedians.

Shecky Magazine -- industry insiders Traci Skene and Brian McKim regularly update their blog with comic news and interviews with well-known comedians.