Everyone loves a good joke, and that’s probably because laughter has the ability to make us forget whatever we might have been fretting about, even if just for a little while. When you watch Jeff Foxworthy and Co. on the Blue Collar Comedy Tour, they made it look so easy. The jokes just seemed to roll of their tongues without much effort at all. But make no mistake, being funny is hard work. Most successful comedians spend years toiling away in obscure nightclubs before they ever get near a big break. That’s because it takes time to refine the art of telling a punchline. What is it that makes something funny? Let’s take a closer look.
Obscures Our View of Reality
A good comedy routine will obscure our view of reality a little bit. Its situation is not so outlandish that we can’t ever see it happening, but it’s way outside the realm of what we could actually see ourselves doing. A great example is one of my favorite old skits from Laurel and Hardy. In the scene, they’re forced to cook for an individual that’s very imposing. They don’t want to disappoint him, but they don’t have anything to cook so they end up using the strings from an old mop to make spaghetti. Needless to say, it doesn’t go quite as planned. This type of suspension of reality is one of the best sources of great comedy material.
The Element of Surprise
Another key component of a good comedy skit is, of course, the element of surprise. As we watch a stand-up comedian, we’re anticipating how they are going to take us by surprise. We try to anticipate what they’re going to say next, but if they’re doing their job well they’ll surprise us anyway. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been at a comedy club, thinking I’ll be able to anticipate the way things are going, only to peer over at one of my companions with that look on my face that says “I did not see that coming.” That’s what the element of surprise is all about.
One other factor that plays a large role in making something funny is the countless failures experienced by the comedian you’re watching. Those jokes may look effortless to you, but before that accomplished delivery was developed there’s a good chance that this successful comedian came up with a lot of duds. All of those failed jokes are an opportunity for comedians to refine their craft and figure out what really resonates with their audiences.