Skip to main content

Short Setups and Punchlines

In this article, How to Write Funnier Jokes: Tip 1 – Short Setups and Punchlines, I’ll discuss this most important aspect of stand-up comedy that helps jokes get better laughs.

“In stand-up comedy, you strip out everything except what serves the joke.” – Patton Oswald.

Professional comedians write and rewrite to create short setups and punchlines because they know joke must be concise. When you are editing your jokes, try to cut out any unnecessary words. Every word should serve a purpose.

The vast majority of jokes are only a couple of sentences long. Any longer and you risk losing your audience’s attention. If a word does not help advance the joke, cut it out.

How to Write Funnier Jokes

The setup’s function is to misdirect the audience into believing a false narrative. Once that is accomplished, the setup is done. Any added information clutters up this function. The punchline’s function is to communicate an idea that’s compatible with the setup’s narrative, but completely unexpected.

For instance, these overwritten setups and punchlines.

Setup: “As a single parent, I’m raising two mixed-up teenage boys that cause me no end of trouble. Running away is one of the many problems that I face every single day and I’m always afraid it’s going to happen.”

Punch: “But I don’t run away from them. I stay because I’m their only parent.”

Good idea for a joke, but it contains too much unneeded information. Here’s a shorter version

Setup: “As a single parent, I’m raising two teenagers. So running away is a problem.”

Punch: “But I don’t.”

It only contains the information to make the joke work. Setup idea: teenagers might run away. Punchline Idea: parent doesn’t run away. Anything else makes the audience work too hard to figure it out.

Ask Questions to Shorten Setups and Punchlines

Often when someone writes a good idea for a joke, they stop working on it. The basic joke is just the beginning of the comedian’s process to write funnier jokes. Too much information in a joke slows down the audience’s mental process of figuring out the joke.

To remove the irrelevant wording and information, go through every word and phrase and ask: “Do I really need to say that for the joke to work?”

If the answer is “Yes,” then leave it in. Then move onto the next word or phrase. Ask the question. If the answer is “No,” then remove it. Then rewrite the joke without the unnecessary words or phrases. Continue this process all the way through the setups and punchlines of the jokes.

When you’re done, go through every word and phrase of the joke setups and punchlines again and ask basically the same question. Then do it again. Then do it again, until there is no information except what’s needed for the joke to work.

A shorter joke is almost always funnier than a longer joke because the audience doesn’t have to sift through superfluous verbiage to get the joke. You never want the audience to have to figure out more than they need to before they laugh.

In this comedy technique article you’ve learned How to Write Funnier Jokes: Tip 1 – Short Setups and Punchlines.

In the next joke writing technique article you’ll learn: How to Write Funnier Jokes: Tip 2 – End Punchlines with the Reveal.

Greg Dean’s Stand-Up Comedy Classes

Greg teaches his techniques in two classes.  The first is called Level 1 “How to Build a Stand Up Comedy Routine” and is the beginning class. Level 2 “Writing a Show & Performing at the Improv” is the advanced class with the requirement of taking Level 1 class.

They are beginning and advanced in the Greg Dean System.  If you’re interested in faster and better ways to create good jokes and you want to dive deeper on joke writing then you’ll want to take both of these classes.

Greg teaches his classes live in Santa Monica as well as live on zoom.  If you are in the greater Los Angeles area, you can sign up for his classes at the Santa Monica Playhouse.  Check our Calendar of Events to see all upcoming classes.  Calendar of Events

In addition to his live classes in Santa Monica and on zoom, Greg also teaches joke writing via his on demand platform.  One of his most popular classes is “Joke Writing Made Simple”.  This class can be done in your own time, and at your own pace.  You can find out more about this class.

Free How to Build a Stand-Up Comedy Routine Webinar

You’ll Get Exposed to Joke Structure and Several Other Stand Up Comedy Techniques that Could Make Your Stand Up Comedy Routines Better!

View the Webinar
Greg Dean

Forty years ago, Greg realized that nobody was teaching comedy. Greg took it upon himself to be a stand-up comedy teacher and teach others how to succeed. Setting aside his successful career as a comedian (Saturday Night Live, Ringling Bros Circus clown and ringmaster, Comedy Store paid regular, his own improv troupe with Andy Garcia) and many others, he pursued his passion – to teach the art of stand-up.