Comedy Lesson 1: Brevity is the Soul of Wit

Lets take a joke I heard today and dissect it:

  • Stanley died in a fire and his body was burned badly. The morgue needed someone to identify the body, so they sent for his two best deer hunting friends, Cooter and Gomer. The three men had always hunted and fished together and were long time members of a hunting camp.

    Cooter arrived first, and when the mortician pulled back the sheet, Cooter said, “Yup, his face is burned up pretty bad. You better roll him over.” The mortician rolled him over and Cooter said, “Nope, ain’t Stanley .”

    The mortician thought this was rather strange, So he brought Gomer in to confirm the identity of the body. Gomer looked at the body and said, “Yup, he’s pretty well burnt up. Roll him over.” The mortician rolled him over and Gomer said, “No, it ain’t Stanley.”

    The mortician asked, “How can you tell?”

    Gomer said, “Well, Stanley had two ass-holes.”

    “What! He had two ass-holes?” asked the mortician.

    “Yup, we never seen ‘em, but everybody used to say, there’s Stanley with them two ass-holes.”

  • Here is an opportunity to learn one of the most important lessens about comedy. Keep It Short. Nothing kills a joke more effectively than talking it to death. I believe it was Henny Youngman who said any joke can be made better by cutting it, either shorter or completely. At the very least over long jokes blunt the punch line and risk telegraphing it before you can wrap it up. It’s called a punch line for a reason; it has to hit before the recipient sees it coming.

    So how could this joke be tightened up. How about this:

  • The coroner thought the body from the burned house was Stanley’s but he needed positive identification so he brought in two of his friends. They couldn’t tell who it was so they asked the coroner to turn the body over. immediately both of them said “Nope that’s not Stanley”

    “How can you be sure?”

    “Whenever we were out we’d hear people saying ‘There goes Stanley with the two assholes.’ This guy only has one.”

  • See how much tighter the joke is? From seventeen lines to seven. It cuts all the unnecessary chaff out and gets to the critical bits. It doesn’t telegraph the punch line four lines before the end. Remember, you are telling jokes, not writing a novel or a screenplay. You don’t need to paint a textured scene. The audience’s mind will do that. Just the set up and then the punch line. Before you tell a joke, examine it, dissect it, if there is anything that doesn’t have to be in there cut it out.

    Remember: Brevity is the soul of wit

  • (Said by Polonius in “Hamlet” by William Shakespeare)
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