Writing Humour: Joke Telling vs. Bit Writing

Some comedians make Jesus jokes. I heard a spanish guy do a few last week. If the opportunity ever presents itself, here are a few ideas I have…but let me drop some science on yo’ ass first…

Joke Telling vs. Bit Writing

There is a difference between joke telling and humorous story/argument telling; I prefer the latter. Most of the comics I see out there are telling jokes that are scattered among various premises. The problem that I see with that is this: they have to constantly create new scenarios and paint new pictures for the audience to set up a punchline.

And that takes time. You only have 15-20 seconds at the most before the lack of laughter becomes a problem, before that vacuum starts to strangle you.

I’ve thought comics were funny, but the dead air in between punchlines ended up being the difference between doing well and KILLING on stage. The laughter from the crowd never had a chance to carry from joke to joke. One laugh = good. But string three laughs back to back, and you can get people ROARING.


Keeping Laughter Momentum On Your Side

In sales, there is the concept of a Yes train. Once you get the customer saying yes 5-10 times, they will usually keep agreeing with you. It works the same way with crowds. Once you have people in the process of laughing, it is much easier to keep them laughing.


Implementing The Laugh Train

Some definitions are in order:

  • Bit – a collection of jokes
  • Premise – the Bit’s subject matter.
  • Joke – a collections of word or actions that get a laugh

Whenever I write a Bit, I think along the lines of a laugh train. I set up the premise, and from there I write a Joke (1-2 sentences at the most) that get a laugh. And then another Joke that gets a laugh. And so on, and so forth.


Structure Conducive To A Laugh Train

The structure looks something like this:

  1. Set up premise (10-20 seconds, and 20 seconds is REALLY pushing it). Typically, the premise doesn’t have a laugh in it, but if I can build one in, I will.
  2. Joke stemming from premise
  3. Joke Joke stemming from premise, etc.

The idea here is that after I set up a premise, I want I want the jokes to come one after another based on the premise of the bit.

You see how I don’t have to keep setting up new premises (plural premi? I dunno)? In that way, I’m not constantly leaving 10-20 seconds between laughs. In that manner, a laugh train is started. And, like I said, once you have them laughing, it’s hard for them to stop.


Does It Work?

Think I’m talking out of my ass? I DARE YOU, nay – DOUBLE-DOG DARE YOU – to watch any bit by Richard Pryor, Paul Mooney, Chris Rock, Dane Cook, Dave Chappelle, anyone. They set up a premise, and then it’s one joke after another relating back to the premise.

Whether they are giving an argument (i.e. Dave Chappelle’s Kids’ Cartoons) or telling a story (i.e. Dane Cook’s Burger King), it’s premise followed by joke after joke. See for yourself:


The Jesus Example

It’s apropos that I use the Perfecter of Parables, the Sultan of Storytelling, Jesus Christ, as my example.

Here’s my Jesus bit. It consists of one premise, a few sub-premises, and 17 jokes (places where I think people will laugh, which i’ve denoted with number). Enjoy!

Premise: There’s been a lot of Jesus talk so far tonight.

  1. (Sub-premise) Man, I wish my name was Jesus. Because I could have so much cool stuff to say to people.
    • People would call me and say, hey, what’s up, Jesus? And I’d reply, Yes, my son? (1)
  2. (Sub-premise) But there’d also be a lot of problems, too. Imagine having a party, and it’s time to order pizza. Jesus spoke in parables, but we’re way too impatient for that.
    • Guy: Hey Jesus, what do you want on your pizza?
    • Jesus: There was a man who had two sons… (2)
    • Guy: No, no, not again, Jesus, please, mushrooms or pepperoni. (3)
    • Jesus: The younger one said to his father…(4)
    • Guy: Goddamnit, just get the mushrooms. (5) And I don’t care what he says, no anchovies this time.(6)
  3. (Sub-premise) But then when it’s time to go, he could say cool things again.
    • If white people were leaving…
    • Jesus: ‘Go forth, my children, and multiply.’ (7)
    • Guy: Um, ah, aright Jesus. Take it easy.
    • If black people were leaving…
    • Jesus: go forth, my children, and, uh, yeah just go forth. (8) Get it? Because of black teen pregnancy he, he doesn’t have to tell them to multiply; they’ve clearly, already got that down. Thou shalt not steal, on the other hand… (9)
  4. (Sub-premise) I think Jesus would get in trouble a lot though, especially with prostitutes, because he would always want them to wash his feet. (10) Imagine if he got caught
    • Police: Jesus, this is the third time this week! (11)
    • Jesus: No, no, my children, you don’t understand, Shaqwonda was just washing my feet.(12)
    • Police: Yeah yeah yeah, you sicko’s are all the same. Tell it to the judge. (And he’s scared as hell, because we all know what happens when he tells it to the judge…) (13)
    • Jesus: No, please, you don’t get it, she was just going to wash my feet! (14)
    • Police: Jesus Christ…(15) Get in the back of the goddamn car.
    • Jesus: Hey, you’re not gonna tell my dad, are you?(16)
  5. (Sub-premise) Everyone thinks the second coming of Jesus will be a white guy. That’s an assumption most people make. But I think Jesus will be Chinese, because they feed more people using the least amount of resources on the planet. Name me another culture that can give you fried rice, sweet and sour pork, an egg roll, and a coke, for $5.65. (17)

I should also mention that I do have some other ones, but I don’t feel comfortable posting them on the internet. That should tell you something. If you’d like to hear them, message me on Twitter or on the JagdeoComedy facebook page.

If thou hast performed, thou shalt not leave until all of the other performers have performeth’d,

Michael Jagdeo


About Michael Jagdeo

My name's Michael Jagdeo, and I refuse to write about myself in the third person. I'm a Comedian from Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In addition to honing my stand-up comedy act, I maintain this blog and write the weekly comedy article for blogTO.com.
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One Response to Writing Humour: Joke Telling vs. Bit Writing

  1. Pingback: Jesus bit | Diary of a Toronto Stand-Up Comedian

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