Using Comedy Best Practices 4 – Tension & Release with Norm McDonald’s Moth Joke

In this post, I continue to leverage Mike Bent’s, ‘The Everything Guide to Comedy’ in order to understand the technical aspects of writing funny material. Previously, we discussed how to structure a bit. Today, Norm McDonald helps us understand how to use, ‘Tension and Release’ on The Conan O’Brien Show.

What is Tension and Release?

Mike explains it best:

You control the audience by making them as uncomfortable as possible by creating tension, then releasing that tension with a joke just at the right time.

I don’t think I wanna approach this one yet! In order to pull this off, you need to have created a lot of goodwill with your audience. In other words, they need to KNOW that you’re about to say something hilarious; it’s the only reason they keep paying attention to what you’re saying. In addition, because the audience already loves you before the joke, they laugh throughout the joke anyway because it’s you.

Watch how Conan interrupts at one point, “How long of a drive is this?!” He’s uncomfortable, too. It’s important to recognize that Norm has KILLED on Conan many times before, and so he had gathered enough goodwill to go off like this.

For those. Of you. That Don’t. Get it. Here’s. Another. Example. Of what. I’m talking.


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
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2 Responses to Using Comedy Best Practices 4 – Tension & Release with Norm McDonald’s Moth Joke

  1. For those of you that have been following me, any suggestions on how I might be able to use Tension and Release?

    Oh, and for the lazy hecklers that are itching to say, ‘Your whole set is all tension and no release…’ I beat ya to it. I’m just saving it for when we meet so I can release all over your…

    Kidding! I love you guys.

  2. Pingback: This Week in Comedy: That's What SHE Said, Twitter Gong Show … | Comedy

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