Here's a joke for you:


Laughter is the best medicine!

Unless you're treating diarrhea.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Punch Lines

A punch line is what comes at the end of a joke to tie it all together and make us laugh. But a punch line is much more than that, and punch lines aren’t confined to joke telling. Punch lines are everywhere. Punch lines are what life is all about.

Punch lines are a clearly part of timing. We’ve all heard jokes that were ruined because a punch line was delivered at the wrong time, or too quickly or too slowly. There is a stupid old joke that says:

Why can’t lawyers/blondes/Americans/whomever tell good jokes timing?

And it’s true. Punch lines need good timing.

If a joke is delivered quickly, then a punch line can be fast. Fast punch lines like this catch people off guard. They surprise people. They are unexpected. A fast joke doesn’t give the audience time to ponder the joke and consider how elements of the set up are ridiculous.

Other punch lines need to be held back a little for emphasis. A relaxed punch line gives us the chance to think the joke through. Your audience may be trying to guess the punch line. And that’s okay, if the joke is meant to get the audience guessing.

No punch line should ever be announced. If your audience isn’t paying attention, if they’re too stupid to understand, then they don’t deserve to enjoy your funny joke. Don’t tell them when the punch line is coming. Don’t clue them in with a gesture, or an expression, or by wiggling your eyebrows. Deliver your punch line naturally, with an appropriate amount of emphasis, or deliver it in an off-handed way if the joke warrants such a delivery. But that’s all a part of advanced joke-telling, and we’ll discuss that subject another time.

Punch lines are a part of all communication. Whether you are giving a presentation to the board, telling about your Aunt Tilly’s funeral, or explaining your business proposal to a banker, you’ll eventually have to get to the point. It may not be funny, but your communication will have a set up, and then you’ll make a point. All information has a punch line. No matter how much filler there is in what you have to say, there is still a point. There’s a set up, and a punch line. Anything else is mindless blather, no matter how important you think it is.

That’s the great thing that comes from learning to tell jokes. You learn to think about the information in your set up. What does your audience, or listener, need to know so that they will understand the punch line? Are you saying anything that is unimportant? Is some of your information blocking the path to the punch line? And of course you learn the best way to deliver your punch line. And it’s that final point that will make or break any information you are trying to share. There is great value in learning to tell jokes properly.

Everything you’re saying, whether or not you’re telling a joke, is a set up. You’re painting a picture with words so that you can make a point. That point is the punch line.

Remember what the punch line is, no matter what you’re saying. Hit it hard, and then let its impact sink in.

Let’s see if you learned anything today:

“What makes a good punch line?

Good punch, ice, and no one is pushing or shoving.”

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