Writing Assignment: Tell A Joke

by Randy Murray on March 4, 2011

Comedy, telling a joke in writing, is one of the most difficult forms to master. It’s frustrating and rarely 100% successful. But understanding how jokes and comedy work as storytelling is very important to the writer. It’s a useful exercise; one the working writer should continually experiment with.

To gain the highest probability of success, keep it simple, short, and eliminate everything that doesn’t contribute to the payoff, the punch line. As a boy I loved “shaggy dog” stories, the long, convoluted and often bizarre stories that ended up with a stinker of a pun. I tortured my friends with them. And one thing that I learned was that even these had to be honed down so there were no distractions, no red herrings, nothing not vital or not used to produce the end result, the laugh (or in my case with puns, a groan).

Masters of comedy can work in long themes that build and have multiple payoffs. That’s a true high wire act. For your exercises, try working as simply as possible; even the venerable “knock knock” joke is a good place to start. And remember, in writing, all of the delivery must be through the words. You’re not standing at a mic to deliver a special twist to the presentation. Your work has to be read. And your reader will probably be a tough crowd.

Today’s assignment: write a short joke. Keep it short and simple, but try for a true laugh from your reader. Don’t get fancy. Just make ‘em laugh.

Here’s my example:

(And for this occasion, I resurrect one of my favorite shaggy dog stories . . .)

Have you heard this one?

Once there was a small village that overrun by a convention of flower selling monks. Hundreds of fat men dressed in brown robes clogged the streets, knocked on all of the doors, and stopped every pedestrian, trying to sell their arrangements and assortments.

After a few days, the villagers went to the wisest man in town, who agreed to talk with the monks and try and get them to leave. He reasoned with them, he argued with them, he even begged them, but the monks only offered to sell him bouquets and boutonnieres. After days of trying, he sat in the town square and sighed.

That’s when the town blacksmith, Hugh, a giant of a man, placed his hand on the wise man’s shoulder, winked at him, and then took a hot poker from his forge. He waved it over his head and charged after the flower-selling monks.  They dropped their bouquets and fled for the hills, never to be seen again.

And of course the moral of the story is:  Hugh and only Hugh can prevent florist friars.

You may leave your completed assignment in the comments section below.

Click here to view and complete previous writing assignments

And buy a copy of the new Writing Assignments book!

The Writing Assignment: Tell A Joke by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: