The Ten Commandments of …Comedy

Kevin Coolidge
Kevin is the creator of The Totally Ninja Raccoons and lives in Wellsboro Pennsylvania

Feb 20,2018

“Two fish in a tank. One turns to the other and says: ‘Do you know how to drive this?’”

Surprise is so essential to comedy that if there isn’t a twist or surprise, it isn’t funny. Timing is important. You want to give the audience time to start thinking of a punch line. Drop it too soon, and they won’t be there. Drop it too late, and they’ll be gone. Pull it at the right time—surprise! 

There are several techniques for generating this surprise. One device is misdirection. Lead them in one direction and then suddenly flip.

Take my wife…please 

This classic one-liner at first leads the audience to believe that the comic is saying “Let’s use my wife as an example.” Then with the final word, he lets his listeners know that he is pleading for someone to actually take his wife.

Shock is another technique for creating surprise. Insults or gross language fall into this category. Some comics use obscenities because listeners are surprised, and it can get laughs, but you need to think of the commandment: “Remember the Audience.”

Every humorist needs an audience. Humor requires laughter. The audience must appreciate the humor. A funny joke is not funny if the audience doesn’t agree. Part of being a good humorist is to give them what they want to hear. 

It doesn’t mean pandering to an audience. You shouldn’t change your standards to cater to an audience’s philosophy, but you want to avoid offending by excluding material that isn’t going to get any laughs. 

Remember your job as a comic is to get laughs. If your material isn’t producing any, then maybe you need to learn more about your audience. You can gear material to a particular audience when working in a specific locale. Knowing what the people of the town or city are concerned with at the time can boost audience response.

There are fundamentals that control the effectiveness of comedy. Gene Perret has chosen to call them The Ten Commandments of Comedy. It’s gimmicky, but it gets your attention. You can ignore the threat from above and risk Armageddon, or you can read this book, analyze your material, and reap you reward.

Rules, regulations—you may disagree with them. They don’t apply to you, but humor is serious business. You can’t make a career as a comedy writer, performer, or a public speaker just because your friends think you’re funny. 

Anything that works does so because it follows principles that make it work and comedy is no different. Comedy is a creative art, but it helps if you know the precepts that govern humor. You can add variation, creativity, and depth to your routine. Break those rules and you can keep your day job; follow Gene’s advice and you can always leave ‘em laughing…

Other articles by this author