No matter where you land on the joke-telling spectrum, we amateurs could all use a couple tips.
Today, we have Professor Louis C.K. So listen up.
In the video above, YouTube’s Evan Puschak (aka The Nerdwriter) takes a single joke from C.K.’s 2011 Live at the Beacon Theater stand-up special and dissects it in exacting detail.
Want to use this information to better your own comedic abilities? Here’s what we learned:
1. You need to start with a clear premise. Otherwise even your best punchline will fall flat (unless the people you’re telling the joke to are your subordinates).
2. Mind your choice of words. A quick quip can get a bigger laugh by adding some simple “comedic surprises.” But don’t go crazy, Shakespeare.
3. And don’t ignore rhythm. Speeding through the good parts will kill a joke just as quickly as wandering around aimlessly.
4. Emphasize. How to do it right: during spots where people chuckle, add another similar line to draw more laughs out. How to do it wrong: “Isn’t that so funny?”
5. Add a counterpoint to the premise for dramatic effect. In this case, Louis C.K. pits the gravity of a serious board game (like Monopoly) against a carefree kids' one (Candyland).
Late in the video, Puschak throws a pseudo-intellectual hail mary underscored with some inspirational music, “Like great poetry, great stand-up comedy is language distilled to its most potent form.”
Hold up. Is anyone having fun here? This feels a bit like learning the secret behind a magic trick. It also feels like — although this is coming from someone whose personal relationship with him amounts to passing him on the street once in Greenwich Village — Louis C.K. would enjoy this level of critical analysis about as much as he enjoys deer.
So maybe you should just tell your jokes and let C.K. tell better ones and all will be as it should.