Do you have a relative who is “Mr. Long Joke?”
It’s usually an uncle or grandfather who takes forever to tell a “funny” story. The joke seems to go on forever, only to end with a punchline that ends with a whimper instead of a bang.
As a humor writer, it’s crucial to avoid becoming the literary equivalent of Uncle Long Joke. The first step is to tattoo on your funny bone the secret formula that predicts a joke’s funniness is straightforward:
Funny = Funny ÷ Word Count.
The formula is easy to comprehend – a joke becomes less funny with more words.
Most long jokes don’t work because the punchline doesn’t make up for the wait. Too much fluff takes away from the funny. The fewer words between your audience/readers and the punchline, the more potent the humor.
Professionals are OCD about unnecessary words, especially in the punch line. Examine jokes you like and ones that have been “honored” (e.g., “best jokes of 2013,” funniest standup gags”).
The best jokes are concise and punchy. They don’t waste time with embellishment or exaggeration. They get to the funny as soon as possible. Like Jimmy Carr’s classic wordplay gag:
I realized I was dyslexic when I went to a toga party dressed as a goat.
Samurai editing is one of the essential secrets to successful gag writing. That’s why all pros keep a sharp editing sword in their writing toolbox and follow the samurai’s creed, “Get to the joke as soon as possible.”
To edit your material, look for redundancies, unnecessary adjectives, and wordy phrases that don’t contribute to the humor. Your goal is to maximize the funny by slashing out any unneeded words, especially in the punchline.
So, unsheathe your editing sword, slash away at the fluff, and reveal your razor-sharp wit.