Comedy is nothing but a set up with a punchline and as Michael Jr puts it in his TED talk:
This is how comedy works; really all comedy. Any time you laugh, this formula is taking place in one way or another, but specifically, with regards to stand-up, this is how it works as well.
First, there’s a setup, and then, there’s a punchline. Let me explain.
The setup is when a comedian will use his talents and resources to seize any opportunity to ensure that you, the audience, are moving in the same direction.
The punchline occurs when he changes that direction in a way you’re not expecting. When you catch on to this change, you’ve received the punchline.
The results are revelation, fulfillment, and joy expressed through laughter.
If you haven’t watched his TED talk, you need to do yourself a favor and go watch it now. It is pretty amazing!
Here’s a snippet of one of his jokes, note the setup and the punchline.
Ever hear your coach say something like, “The stuff I’m teaching here, it’s not just about this game. You could apply it to life.” Here’s the thing, people: that’s not true. I thought it was true.
Straight out of high school, one of my first jobs was I used to park cars. One of the cars was really nice, so I took it for a little spin. The company found out, and my boss lost the account. He was yelling at me and screaming. I didn’t know what to say or do.
I thought back to my high school football coach, I looked at my boss, and I was like, “You know what, man? You win some, you lose some, man. You can’t let this one loss get you down. The important thing is I went out there, and I had fun”. Then I got fired, man. I got fired right away.