Funny Puzzles That Aren’t Puzzling

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When you watch or listen to comedy, at what point do you expect to laugh?  Do you expect to laugh right when the comedian says the punchline?  If the comic takes his time with the joke to slow it down a bit, then tells the punchline, with the laugh following a second or two later, does that mean the comedian didn’t do their job properly?  Or is there something at play which the audience isn’t picking up on?

That would be the latter (don’t worry, I had no clue what the difference between former and latter meant either, until I Googled it).

The comedy laugh trigger I am referring to is called configurational.  To simplify its definition, configurational material means the humour occurs when unconnected ideas fall into place and in that moment, make sense.  It’s the “a-ha!” moment of the joke. The root word of configurational is configure, meaning to build, like a puzzle.  The joke is carefully laid out like a puzzle with the pieces being laid out one by one, and while the audience listens to the joke, it may not appear at first glance that the pieces make sense until the punchline of the joke.  It’s then when the audience takes a moment to process the pieces to the puzzle and to connect the dots of the joke.  Then the laughter occurs.

Some comedians like Steven Wright and the late Mitch Hedberg were great at doing configurational comedy.  For example, Mithc Hedberg had a joke that read:

A waffle is like a pancake with a syrup trap

If you look at the joke, when you first hear it the laugh doesn’t come instantly because you need to take a second or two in order to put the pieces of the joke together.  At first you think “what did he say?”  Then you get pictures in your mind to help put the puzzle together, and in this case you picture the waffle, a pancake and syrup.  You see the pancake with the syrup on it, then relate that to the shape of a waffle.  NOW you connect the dots to the joke and the seemingly unrelated pieces to the joke finally make sense where the a-ha! moment comes in where you recognize how the joke fits together.  Then the laugh takes place.

For those types of jokes it’s important as a comic to use timing and let the audience take a minute to process the joke.  John Stewart is another one who has made a very good living with the configurational joke structure, but I personally can’t stand the guy now.  He used to be much funnier when he sat is as a guest host doing The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder (for those of you who remember that far back).  Though come to think of it, he did the configuational stuff too back then.  You’d hear him say a joke or something funny then he would take a moment for the pieces of the puzzle to fit together before the crew in the studio started laughing.  Google some of Jon Stewart’s stuff when he guest hosted to Tom Snyder and you’ll see what I mean.

No, I don’t find his brand of “fake news” funny, especially when it always deals with US politics.  Then again, he’s won awards for it and makes a ton of money, so who am I to judge?  I am merely a comedy fan giving my opinion.

Be blessed, and remember to get your tickets soon for The Laugh Shop shows coming up next Friday and Saturday.

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