Defeating A Bully With A Single “Punch”line

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There are twelve major comedy formulas in stand up comedy.  Once you recognize what they are, it becomes easier to write. One of the most powerful to use, if done properly can really get an audience on your side and keep them there.

I have learned that an audience wants to like you as a comedian.  Some comics, like myself, have to work a bit harder than others from the start of their set to develop that likability.  Now, while you should never purposely attack anybody for no reason, you can structure your material so that you attack up, meaning you attack people who are above you in some way, like a girlfriend, a mother, your catholic priest…..

This comedy formula is called benign retaliation.  

Benign retaliation has two elements to it.  It need the antagonist and the protagonist.

The antagonist is the one who antagonizes, or “starts” it.  The protagonist “finishes” it.

Simply put another way, in the comedians material there will be a scenario where the comedian is attacked by someone above them (attacking up).  Take one of my jokes, for example.

…my mother said “Trevor, there is so much wrong with you.  How did you ever get a girlfriend in the first place?”

I am attacking up (mother).  My mother is the antagonist because she is initiating this situation.  Now after I mention that line, you hear some oohs and ahhs from the audience, nervous laughter, or a surprised reaction like “I can’t believe his own mother would say that!”

Now you’ve heightened the reality, and the suspense!  The audience is not only waiting to hear what comes next, they want you to win!  They desperately want to be on your side, to root for you so it’s imperative that the retaliation at least has an element of surprise in it.  So, my response is….

I said “well mom, that’s easy.  I just followed the example that dad set when I was growing up.  I always made sure to have enough cash for the hour.  Then whenever my ex did come over, I always made sure to hide her keys… the handcuffs.”

With my response I was able to gain control of the situation and sort of show up the antagonist in a way.  This comedy formula attacks out of revenge.  One shouldn’t use it too much in an act, because you want to mix up the comedy formulas to keep the audience guessing.  If you keep telling jokes that have the same laugh trigger, with the same setup, with the same comedy formula, the audience will catch on to this, then the surprise element could go out the window as well. Surprise is the most common laugh trigger used in comedy, and you want to keep an audience on their toes, if you can.

Hopefully this gave you a bit of insight towards the comedy writing process.

Be blessed!

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