The off-color joke that wasn’t a joke

Apparently, I’m not good at comedy

Sep 14, 2018 · 4 min read

So, there’s a video of me out there than you probably haven’t watched. It’s a shame because I worked hard on it. But we’ll get to that in a moment. First I want to talk about storytelling.

There’s an art to storytelling, and that art is actually embedded in what we are, it is part of our humanity. Stories are what we humans are all about, one could say that humans are simply animals who tell stories. Humans tell stories about ourselves, we tell stories about others, we even tell stories about things that don’t exist.

There’s a specific set of actions we take when we tell a story.

First, we make an introduction. We introduce ourselves, our characters, our situation, etc. We allow the reader to get situated and comfortable.

Next, we bring them on a journey. This journey may be familiar, or it may be fantastical. It may be comfortable or at may be the most troubling things we’ve ever read. Regardless of the type of story, we have been introduced, brought into the confidence of the story, and thus we are part of the experience.

Finally, we come to the end of the story. It ends one way or another, whether it is resolved, or whether it is purposefully unresolved. Having been introduced to the aircraft, and having taken flight, we are brought in for a landing–-rocky as that my be.

There will never be an end to stories. There are more stories than in the universe of our imagination. Despite that, there’s never a story that hasn’t already been told. Whatever the story is, it has already happened to some other characters, in some form, in some language, in some setting. The specifics may change, but our stories are all the same.

We already know the story even if we haven’t heard it. We have a set of expectations based on our existence as humans and our lifetime of hearing other stories. We may not know exactly where the aircraft is going to fly or even where we are going, but as we listen to stories, we take guesses and usually get pretty close.

This is what makes comedy really interesting. Because comedy is, at its core, just story telling.

Just like any storyteller, a comedian introduces you to their characters or setting or situation. They then take you on a journey. Because of the nature of the art form, the journey is often short. But along the way they’ve done something you didn’t realize: They’ve encouraged you to anticipate the landing. A comedian will introduce you to characters you already know, and take you on a journey that you’ve already taken, specifically so that you will create a fully realized expectation of where you are about to land.

And then they will pull the rug out from under you.

That, my friend, is the core of comedy. Yes, there’s slapstick and lots of other forms, but peak comedy is storytelling…with a trick ending.

That trick ending is called The Punchline.

Now, let’s get back to what I was talking about: That video of me that you probably haven’t watched. You may have read the story about it. In that story, I introduced you to the characters (me) and the situation (hinted at, but never said explicitly), and then I took you on a journey. It was a journey that I knew you would find very familiar, a journey created specifically so that you would create a fully realized expectation of where you were about to land.

Then I set a video down on the table, smiled, and walked out of the room.

Of course, the other thing about comedy is that people mostly know they are going to get the rug pulled out from under them. If you don’t know it’s going to happen, it’s a really big surprise when it does. When that punchline lands, it lands hard.

I love a straight delivery with a punchline that lands like a body thrown off a bridge. But sometimes people see you throwing a body from a bridge and simply can’t bear to watch it hit the water.

If you miss the punchline, you miss the joke. And if a joke is delivered straight, then you may not even know it’s a joke. Unfortunately, if you deliver the joke too straight, you have all kinds of strange organizations contacting you that you never knew existed. It turns a good joke into something more like farce.

I never wanted farce, I wanted a good joke.

So, with that in mind, can we try this again? Stick around for the punchline this time. I spent a lot of time on it. Yes, it falls like a body, but it lands with a splash.

John Metta

Written by

An unassuming hobbit who lives in a notebook with a pet fountain pen. Proud member of House Hufflepuff. Music maker, dreamer of dreams.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade