Humor Delivery Vehicles — Part 1

A great tool for creating and delivering humor is to use a delivery “vehicle.” Your vehicle is something that gives a structure or a pattern to the humor. Or it gives you a reason or an excuse to deliver the lines.  The vehicle gives a rhythm which helps the audience get the punchlines.

An example of a delivery vehicle is the Reverse-Question formula (giving the answer first and then giving the question). Johnny Carson is best known for using this form of joke (Carnac the Magnificent), although he wasn’t the first. It was used by Steve Allen before him (The Answer Man). And Ernie Kovacs before him (Mr Question Man). And probably Plato before him: “The answer is: When people confuse me with Mickey Mouse’s dog.  And the question is: What do you find really irritating?”

Being able to take almost any joke and turn it into a Reverse-Question is an art. It’s not hard to do. It just takes a little practice.

A standard joke: “Why did the chicken cross the road? To get to the other side.” In Reverse-Question form: The answer is, To get to the other side. And the question is, Why did the chicken cross the road?

Or you could switch it around: The answer is, He crossed the road. And the question is, How did the chicken get to the other side?  Both structures work. You have to decide which is funnier. I think the second choice is better. It does a nicer job of disguising the joke. The first version (To get to the other side) is a classic punchline, and the rest of the joke is predictable. “He crossed the road” is a sufficiently vague setup that the audience is unlikely to know that it’s a chicken joke. And therefore, it’s probably a funnier structure, because the punchline is a bit more of a surprise. Neither is especially funny, but the versions serve as an example that with the Reverse-Question format, either the set up or the punchline of your first effort can normally be used in any order when switching it to the Reverse-Question format.

So when you first come up with a joke, you need to decide what is the setup and what is the punchline. The original joke order is sometimes better if it is reversed when using the Reverse-Question formula. And create your own jokes to avoid stealing lines from a Johnny Carson routine. Your own lines will be fresher, more customized and funnier.