Three Steps To A Joke

Here’s a methodical way of creating a joke.  It’s a three-step process. Even if you never formally use this process, understanding it will give you insight into the inner-workings of a joke.

   1.  The Connection
   2.  The Conceal
   3.  The Reveal

The Connection.  This is normally the foundation for most jokes. It’s the connection or relationship between two things which makes the joke tick.  The process of creating a joke normally starts with finding an unusual way in which two things or concepts are related.

The Conceal.  Once the connection is made, the setup of the joke
usually needs to conceal that connection.  Without concealment, the
joke is telegraphed or is too obvious.  You want the punch to sneak
up on the listener.  Concealment provides that misdirection.

The Reveal.  Once the setup is delivered, you’re ready for the
reveal…the punchline, the punch word, or the activator word which
sets the joke in motion.  The reveal creates the surprise, the
tension or the superiority factor necessary to get the laugh.

Let’s look at some examples.  Here’s a classic Groucho Marx joke:
“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas.  How he got in my
pajamas I’ll never know.”

The Connection.  The elephant was wearing his pajamas.  That’s a
connection, or a relationship, that one would not normally make.
It’s a funny relationship.  It’s a funny picture.

The Conceal.  One would normally assume that Groucho was wearing the pajamas.  So the joke in “I shot an elephant in my pajamas,” is fairly well concealed right from the start.  It’s further hidden by the addition of “one morning.”  This would lead one to think, “he just got out of bed and obviously was wearing his pajamas.”

The Reveal.  “How he got in my pajamas,” reveals the humor
connection.  The listener thinks, “I get it…the elephant was
wearing the PJs!”  Getting the joke (superiority theory) he or she
laughs.  Or maybe the surprise of the unexpected connection gets
the laugh.

So creating the joke is often:  The Connection.  The Conceal.  The
Reveal.

But the experience of receiving the joke is just the opposite.  The
listener experiences it this way:  The Reveal.  The Conceal.  The
Connection.

Although in the delivery process, the concealed part of the joke
comes before the reveal, to the listener The Conceal is invisible
(if it’s done right), and not noticed,  until after The Reveal
happens.  Initially, The Conceal is totally hidden.  It’s
disguised.  It’s camouflaged.  The listener doesn’t experience a
joke until The Reveal takes place…How he got in my pajamas.
“Wow!  The elephant was wearing the pajamas.  I thought Groucho was wearing the pajamas.  I didn’t see that coming. (The Conceal is
recognized).  Hey, the elephant isn’t supposed to be wearing the
pajamas! (The Connection)”  Then the laughter follows.

Let’s look at another classic joke, one that’s very different from
the Groucho joke:  “Why did the chicken cross the road?  To get to
the other side.”

The Connection.  The obvious answer to the joke is “To get to the
other side.”  This is a riddle connected to the obvious, which is
an unexpected relationship.  A riddle would normally be connected
to a twist or clever word play.

The Conceal.  Being presented in the form of a riddle, the listener
is tricked into thinking that the answer couldn’t be the obvious one, but must certainly be a clever or tricky one (such as, to avoid walking by Kentucky Fried Chicken).

The Reveal.  In this case the punchline is simply stating the
obvious answer. The listener experiences the joke in reverse order.
 
The Reveal.  To get to the other side.  “Oh, of course, that’s why
a chicken crosses the street.”

The Conceal.  “So you were looking for the obvious answer.  I
thought it was a riddle where you were looking for some kind of
twist!”

The Connection.  “I didn’t expect the answer to a riddle to be so
obvious.”

The next time you’re creating a joke:  Start by brainstorming The
Connection.  Look for an unusual relationship.  Next, you conceal
The Connection so the listener doesn’t see it coming. And then you
Reveal the connection, turn on the light switch, so the listener
can see through the conceal, get The Connection and see the humor.

The listener gets the joke in reverse order allowing him or her to
connect the dots and discover the funny connection that makes the
joke work.