‘Start with a joke’ is familiar and often good advice for speechwriting. But how do you actually write jokes for your speeches?
1) Decide on the kind of joke you want
The first step is to decide on the kind of joke you want to tell. The most popular forms are one-liners and anecdotes. One-liners are short, sharp gags. They often involve a play on words. Anecdotes are humorous stories that build to a funny conclusion.
2) Find material by asking searching questions
Who’s the strangest person you’ve ever worked with?
When have you got egg on your face?
What’s the weirdest night out you’ve ever had?
We want unusual, bizarre (and sometimes embarrassing!) situations to surprise your audience with.
If your one-liner or anecdote starts with “I was on the bus once” turn that into “I was on a double-decker bus heading into Oxford Street”.
Building up a picture in the audience’s mind makes the situation more relatable and believable.
The groom in your speech didn’t just have a ‘terrible haircut’ he had ‘the worst haircut in all recorded history’.
You’re giving a speech, not a witness statement, so enjoy your artistic license!
5) Find ‘the funny’
Comedy is about setting up expectations and dashing them. Audiences laugh when you surprise them!
In anecdotes, you’ve got to find the part of your story where something unusual happens. A great way to do this is to tell your stories to friends and see where they smile or laugh.
That bit becomes your punchline.
6) Structure with setups and punchlines
You should build your one-liners and anecdotes out of setups and punchlines.
Your setup comes first. You want to set the scene – tell the audience where this happened, why you were there etc.
You should then include a slight pause to all prepare the audience for ‘the funny’.
You should then deliver your punchline, whether it’s a single line or the final chapter of your story, with gusto. Elaboration and exaggeration really come into their own here, so make liberal use of them.
Practice makes perfect
Don’t hesitate to try to try your jokes out on supportive friends.
It’s far less painful to fall down in front of a small audience than a big one. And if you do, pick yourself up. Ask them for feedback then go back to the drawing board.