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How to Tell Good or Bad Jokes

Updated on February 29, 2020
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G.W.Bush, an impression by Bob&Tom favorite, Frank Caliendo
G.W.Bush, an impression by Bob&Tom favorite, Frank Caliendo
G.W.Bush, an impression by Bob&Tom favorite, Frank Caliendo

Point One: The Joke Teller

When considering what separates a good joke from a bad joke, one must first examine the individual who is telling the joke. Here are some points to consider:

  • Does the Joke Teller (let's call them the JT for short) have an overall grasp of emotion? While comedians such as Ben Stein have their own niche, the fan base of vibrant, emotionally expressive comics is larger due to the appeal and rapport created by their attitudes.
  • Can the JT deliver? Do they speak well? A vital part of joke-telling is delivery. The joke must flow freely, with minimal pausing (except for dramatic effect or to allow for laughter,) while at the same time not being told too fast. There is a happy medium, and a good JT excels in this art.
  • Is the JT's material fresh? If not, is the recycled joke part of a larger dialogue? Old jokes can be funny, in the right situation, but new material shines and sticks in the minds of the audience.
  • Did the JT choose appropriate material? While choosing his or her dialogue, the JT should have taken the audience into consideration. If not, then disaster may strike and the JT may offend someone.

Bob and Tom Comedy All-Stars

Point Two: The Audience

Equally as important as the JT is the audience. The success of each joke, and each JT, depends on how well received these are by the audience. Humor varies from region to region, with many universal concepts. The trick is to be aware of your listeners and work with their reactions to modify your jokes as you go along. A quiet audience is a sign of either a bad joke or boredom, neither of which is going to help the JT be a hit. Here are some tips to ensure you, the comedian, are performing well:

  • Research your venue. Find out what kinds of acts have sold well and what kind of acts have bombed. This will give you a good idea of what kind of material to present.
  • Form a rough outline of material you will present during your show. Being prepared in this manner will help you deliver the jokes with style and confidence. This doesn't mean that ad-libbing isn't ok, it just means that the meat of your show is solid and clear.
  • Consider the ages of the people in your audience. Your material will be slightly different between an all-ages show and a show open to 21 and up.
  • Check with the venue manager to find out if there are any kinds of jokes or topics which they do not want presented. This is important if you intend on returning, as well as pleasing your audience. Many comic venues are prosperous not only because of the big name JTs they draw in, but because they know what their customers like to see and hear. Don't be afraid to listen to their advice.
  • Remember, the audience isn't there for you, you are there for the audience. Each of the people who come to see you perform are equally important. Try to cater your material to all types of people of varying ranges of humor.

Point Three: The Joke Itself

The single most important component of successful joke telling versus bad joke telling is the comedic material itself. The JT may be energetic, expressive in voice and gestures, and the audience receptive to the general topics contained in the show, but if the actual joke itself is poorly chosen, or written badly, then you've met with failure. Some helpful advice regarding the actual material which you, the JT, will be working with:

  • Know what topics are great, workable, or trash. Different topics are funny at different times and venues. For instance, joking about the engineers who designed the Twin Towers while performing at a venue in Manhattan is not only crude, but poorly suited for the audience.
  • While it is alright to toe the line between comedy and trash-talking, refrain from being truly offensive. The use of racial slurs, hate speech and crude insults or extreme sexual commentary are not truly funny.
  • Curb your cursing. Slipping a curse word here or there into your act may be suitable for many shows, but if each joke you tell contains a curse word or five, you are likely to offend or lose your audience. Disregard this tip if you are performing in venues which are far more open, sexually themed, or where more 'adult' material has been cleared beforehand.
  • Don't tell a joke that you don't find funny. If you aren't entertained by your material, chances are neither will your audience be entertained.

Congratulations, You've Got 'Em Laughing!

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You told a good joke, considered your audience, and laughter is your reward!
You told a good joke, considered your audience, and laughter is your reward!
You told a good joke, considered your audience, and laughter is your reward!

Final Point: Bad Jokes!

By the information presented above, one can draw the conclusion that a bad joke is one that:

  • The Joke Teller does not find funny.
  • Is wrong for the audience, venue, or time period.
  • Projects hateful, overly obscene, or discriminatory content.
  • Is delivered poorly, a punchline given to early or after too long of a pause.
  • Is too obscure. Remember, the audience has to be able to find the humor in the material. Just because you found it funny, that doesn't mean the audience may necessarily 'get it.'

The good news is, there is plenty of great material to work with and create great jokes from. Smile, laugh, and enjoy yourself. A comedian (Joke Teller) is rewarded not only monetarily, but with the joy he or she spreads to the world. Have a great laugh!


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