Joke formats are like curse words.

When you use ‘em well, they make beautiful, comical magic. When you overuse them, everyone is embarrassed to be around you and won’t want to invite you to their Super Bowl party anymore. Not that I’d know. What that’s like. Or anything.

Yes, when they’re overused, we roll our eyes at them. Hard. Just like any other kind of joke, they can get old fast. But because it IS possible to use a joke format and still be creative, be original, be fresh—I think it’s worth giving a whirl.

Why Formats?

Why use them or create your own?

First off, they’re great for studying the anatomy of a joke. It’s easier to break down the parts of a joke, analyze it, and figure out why it’s funny when you have a handful of the same kind to group together and study.

Whether you’re writing it or reading it, it’s kind of like a shortcut for your brain. Ah, your brain says. I’ve kind of seen this before. I kind of already know where this is going. But wait! There’s something new to it.

Here’s another plus: if you’ve ever sat down to a blank page to write jokes, you know it’s much harder to write if you haven’t given yourself any specific direction. Choosing random topics to write jokes on, writing jokes about your day, or—aha!—using formats are all great ways to narrow your focus.

So there’s 2 good reasons so far. Easy to understand/analyze and helps narrow your focus.

Here’s a few more:

  • Jokes with similar formats often work well as a set or series (which can easily be turned into a humorous essay, list article, or sketch).
  • Creating your own joke formats that stick is a writing challenge that’d be great experience to have under your belt.
  • Parodies on joke formats are often golden jokes in themselves.
  • It’s a great way to experiment with idea and execution. Was your idea funny but the execution terrible? Would your idea fit better in a different joke format? Joke formats can facilitate a sort of A/B testing but with joke execution.

My Homegrown Formats

I’ve been writing short form for Twitter for 13 weeks and I’ve got 3 formats to be proud of so far.

LIT AF

These have done pretty well on Twitter. This particular one actually became my top tweet in a matter of a couple weeks.

Though I’m not proud of all of them, I SO enjoyed writing some of them. Remember when we talked about experimenting earlier? Using the format was a great way for me to fill in new ideas in this pre-made structure to see if they stuck, and at least a handful of them certainly did.

If my jokes were the spaghetti and Twitter success was the wall, you could say that having a format made it much easier to come up with more spaghetti to throw. And the more I throw, the more that sticks.

Here was the thought process behind this joke format.

  • I am smart and well-read. I love reading.
  • But I also love acting very, very stupid.
  • Particularly by using millennial slang very obnoxiously, typing in all caps, and cursing.
  • Let’s mix these 2 things (literary savviness and obnoxiousness) together.

And here’s what we get from that.

readitbitch-litaf

Signature Cocktail

These are the least popular of the 3 formats mentioned here. They’re definitely not as funny as the other 2; you probably won’t laugh out loud but will do that expel-air-from-your-nose-really-fast thing that people like to do when they’re not amused enough to open their mouths and make noises.

Here’s the thought process behind this format:

  • I am going to a party on Saturday. (No really, this really happened. I had to change out of my sweatpants.)
  • I want to look like a cool bartender chick with my neat cocktail supplies and recipes. (I somehow spilled melted shaker leftovers down my back. Am I still cool?)
  • But how funny would it be if I handed people super weird/inappropriate cocktails instead?

And so it was born. It consists of me—while handing you my “signature cocktail”—making offhand comments that don’t directly come out and say that there’s something disgusting or poisonous in your drink but make you stop and wonder “what did this chick just give me.”

sigcocktailbutton

Word Entrepreneur

Oh god. This one is my absolute favorite and I had the most fun in my life writing these. Picture me, alone at home on the couch, laughing like a maniac while wheezing and muttering “it’s so stupid” in the general direction of my chicken-scratched notebook.

I’m honestly a little surprised they didn’t do better. I have much dumber jokes that I don’t even like that have performed better than these. Whatever, I find them hilarious and I’ll never back down.

A few people on Twitter have actually imitated this format and if that won’t flatter a young southern belle like myself I don’t know what will. Here they are:

Here’s how this one works. It’s fun because you have to work backwards from the end:

  • Think of a really ridiculous or dirty word. I love cooter, pooper, wiener, dump, and taint.
  • Break the word into 2 parts. For example: cooter = c + ooter.
  • Think of a ridiculous scenario to use the word you picked. Plenty of options here for cooter, but I chose to use it in a military setting. (Other great options are in a job interview, on a date, or “meeting the parents”.)
  • Use these 2 word parts to think of 2 completely different words that share a similar part (same first letter, then same final sound) you can use in a sentence next to each other that will make sense in your setting. I chose cunningest and shooter.
  • Now when you smash these words together, like when people do with celebrity couple names like Brennifer or with trendy terms like glamping (that’s glamour + camping for you more innocent ones among us), you get the prettiest little cooter you ever did see. AND in a military context, too. Isn’t that just great?

And that’s how we get this gem of a tweet, one of my personal favorites:

And I did that for every single one of these tweets. With a little bit of help from a few lists of dirty words on Google and a rhyming dictionary it was actually fairly easy.

wordentbutton

Create Your Own Formats

Writing with format jokes can be tricky since an inherent part of comedy is the element of surprise. You’re already working from the red when you take away that element by using a format, so you’ve got to work extra hard to inject some originality back into it.

Creating your own joke formats helps do that. (Unless you’re super famous and everyone will immediately fall in love with your new signature joke format and it becomes very popular.)

People won’t be very familiar with your format—so you’re still holding onto a big part of the element of surprise—but will be delighted to find you’ve got a set of lots of the same kind.

And it’s fun! You saw my thought processes for the 3 formats above. Mostly it’s just writing a joke you think is funny, and then trying to write it again, in almost the same way, with different subjects.

Essentially it’s writing the same joke over and over and being fearless about trying that same structure again on new topics. (I say fearless because I’ve done a few formats that did not work at ALL. But you gotta take a chance every once and a while, ya know?)

What do you find especially funny, maybe more so than others? I love being “LIT AF” over literature and accidentally (and innocently) using inappropriate words like cooter in daily conversation.

What gets you laughing alone on the couch and mumbling to yourself “it’s so stupid” while you wipe tears from your eyes?

Think on that. Because it’s a great place to start.

TELL ME

What are your favorite joke formats? There’s a guy on Twitter, @Ygrene, who does incredible jokes about being murdered, and I just can’t get enough of them. @themiltron does X-Files jokes really well and for that I love him.

Made your own joke format recently lately? Show me! And stay tuned. Next week we’re gonna talk about something INSANE. I don’t know what it is yet but just trust me on this one.