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How to Tell a Joke

Have you ever bombed telling a joke? Never fear—it takes skill, practice, and timing. Just follow these steps to have them rolling in the aisles.


  • Step 1: Choose topic Choose a joke about a topic you can relate to. Your audience doesn’t need to believe that you really got fired from your job yesterday, but if you’re only 12, it might be harder to imagine that you could have.
  • TIP: Steer clear of played out topics. Does anyone ever need to hear another mother-in-law joke?
  • Step 2: Determine your take Determine your take on the topic—is something silly, strange, or difficult? Sometimes this will be easy, as the joke will actually state your stance, as in, 'Isn’t it strange how?' Whatever your stance, commit to it. It will drive your joke.
  • Step 3: Examine structure of joke Examine the structure of your joke. The setup contains all of the information necessary to prepare for the laugh—but it shouldn’t be funny. The second part, or the punch line, surprises the audience by changing their perspective, which makes them laugh.
  • TIP: Sometimes you’ll have to act out the kicker, or end of the punch line—if this is the case, really go for it verbally and physically.
  • Step 4: Watch comedians Watch performances of successful comedians to get a feel for good timing, and then experiment with yours. Figuring out exactly when to deliver the 'funny' is the key to eliciting uproarious laughter.
  • Step 5: Memorize joke Memorize your joke—make sure you know it by heart!
  • Step 6: Practice telling joke Practice telling your joke to a friend who’s willing to be your guinea pig.
  • TIP: If you’re not ready or willing to debut your joke to a live audience, try reading it into a tape recorder and then listening to the playback.
  • Step 7: Know your audience Know your audience. Are they drunk? Sober? Easily offended? This will help you choose the appropriate joke for the moment and might influence your delivery.
  • TIP: Audiences make up their minds very quickly, so be sure to hook them from the moment you start talking.
  • Step 8: Be confident Tell your joke with confidence! Don’t comment on or laugh at it—it doesn’t need extra help. If you let the joke and your preparation do the work, you’ll be knocking them dead in no time.
  • FACT: An online poll of 100,000 people determined that the world’s funniest joke was based on a sketch written by legendary British comedian Spike Milligan in 1951.

You Will Need

  • Yourself
  • A friend
  • An audience
  • A tape recorder

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