The Teller's part - the "setup" and "punch line"

Just as good literature has a characteristic structure, called a plot, well-constructed humor has a format, too. Each instance of humor has an identifiable beginning and end.

In common usage, the end of a joke is called the "punch line" and everything which precedes it is referred to as the "setup". The setup and punch line may be verbal or visual, just as long as they are perceivable by the Audience.

The setup may be any length, but the punch line is short. In funny stories, puns, plays on words, humorous analogies, and other verbal humor the punch line is the last sentence or phrase heard or read. In visual humor, the punch line is the last thing seen in a sequence of events such as the slip on the banana peel or the long-shot of the formally-dressed man that suddenly reveals he forgot to put on his pants. In a captioned cartoon the punch line is the caption. In all cases, the punch line is the last thing perceived by the Audience.

Everything else is setup.

Sometimes one setup can trigger many punch lines. For instance, the cast of characters provides the situation (setup) and the "one-liners" and "zingers" (punch lines) provide the comedy in a TV situation comedy. You can also see the "single setup/many punch lines" format in a "running gag" that appears several times throughout a show.

Most stories, humorous or not, have an ending; but not all of these endings are punch lines. Just as the part of a novel we call the climax has a unique relationship to all the other events in the plot, so the punch line must relate in a special way to the setup.

We will see what this relationship is, after we examine the effect humor has on the Audience.



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