How to Write Jokes You Stand Behind

Not everyone is going to like everything you say. If you like a sunny day, someone else likes the rain. If you like puppies, some one else is a cat person. When you take a stand, someone will disagree with it, always. And that’s okay.

But let’s talk about you taking the RIGHT stand. This piece is not about what your beliefs are. It’s about making sure that what YOU say on stage reflects what YOU believe.

1) “It’s just a joke” is a cop out. Saying “it’s just a joke” diminishes what we do. Jokes are all we have – if they’re not worth anything, neither are we.

2) You don’t have to say what you mean, but you do have to mean what you say. You can use exaggeration, sarcasm, character work, and many other methods to say individual words you don’t mean while not changing your point. But the root of where the laugh comes from is what you need to stand behind. Does the POINT of the joke align with what you believe?

3) Don’t say anything on stage you wouldn’t defend in conversation with a stranger. I see this most often with jokes that stereotype a particular group. “They’re not here? Let’s talk about em!” If you wouldn’t tell that same joke one-on-one with a stranger, then don’t tell it to a room full of strangers.

4) The old saying “comedy = tragedy plus time” is true, but I believe you don’t even need time there if the joke is good enough. Plenty of people wrote terrible Ferguson tweets the day the riots happened. And none of them would have the balls to tell those same jokes in St. Louis that night. If a joke is good enough, time isn’t what makes it any less offensive. Time just dulls the audience’s sensitivity and desire to fight against it. A good joke is a good joke, and a lazy joke is a lazy joke, no matter when they’re told.

5) The victim in real life should never be the victim of your joke. If they are, then you’re a bully and you’re piling on.

6) If people are laughing “for the wrong reasons” then it’s up to you to edit. You’re never responsible for how your audience interprets a joke. But you are responsible to understand what is happening around you and react accordingly.

The reality is that every joke has a victim, and you’re going to offend SOMEONE. Just try not to make it your future self.