How to Make Jokes on the Fly When Performing

Every performer is trying to grab the audience's attention during their routine comedy skit. If you have gone through most of your routine and have yet to really break the ice, you're in trouble! If the routine you started with isn't working it might be time to try plan B. But how exactly are you to supposed to come up with effective jokes on the spot?

Of course, making jokes on the fly in the middle of a performance requires you to thoroughly understand the technique of joke making. Typically all great jokes require great delivery, subverted expectations, and a punchline. A lot of it depends on how you tell it.

Below are some ideas and information that can help you in the process of being able to produce laughter on the fly, even in the middle of performing stand-up comedy.

Subject Matter

Anything can be used to tell a great joke. Legendary comedian Steve Martin finds that even the most mundane things can have great subject matter for jokes. The key is really how you set the expectations of the audience and how you reel them in by changing those expectations.

It doesn't matter how repetitive the topic may seem, audiences will always have an expectation for whatever the subject matter is. The best comedians are always observant of people, places, and things. They observe behaviors and so therefore they can use what they observe to build the subject matter of their jokes. Where they go from that point depends on the comedian.

Develop a keen eye for observation. You never know what experience or encounter could turn into your next gut-busting joke.

Defying Audience Expectation

Audiences will always have a preconceived expectation on any topic you would use as a comedian. However, the key is to help them see it in a way they haven't before. This is not intended to be the point where the audience starts laughing, but this grabs their attention and brings them in.

Building into the punchline or climax of the joke, the comedian can use criticism to grab the emotional appeal of the audience, whether this is of concepts, places, objects, and other people. This is an effective way to getting their attention creating a certain expectation for the audience before they finally get the punchline. The punchline will come when the exaggeration has become obvious. These sequences may start off as a kind of shock when it comes to the emotional appeal of the audience before the punchline comes in and now everyone is in on the joke.

Another way to grab the attention of the audience is to establish commonality with everyday or ordinary things. Everyone will already have a certain expectation or preconceived notion. To build the joke, the comedian can change the way we view the subject matter, subsequently defying the audience's expectations and creating a good laugh. This will help them view their own life with a bit more humor as well!

Here is a video about different techniques comedians use to subvert audience expectations:

Delivery and Pace

Telling a good joke is almost like reciting a poem. You have to keep a good rhythm. In this sense, the buildup and delivery of a joke is almost its own form of art. Keeping pace means you do not rush through a joke to get to the punchline. You often want the audience to visualize the story so when the time comes for the punchline you can give them the cue.

The delivery of the punchline itself is ultra important. You should aim to build anticipation before revealing the punchline. This way everything comes full circle and you are able to connect the audience on the entire emotional journey. From the beginning when you caught the audience off guard, to the pace you kept the audience engaged and with you every step of the way, and with the delivery of the punchline, you reward your audience with laughter for going on the journey with you.

Different Types of Jokes

As a comedian, you are not limited to one kind of joke. There are many ways to follow this basic formula, even with other kinds of jokes.

Observational Jokes take snippets from everyday life and build funny punchlines from them. It is taking the basic notion that there is a story in everything and therefore in the sense of comedy, you are exaggerating and pointing out its absurdity. Exaggeration and finding the absurd in ordinary things is a great way to appeal to the emotion of your audience.

This is how you can find comedy in just about everything, or why even sometimes the most mundane and repetitive things are capable of being funny. It is what the comedic observes in these things is the key and how they expose their audience to it in an absurd and profound manner.

One-liners: These are jokes that are told in one sentence. Jokes of this nature get to the point quickly. The audience doesn't need to wait for the punchline because these jokes deliver right to the punch. You do not have to go far to hear one-liner jokes since they are told every day by family, friends, and co-workers. If you are out of jokes during your stand-up routines, try using some one-liners you have developed or heard recently.

Anecdotal: This is using content from the comedian's life. These may strike the core of the comedian because and in this way they are relatable to the audience. This can be something that may or may not be easy for you to talk about in your stand-up routine. However, if you are comfortable with making fun of your own life, this can be an easy plan B since you know yourself already well.


So, when you are stuck on stage and are unsure if your routine is going in the direction you want, you may be forced to make jokes on the fly. But do not worry because if you follow these tips to making the best jokes, you should be okay for the rest of your routine as well as future routines.

Good jokes come from ordinary scenarios, things, and experiences. You do not have to look deep to find one, but always remember to give a good pace, delivery and defy the audience's expectations. You may not get it perfect on the first try, but keep practicing and you'll be able to improvise like a champion!

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