If anyone had ever told you before that there was a mathematical formula for writing late-night jokes, would you have believed them? After watching the clip it seems like this could work for stand up comedy as well but not on such a regular basis since stand up comics tend to need to think on the fly at times and work the room as needed. Those that can apply this formula in such a way and do so without any prep are amazing since it means their minds are flying a mile a minute trying to piece together funny bits of information that will make people laugh. In this clip however there are two things that are almost guaranteed to make people laugh since they’ve been noticed throughout history to create a reaction of some sort.
Surprise and incongruity are the two basics that are covered in the clip and they’re two of the most important since they tend to evoke a reaction in many people that is favorable when it comes to comedy. When a person is surprised there might be a lot of reactions that they’ll give but in terms of comedy laughter is one of the most immediate. How to make the surprise funny though is to draw a link between two subjects that people might not have expected and bring it home. The shock of seeing two such things together will make a lot of people’s eyes widen and their jaws drop as they try to assimilate the idea. The same can be said of incongruity, in which two things that don’t seem to have any similarities are shown to share a connection that people didn’t think of and didn’t expect.
Both of these effects are great when used in comedy since they tend to shock and amaze people into such a comical stupor for several seconds that some people honestly don’t know whether to laugh or just sit there with their mouths open waiting to see how everyone else reacts. The idea that comedy can be broken down to a math equation is still a bit hard to fathom at times but upon looking at this clip it makes a lot more sense considering that late-night shows have to come up with a full set of jokes on a continual basis that haven’t been worn out and haven’t been heard on a slew of other networks. There’s nothing that kills a joke quicker than hearing it from various people in the same manner that you’ve already heard it before. Comedy writers have to be aware of what the competition is doing and just how to go about telling the same joke but with a different punchline or a very different delivery. It’s not an easy job I would imagine, as it requires being on top of the news and being able to come up with various factoids that people will find amusing.
Comedy is more than just being funny in terms of late-night TV, but at least you know now how it works.