On a recent episode of Fitzdog Radio, Emmy Award winning writer Greg Fitzsimmons and stand up comedy legend Steven Wright talked about writing jokes.
It turns out; despite having 50+ years of combined experience neither have a very good idea about what makes a joke work.
(The following is an approximate transcription, to hear the whole exchange check out the actual podcast around the 31-minute mark. (Language may be NSFW for some)
Wright: All this time later I can’t predict it. I cannot predict which (joke) is going to work. There’s no way.
I think of the idea and within 15 seconds the wording of the sentence comes. To me there is no different way to word it. The idea is there and that is how the sentence is. Occasionally, I move a word around but 95% of the time it is all at once. There’s no choice really, but I can’t predict them. Only ¼ works for me, I don’t know what your ratio is.
Fitzsimmons: 1 in 4 is good.
Wright: But when they don’t laugh at the other three, I don’t think it was wrong or it wasn’t funny. It’s that they don’t agree with me. I still think it is funny, but the audience is in charge, they are the editors.
The most interesting thing to me, is how both men acknowledge that they have no idea if a joke is going to work. The same things hold true for business. You never know what’s going to work until you try even the tiniest aspect of it, which is why identifying your Smallest Executable Step is one of the most important aspects of any idea creation- It’s the number one reason why Fordlandia failed.