How to Write Stand-Up Comedy – One-Liners that hit HARD

How to Write Stand-Up Comedy One-Liners That Hit HARD

One-Liners are effective tools for comedians that want to cut all the fat out of their material and get strait to the punch lines. Learning how to write stand up comedy using one-liners will get you a lot of experience on stage very quickly. This type of stand-up comedy writing doesn’t require the same momentum as storytelling, so it tends to be new comedian friendly.



That said, learning how to write stand-up comedy one-liners is an art in itself. Great one-liners need to have several key features in order to be effective.

Be Concise – How to Write Stand-Up Comedy One-Liners

First, they need to be very concise. This means that you must edit out everything that doesn’t relate to the punch line. Oftentimes, this is easier said than done. While being concise is important to both storyteller and one-liners, one-liners must take this principle to it’s extreme. In both style a comedian must ensure that the audience is able to pick out the most important information in the setup and punch line in order to “get” the joke. Material that isn’t concise loses audience members during the setup (especially the ones that have been drinking) before they even get a chance to hit the punch.

Learning how to write stand-up comedy one-liners requires that you can both be extremely concise with your words as well as communicate all the necessary information for understanding the joke. This of it as a Haiku. While extremely short, they pack a lot of visual and auditory punch. It needs to be the same way with your material (though, unlike a Haiku, people should actually enjoy your material).

Have a “Twist” – How to Write Stand-Up Comedy One-Liners

Second, you need to make sure the punch line provides a sufficient “twist.” Once you’ve developed a very concise setup for the joke, you have to find your twist. Your twist might be verbal or visual. However, the twist doesn’t necessarily have to “redefine the setup.” Many new comedians just learning how to write stand-up comedy falsely believe that all punch lines get their twist from redefining the setup, but this certainly isn’t the case.

One obvious exception is anti-comedy. In anti-comedy, the “twist” comes from not from redefining the setup, but by building an “anti-climax.” It plays on the common knowledge that a punch line should have a twist.

One-liner comedians like Mitch Hedberg have generated top-quality punch lines without redefining the setup. Take the following Mitch Hedberg joke into consideration:

The man asked me to move because he said I was blocking the fire exit… as if there was a fire, I wasn’t going to run.

This joke, while extremely concise, packs a huge punch without redefining the setup line. The twist comes from the man’s obviously inaccurate belief that anything blocking a fire exit will remain blocking it. While you’re learning how to write stand-up comedy one-liners, keep this idea in mind. You punch line DOES NOT have to redefine the setup. In fact, the best comedians tend to not even use this trick because audience members are so savvy to it.

Build Rapport – How to Write Stand-Up Comedy One-Liners

Third, you still have to connect with the audience and build rapport. This is a requirement of all great comedians, one-liner or otherwise. Building rapport with the audience is what allows them to connect with you on a deeper level. It’s the number 1 factor in whether an audience member becomes a long-term fan of yours or not.

Learning how to write stand-up comedy one-liners doesn’t mean that you can skip over this. You have to learn how to build rapport with a minimal amount of words. Storytellers generally achieve this through material that is easily identifiable. One-liners tend to prefer “sillier” topics which, by themselves, don’t create rapport. Thus, they have to create rapport through their own performance style, personality, and their “overall experience.”

Mitch Hedberg and Steven Wright, both phenomenal one-liners, achieve this through their personality. While both comedians tended to gravitate towards silly topics, as audience members we couldn’t help but enjoy them on a deeper level and connect with them. Both comedians were entirely unique as individuals. We didn’t (and still don’t) equate them to any other comedian.

Learn More About How to Write Stand-Up Comedy offers three methods for learning how to write stand-up comedy online.

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Jared Volle