Comedy Dance Steps

Posted on 18 March 2009

I’m going to leave my 11 March posting up a little longer for people to admire before adding the next entry into that subject. I’m also planning to include comedy reviews and various other bibs and bobs. I will have to see how my schedule pans out. In the meantime I thought I would take people through some of the dance steps of comedy.

The One-Liner

This is the staple of traditional stand-up comedy, though it’s used in many other places. Despite the name it can comprise of one, two, or even three sentences, but the joke needs to be self-contained and quick. Here is a “one-liner” I used in my first stand-up gig.

Guys buy their wives huge 4-wheel drives to “protect” the kids… After all… the biggest car wins.

Guys, listen to me you’re not thinking with your willies… get her an eighteen wheeler… Then the wife… can wipe out whole busloads of people to “protect” the kids… Dodge-em cars gone mad.

Steven Wright is an artist of the one-liner: <>

The Two-Step

You will note that many one-liners are done in two steps: set-up then pay-off. You start with the real or expected, then wander off on a surprise tangent. Example:

To be or not to be…my dilemma everytime I shop for a bra.

I start with a famous quote from Hamlet, then jump outside of that quote and end with a twist on the words “to be”.

An apple a day…keeps constipation at bay.

Can you hear the lovely teeter-totter effect of the two-step? It’s almost like a religious call and response, only you’re supposed to laugh rather than sing out hallelujah (though, you can do that too).

The Three-Step

I am particularly fond of the three-step. I suppose it has a more narrative flow to it. You start with two things that are
similar, then end with a third item that foils your expectations. So the pattern goes: introduction, validation, violation.

Sugarplum: Oh Delilah, it’s so good of you to join us for a party in fairyland. Everything in fairyland is made of sweetness and light. Lily here has brought the fairy cakes. Say hello, Lily.

Lily: Why hello Delilah, my cakes are made out of dancing sunbeams.

Sugarplum: This is Violet. She has brought the fairy floss.

Violet: Greetings visitor. My fairy floss is made of the sugary light that rains from the stars.

Sugarplum: And this is Ragwort.

Ragwort: Yeh-yeah! I brought the whiskey. *hic* Made of moonshine.

I have to admit that I started a list of fairy things: fairy cake and fairy floss. I then thought about what would be an unlikely third item: whiskey came to mind. When writing up the scenario to use this list, I discovered the joke about light and moonshine. When you start developing your comic perspective these sorts of things start jumping out at you.

The Running Gag

A running gag is something often mildly funny that becomes funnier with repetition, particularly in absurd situations. A running gag can, but may not lead to a three-step style payoff.

Jimeoin’s <> Australian TV series largely consisted of running gags, such as the Martyr Brothers who were constantly dealing with people and things making offerings then saying, “I offered. Can’t do more than that. I’m through with you.”

In Father Ted co-written by Graham Linehan <> the housekeeper offers tea above and beyond what any normal person would. Characters repeatedly refuse her, and she presses on even in outrageous circumstances.

Part of the fun in both of these is seeing how many variations can be made on the running gag.

Peace and kindness,


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