Joke writing technique: Comic Irony

This is where what is said is clearly in conflict with either the context or something else that is said. That gap between what is said and what the obvious truth is, is then (if we joke writers and tellers do our job right) filled with laughter.

For example: (told by a man) “I’m a feminist. I was there protesting outside the Miss World pageant… shouting ‘Get that swimsuit off now!'”.

This is a technique that can give brilliant results in the right hands. But if part of the joke is something which, if taken at face value would be seriously offensive, eg racist or sexist etc, then you do have to handle it carefully to make sure that the intent and irony is clear. Otherwise you just look racist/sexist. But if you make the irony too obvious we lose that gap that leads to laughter.

This is a technique that Ricky Gervais uses a lot, to great effect in the past. I haven’t seen Derek yet. I’m a bit frightened of being disappointed by one of my favourite comedy writer/performers. Has he crossed that line?

Of course comic irony does not have to involve potentially offensive material (although that danger can give it a greater comic charge) any contradiction between what is said and what is clearly true will do. The trick is to make that gap clear enough that the audience gets it. But not make it so obvious that it’s dull.

How do you do that? Well that’s the bit I’m still learning.

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