In the world of fiction, copying passages from other stories and trying to publish them as your own is plagarism. In the world of comedy, it’s just another way to write. Of course, I don’t want you totally ripping off good one-liners verbatim. Instead, the best way to use other people’s jokes is as a starting point for your own original humor.
Remember that jokes start with a setup and end with a punchline. The trick to using other jokes is to change the setup or the punchline to create a fundamentally similar line. This way you can preserve part of the original joke while putting your own spin on it.
Let’s demonstrate with one of the jokes I wrote for Twitter:
Life is full of disappointment and pain. Most of it comes from my performance of The Mikado.
Now, let’s try switching out the setup. Remember, it should still logically flow to the punchline in some way. Feel free to modify the punchline’s wording as well in order to accommodate your new setup.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of people fall ill from contagious airborne substances. This is why my performance of the Mikado was labelled a “biohazard”.
And now, let’s try switching out the punchline.
Life is full of disappointment and pain. But that’s not a very marketable name, so instead they called it “Spider Man: Turn Off The Dark”.
You can do this to both setup and punchline, creating your own new wording while keeping the essence of the joke idea intact. As long as the idea’s funny, it should work.
Of course, I still recommend you make your own original humor when you can, and if you feel bad about stealing from other writers, you can always rephrase jokes you’ve written yourself. But like they say, nothing is original…might as well take advantage of it a LITTLE bit, wouldn’t you say?
Until next time, keep on laughing.
Do you have any questions about humor writing that you want me to answer? What would you like to see me cover in future columns? Leave me a comment telling me what you’d like to see!