Show, don't tell

Show, don't tell

Tony Borders
Tony Borders

January 15th, 2010, 4:45 pm #1

I am listening to Janet Evanovich's book called, "How I Write". She has a segment called Show, Don't Tell which is appropriate for comedy writing as well.

Have you ever noticed that the funniest jokes are the ones that you seem to "catch"? Perhaps you are one of the few in the room or audience who laughs and you realize that not everybody got the joke.

Here's an example I read in Sunday's paper. A man and woman are on a get acquainted date at a restaurant. She says, "I want the man I marry to be able to answer one question. What is a perfect man?"

The next panel shows him wide-eyed and sweating.
Next panel, he gets a sly smile on his face and says, "An oxymoron."

In the last panel you see that she has thrown herself across the table to kiss him and the lady in the next booth is telling her waitress, "I'll have what they're having."


I thought that this was an hilarious comic strip. When I showed it to someone else they didn't get it. I realized that they had not seen the previous week's where we discover that they are on an early date in their relationship. Or perhaps they couldn't tell from the picture that they were kissing in the last panel. (They did know that an oxymoron is a phrase made from two words that are opposite, e.g. jumbo shrimp, government worker, freedom bound...


When you tell jokes with your puppet try not to explain the punchline. Yes, you'll lose some of the audience, but those that get it will think you're hilarious! Here is one example. I play the part of a zookeeper and carry out the Axtell kangaroo. I explain that she has a pocket.
"I don't have a pocket. I don't even have pants."
Me: "She has a pouch. It is made from extra skin on her belly. Not many animals have that extra skin."
Then the kangaroo turns at stares at my stomach. It gets a laugh. I should stop there! But, I tend to add the kangaroo saying, "You do!" I may feel at the moment that the little kids didn't get the joke, but I just ruined it for the adults who prided themselves in "catching" the joke, or figuring it out.

Show don't tell also means that you use a story or circumstance to portray, rather than just blurt out a fact. Don't have the puppet say, "I was mad!" It could say, "Can you see steam coming out of my ears?" or have the puppet growl and shake, "You better watch out! I feel like biting someone today!"


Joined: November 11th, 2008, 12:10 am

January 15th, 2010, 9:36 pm #2

We took your advice and purchased Judy Carter's book, The Comedy Bible, and we think our show will be greatly improved with the information in that book. It is well written, funny and full of tips, and although we are only part-way thru it, already we have new insights for script writing and presenting ourselves.
best always,