How to Write One-Liner Jokes – Comedy and Joke Writing

People always enjoy one-liner style jokes.

One-liner comedians like Jimmy Carr, Gary Delaney, Steven Wright, Milton Jones, Tim Vine

It’s humour in it’s most basic form.

(And I mean that in a good way, not in an “oh god it’s such a basic form of comedy; when are these people going to grow up and do some REAL jokes” kinda way.)

One liners are jokes boiled down into it’s most intense form.

SETUP – SURPRISE.

That’s it.

No verbose, mellifluous build up to a carefully crafted punchline.

Here are some examples:

“Take my wife…PLEASE!”

“My kids are 7 and 2…silly names really. I don’t know why we called them that.”

“I went to a restaurant that serves breakfast at any time. So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance.” – Steven Wright

“I rang up British Telecom and said: ‘I want to report a nuisance caller.’ He said: ‘Not you again.’” – Tim Vine

“I like to go into The Body Shop and shout out really loud, ‘I’ve already got one!’” – Jimmy Carr

I love one-liners, but I’m shit at delivering them.

Most of the best one-liner comics have very distinct performing characters.

Some, like Milton Jones or Mitch Hedberg, can be monotonous, deadpan, and lacking anything that even resembles charisma. Others, like Tim Vine, can be wacky and zany.

There are no rules, but the character is what really helps sell the gags.

Because they are so simple and elegant, one-liners are a great exercise for creating your own jokes.

To start with, find words that have a double meaning.

Google is your friend for this bit.

Once you have a list of words that have a double meaning, you need to create your joke.

The set up will create the assumption that you’re talking about one meaning of the word, and the punchline will reveal that you were actually meaning the other.

Let’s use the word “stable”.

Let’s create a set up:

“I asked my friend if he knew a good place to keep my horse. ‘Stable?’ he replied…”

That’s the setup. We’re creating the assumption that the word “stable” relates to a place to keep a horse. Let’s flip this around for the punchline:

‘Well, he’s a bit nervy on a gallop, but he’s fine at a canter.”

Not a brilliant joke, but good enough to give you the basic idea.

Now it’s your turn. Go forth on the internet and find words with double meanings and, using the SETUP – PUNCHLINE idea above, create a small joke out of it.

Don’t worry about selling them to Tim Vine just yet, just focus on doing it and working through the process.

Post some of your gags below. I’d love to see them.


Being the rather helpful chap that I am, I’ve made a video, taking you through the process of creating one-line style gags. I hope you find it useful. 🙂