…that is… To create something successful, you must use “joke structure.” What is joke structure? Every joke has the format: you expect one thing, and then you are pleasantly surprised by something else.
An expectation is created when a pattern has been established. In joke structure, this is called the “set up.”
And then something new and surprising breaks the pattern. This is called the “punch line.”
Sometimes the set up is completely contained inside the joke. Have you heard of the “rule of three” for comedy? There is nothing especially funny about the number three, but it is the simplest way to set up a pattern and then break it: A, A, B.
Sometimes the set up is all from our past experiences. In a joke, this only works if everyone in the audience is very familiar with the experience.
Of course, not everything that breaks a pattern is good. Generally, people enjoy being surprised when they get something that is better than what they thought they were going to get. In a joke, it makes them laugh. In business, it makes them buy your product or service. Surprise your audience with something that’s better than what they expected.
Sometimes better just means different, not the same old thing. People like variety. A hit song is not better than all the songs of the past, but something about it is fresh and surprising. (That is, until you’ve heard it too many times.) Popular music is always changing. Like a successful joke, a successful song has something familiar, and something surprising. People’s expectations of music keep changing, so new things always have to be created to surprise them.
A good joke is simple. The surprise doesn’t last very long and repeated tellings of the joke aren’t as funny as the first time. Good music is more complex and can continue to be surprising even after multiple listenings. Sometimes hearing a song a few times increases one’s appreciation of the “set up,” making the “punch” even stronger. …but I digress.
Successful innovators use ideas from the past that the audience is familiar with (and still likes), and they add a fresh new twist, which can be inspired from something else the audience likes. Innovation isn’t always about creating something totally new. Often it’s combining things people like in a surprising way they haven’t seen before.
Every successful product or service makes people happy by surprising them with something they weren’t expecting. It all really is about entertainment. Surprise your audience. Success really is a joke.
I am working on several new performance ideas, including a balancing act with a laptop computer, and various ideas involving a tennis ball gun. For me, working on original ideas has always been the most exciting part of performing. Also the most frustrating. It’s so hard to come up with something new.
Actually coming up with something new isn’t that hard, but it has to be new and good. That’s the hard part. And it’s rarely good on the first try. The ideas constantly evolve, often ending up totally different from my original concept.
Often I have to make my own props. (I’m actually using my engineering degree!) It turns out nobody makes a tennis ball gun, or at least one that can be safely fired on stage. So I had to design and build my own. …and of course everything always has to be re designed and rebuilt at least three times before it really works like you want it to.
The reward of making something that works… It makes all the frustrating failures worthwhile.