In comedy lingo, a “punchline” is the point at which a comedian delivers a line from which they expect a laugh. I would like to suggest another idiom, and instead refer to it as a “surprise”.
While still idiomatic, “surprising an audience” is more accurate to what is happening than “delivering a punchline”. Punchline implies that the comedian is applying a force to the audience, so implies a one-way relationship where the comedian has the control. The reality of comedy is that it is a two-way relationship with the comedian offering their comedy to the audience, and the audience either being surprised or not. The latter encourages the comedian focus on the audience rather than themselves, and to adjust accordingly if things are not going to their initial plan.
Also, surprise is a broader idiom than punchline. The comedic activity that preceeds a laugh may be a line, but it may not be. Often a comedian will get a laugh by a look, a movement, or even the omission of a word. Focussing on delivering surprises therefore gives the comedian a broader scope of what they can do to envoke laughter from the audience.
Lastly, but probably most importantly, “punchline” aligns with several other conflict-based comedy phrases, such as “killing it”, “smashing it” and “dying out there”, implying a broader metaphor of conflict. This doesn’t fit the reality of standup comedy, which is that an audience are volunteering to be there and the comedian’s desire is to entertain them. Thinking of standup performances as a conflict contributes to the stress and anxiety commonly experienced by stand-up comedians.
Surprise is one of the key elements of Metaphors of Comedy, particularly the comedy writing and performing method of Explaining Surprises Clearly. More information on these approaches will be included in future Metaphors of Comedy training events and literature.
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