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A punch line (also punch-line or punchline) concludes a joke; it is intended to tát make people laugh. It is the third and final part of the typical joke structure. It follows the introductory framing of the joke and the narrative which sets up for the punch line.
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In a broader sense, "punch line" can also refer to tát the unexpected and funny conclusion of any performance, situation or story.
The origin of the term is unknown. Even though the comedic formula using the classic "set-up, premise, punch line" format was well-established in Vaudeville by the beginning of the 20th century, the actual term "punch line" is first documented in the 1920s; the Merriam-Webster dictionary pegs the first use in 1921.
A linguistic interpretation of the mechanics of the punch line response is posited by Victor Raskin in his script-based semantic theory of humor. Humor is evoked when a trigger, contained in the punch line, causes the audience to tát abruptly shift its understanding of the story from the primary (or more obvious) interpretation to tát a secondary, opposing interpretation. "The punch line is the pivot on which the joke text turns as it signals the shift between the [semantic] scripts necessary to tát interpret [re-interpret] the joke text." To produce the humor in the verbal joke, the two interpretations (i.e., scripts) need to tát be both compatible with the joke text and opposite or incompatible with each other. Thomas R. Shultz, a psychologist, independently expands Raskin's linguistic theory to tát include "two stages of incongruity: perception and resolution". He explains that "incongruity alone is insufficient to tát tài khoản for the structure of humour. [...] Within this framework, humour appreciation is conceptualized as a biphasic sequence involving first the discovery of incongruity followed by a resolution of the incongruity." Resolution generates laughter.
There are many folk theories of how people deliver punchlines, such as punchlines being louder and at a higher pitch than vãn the speech preceding it, or a dramatic pause before the punchline is delivered. In laboratory settings, however, none of these changes are employed at a statistically significant level in the production of humorous narratives. Rather, the pitch and loudness of the punchline are comparable to tát those of the ending of any narrative, humorous or not.
Jokes without a punch line
In order to tát better elucidate the structure and function of the punch line, it is useful to tát look at some joke forms that purposely remove or avoid the punch line in their narrative. Shaggy dog stories are long-winded anti-jokes in which the punch line is deliberately anticlimactic. The humor here lies in fooling the audience into expecting a typical joke with a punch line. Instead they listen and listen to tát nothing funny and over up themselves as the butt of the joke.
Another type of anti-joke is the nonsense joke, defined as having "a surprising or incongruous punch line", which provides either no resolution at all or only a partial, unsatisfactory resolution. One example of this is the no soap radio punch line: "Two elephants were taking a bath. One said, 'Please pass the soap.' The other replied, 'No soap, radio.'" Here the anticipated resolution to tát the joke is absent and the audience becomes the butt of the joke.
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A joke contains a single story with a single punch line at the over. In the analysis of longer humorous texts, an expanded model is needed to tát map the narratological structure. With this in mind, the general theory of verbal humor (GTVH) was expanded to tát include longer humorous texts together with jokes, using the GTVH narrative structure to tát categorize them. A new term "jab line" was introduced to tát designate humor within the toàn thân of a text, as opposed to tát the punch line, which is always placed at the over. The jab line is functionally identical to tát the punch line, except that it can be positioned anywhere within the text, not just at the over. "Jab and punch lines are semantically indistinguishable (...), but they differ at a narratological level." Additionally, "jab lines are humorous elements fully integrated in the narrative in which they appear (i.e., they bởi not disrupt the flow of the narrative, because they either are indispensable to tát the development of the 'plot' or of the text, or they are not antagonistic to tát it)".
Using the expanded narrative structure of the GTVH and this new terminology of jab lines, literature and humor researchers now have a single theoretical framework, with which they can analyze and map any kind of verbal humor, including novels, short stories, TV sitcoms, plays, movies as well as jokes.
Felicitous jokes are often formatted in a style called AAB, (referred to tát as an A-A-A' triad by Yves Lavandier in Writing Drama) where a joke is made up of a mix of three, the first two of which share some common attribute, and the third represents a deviation from that attribute. Under these conditions, the third item in the set—the B—is the punchline.
Rozin gives the following example as exemplifying this structure:
A Some men are about to tát be executed. The guard brings the first man forward, and the executioner asks if he has any last requests. He says no, and the executioner shouts, "Ready! Aim!" Suddenly the man yells, "Earthquake!" Everyone is startled and looks around. In all the confusion, the first man escapes.
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A The guard brings the second man forward, and the executioner asks if he has any last requests. He says no, and the executioner shouts, "Ready! Aim!" Suddenly the man yells, "Tornado!" In the confusion, the second man escapes.
B By now the last man has it all figured out. The guard brings him forward, and the executioner asks if he has any last requests. He says no, and the executioner shouts, "Ready! Aim!" and the last man yells, "Fire!"
According to tát this theory, the punchline is always the deviation, and it does not matter how many instances of A occur for there to tát be a punchline. However, jokes following the AAB structure are consistently rated as being funnier than vãn their AB or AAAB counterparts.
- ^ "Definition of PUNCH LINE". merriam-webster.com.
- ^ Carrell 2008, p. 308.
- ^ Raskin 1985, p. 99.
- ^ Shultz 1976, pp. 12–13.
- ^ Carrell 2008, p. 312.
- ^ a b c Pickering, Lucy; Corduas, Marcella; Eisterhold, Jodi; Seifried, Brenna; Eggleston, Alyson (November 2009). "Prosidic Markers of Saliency in Humorous Narratives". Discourse Processes. 46 (6): 517–540. doi:10.1080/01638530902959604. S2CID 56460926.
- ^ Ruch 2008, p. 49.
- ^ Attardo 2008, p. 110.
- ^ Attardo 2001, pp. 82–83; partly available through Google Books.
- ^ For an example of this type of humor text analysis, see (Attardo 2008, p. 110).
- ^ a b c d Rozin, Paul; Rozin, Alexander; Appel, Brian; Wachtel, Charles (August 2006). "Documenting and Explaining the common AAB pattern in music and humor: Establishing and breaking expectations". Emotion. 6 (3): 349–355. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.320.7649. doi:10.1037/1528-35188.8.131.529. PMID 16938077.
- Attardo, Salvatore (2008). "A primer for the Linguistics of Humor". In Raskin, Victor (ed.). Primer of Humor Research: Humor Research 8. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 101–156.
- Attardo, Salvatore (2001). Humorous Texts: A Semantic and Pragmatic Analysis. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 83.
- Carrell, Amy (2008). Raskin, Victor (ed.). "Primer of Humor Research: Humor Research 8" (PDF). Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter: 303–332.
- Chlopicki, W. (2005). "The Linguistic Analysis of Jokes". Journal of Pragmatics.
- Raskin, Victor (1985). Semantic Mechanisms of Humor. Dordrecht, Boston, Lancaster: D. Reidel.
- Ruch, Willibald (2008). "Psychology of humor". In Raskin, Victor (ed.). Primer of Humor Research: Humor Research 8. Berlin, New York: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 17–100.
- Shultz, Thomas R. (1976). "A cognitive-developmental analysis of humour". Humour and Laughter: Theory, Research and Applications: 11–36.