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Jul 14

Secret Comedy Writing Technique – Callbacks

Here’s another post in my on-going series Secret Comedy Writing Techniques. This one deals with Callbacks. What’s a callback you ask? Well, a callback is repeating a joke verbatim, or paraphrasing a joke, that got a laugh earlier in your speech or comedy routine.

This is a standard technique that a lot of comedians and humorists use. Two British comedians who immediately leap to mind that use this technique a lot are Eddie Izzard and Harry Hill.

When I saw Harry Hill perform live a number of years ago he would deliver lots of set-up lines and deliver the punchline later on. Or deliver a set-up with a punchline and then give you another later in his act. And then another even later.

Eddie Izzard would sometimes callback all his characters that he’d spoken about throughout his act right at the end of his show.

The thing you have to remmember is you should neve use a callback if the joke wasn’t funny to start with. Why would you want to repeat a unfunny line? Seems obvious in the cold light of day but I have been guilty of this early in my career – oh yes.

I have written a joke and then written a callback in the hope that the first time I mentioned it it would get a laugh and then the callback was already written. I learned that lesson the hard way.

I can recall the puzzled looks on the audiences faces like they were saying:

“I don’t care how many times you repeat that line mate, it’s still not funny.”

If you want to callback to a line make sure that you refer back to a line that has previously gotten laughs. Work your funny speech through a number of times and then you’ll know where the laughs are. Later on in your speech you can see if there’s a natural place to refer back to a line that you got a laugh on.

Whatever you do, don’t force the callback otherwise it won’t make any sense and you run the risk of alienating your listeners.

So go through your speech and make a note of where youor punchlines are. Can you comfortably refer back to those lines later on in your speech. Will it sound weird? If so, then don’t go there!

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