The Stretchband Theory

Humor comes out of the unexpected: no surprise, no laugh. In a series, the first two lines are usually straight lines (realism). The third line is the twist—logical but unexpected. Realism is the setup, exaggeration is the joke. "Get your facts first," wrote Mark Twain, "and then you can distort them as much as you please." Thus humor is like a rubber band; the more it can be stretched, the more useful it is. I call it the stretch-band theory.

When the rubber band is stretched to capacity, several things happen at once.

1. The shape of the band (realism) is altered.

2. The rubber band can be pulled (exaggeration) in different directions (overstatement and understatement).

3. Audience tension increases proportionally, up to the breaking point.

4. The sound of the vibrations (emotion) along the length of the band may vacillate frequently.

Realism sets up the joke, as the audience mentally nods in agreement with the introduction, then the joke is sprung loose by the exaggeration. But finding the proper balance between realism and exaggeration is the ultimate test of a comedy writer's skill. Humor comes when the exaggeration is logical. Simply being ludicrous is not a skill.

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