Comedy Tactic: The Bait and Switch

Since I have started watching more comedy- and even writing some myself- my systemic brain has been coming up with categories for jokes and filing them away. I think that the only category of  joke that already has a set name is the  Pun, defined as: the usually humorous use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more of its meanings or the meaning of another word similar in sound (thanks,

But there are all these other jokes that just float about being jokes without any rules or accountability.

One reoccurring type of joke I’ve noticed is one where the listener assumes an impending punchline which the joke teller doesn’t deliver. The assumed line can either be conspicuously avoided or simply ignored and replaced by a totally random statement.  I’ve begun calling these Bait-and-Switch jokes (silently in my head to myself).

Television writer Jane Espenson discusses these humor tactic in her blog:

“It’s not often that a joke becomes an instant classic. But let us now discuss the joke from Glee that goes like this:

I will go to the animal shelter and get you a kitty cat. I will let you fall in love with that kitty cat; and then on some dark cold night, I will steal away into your home, and punch you in the face.

The beauty of the joke is that this one WANTS you to get ahead of it, and then subverts your expectation.”

The boy and I recently encountered our own version of the Bait and Switch when some playful taunting resulted in the line: “I just walked in on your mom shaving, and man is she fat.” This line may be uncouth, but it wins you the argument.

I’m realizing that there is another type of joke which is very similar. It’s like the bait and switch but the set-up is more cunning- you don’t even know that a joke is about to happen(!). In this version, “misdirecting”, the set-up line sounds completely appropriate for one element of the scene.  Then, a follow up line adjusts the subject of the first line. Hilarity ensues. Example (I can’t remember where I read this….):

[Two friends are eating at the dinner table after one of their girlfriends has angrily broken up with one of them and walked out. The man is flustered and embarrassed.]

Friend A: This stinks.

Friend B: Just hold your nose while you chew.

Is there a mom-joke version of this? you bet! Again an example a taunt session with the boy: We are standing in a burrito place watching a telenovela on a suspended television. On screen an aggressive man is passionately beating a dramatically, screaming Latin woman…

Me: Oh look, it’s your mom in that telenovela she used to do when she was younger.

The Boy: (trying to win the joke by going along with it…) Yep, she just loved doing telenovelas.

Me: Is she still friends with that actress? (FTW)

Thank you. thank you.


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