Comedic Styles: The One Liner Comedian

Let’s continue our look into different comedic styles (I finally found a title that works!). This week, we will look at the one liner comedian.  A style that is very old, and very hard to master.  Some of the great one liner comedians are Mitch Hedberg and Steven Wright.

This style of comedy is very simple in that there are not a lot of moving parts.  It is called “one-liner” probably because most can be written on one line on a sheet of paper.  It is actually a joke that is broken down to it’s basic parts.  You have the setup and then the punch.  There are usually no extra bits of information to allow the audience to see why it was funny.  All of the information to make the punchline more effective is in the punch itself.  The audience makes the conclusion, usually at the end of the joke, why it was funny.


Comedians using this style can usually get more jokes into the same amount of time.  One liners are usually no more than about 4-5 seconds long.  So if you were doing a five minute set, just imagine how many jokes you can get in there (really imagine it because I am terrible at math).


This style is writer intensive.  That means that you will have to write more than most comedians to effectively get the same amount of time out of your material.  Because the jokes are shorter, you will have to write more to get to say, a true feature length set.  It is also more writer intensive because unlike other types of jokes, because there are few moving parts, there is less to rewrite to make it work, so most of the time the joke gets thrown out.

It is hard to fill feature and headline time with one liners.  Even the great Steven Wright does other things in his act like play piano (while still telling jokes of course).  I just saw Emo Phillips.  One of the greatest comedians on the planet and he knew to break up his material with different aspects, while still delivering his material.

If this is how you mind works, then you have to understand what you will be required to do.  You will have to write a lot and you may want to find ways to keep the audience from sinking into a hole, especially if you are deadpanning your material.  I hope this helps.