“A comic says funny things; a comedian says things funny.” — Ed Wynn
If this quote made you smile, you should be very proud.
Understanding words like “comic” and “comedian” isn’t enough to understand the true meaning of this sentence. You also need to understand how changing the order of English words changes the meaning.
That’s a pretty complicated level of understanding, and you can build your knowledge of these things with comedy.
In case you don’t quite “get it” (understand), the quote is explaining the difference between a comic and a comedian.
A comic makes people laugh by saying things that are funny. Someone who is a comedian makes people laugh by making anything funny, even if it’s not funny on its own. For example, they talk about the normal (but silly) things we do in our everyday lives and make them sound funny. Which do you think is harder to do?
Humor is an important part of any culture. Laughing together makes us feel closer and gives us something to share with friends and strangers. The best way to share something funny is with a joke.
A joke is a funny statement or story. Understanding a joke as an English learner is a huge step towards understanding English like a native. Today, thanks to the Internet, jokes are all around us.
Explore the funny world of jokes on the Internet and learn English while you’re at it!
What Makes a Good Joke?
A good joke, quite simply, makes people laugh!
Jokes usually have a setup and a punchline. The setup sets up, or introduces, the scenario or story, giving you any information you need to understand the funny part. The punchline is the funny part.
There are many types of jokes, and you might not find them all funny. In general, a good joke presents information in an unexpected way. Some use silly humor while others make fun of more serious subjects. Jokes usually use either current events or universal topics, which are topics that everyone can understand, like marriage, work, school or friends.
Not all jokes are positive, either. Some jokes are offensive—they can make some people feel bad. Some use stereotypes—general statements about people which aren’t necessarily true. Understanding why these these jokes are offensive or what makes them funny (even if you don’t think they’re funny) is a sign that you’re closer to knowing English like a native.
How to Learn English with Jokes
Jokes are an excellent English learning tool because they often have multiple meanings. To understand a joke, you need to understand:
- The vocabulary the joke uses.
- Alternative meanings of certain words.
- Cultural or pop culture references.
For example, read this joke:
“A man walks into a bar…
…and breaks his nose!”
Why is this funny? Because it’s unexpectedly obvious!
It starts out by setting up a classic type of joke (many English jokes begin with “a man walks into a bar,” meaning that he walks into a place to have a drink). Then it uses the other meaning of the word “bar.” A bar can be a place where you go for drinks, or it can be a long round piece of wood or metal.
In this joke, you expect the “bar” with the first definition, so you think that the man is entering a bar to have a drink… but then how did he break his nose? He broke his nose because he walked into the other kind of bar—a piece of metal or wood—and hurt himself!
See how much you need to know to understand just one short joke?
It’s all right if you don’t catch onto humor in English right away, but don’t be discouraged! There are lots of different things you can do to help you understand jokes a little better, such as watching comedies and popular sitcoms.
Movies and TV shows, as suggested from the video below, are filled with quips, jabs and gags to give you a better idea of what’s considered funny in English.
Here are some tips for learning from jokes:
- Look up names. Search Google for any names mentioned in a joke. Jokes about Trump, Target or the Hamburger Helper are funnier when you know who or what they are.
- Check the dictionary for multiple word meanings. Some words have more than one meaning, and many jokes make use of that.
- Look up vocabulary words. Many jokes are short so it’s important to understand every word.
Jokes are a great way to learn while having fun, too!
How the Internet Has Changed Jokes
Before the Internet, jokes were mostly made on TV shows, by comedians, among friends or in parties. Now, thanks to the Internet, we’re all comedians! Social media websites, comment sections and even some news websites are full of jokes by ordinary people just like you and me.
This has also changed the way jokes look. Jokes used to be a few sentences long. Internet jokes are usually shorter (sometimes they don’t even use full sentences) and they can combine words with images and short videos.
Before the Internet, you could set up a joke by saying something like “stop me if you’ve heard this one before…” Online, there’s no need to do this. Something about the Internet makes us want to make witty comments (comments that are funny in a smart kind of way).
6 Types of Hilarious Jokes in English Found on the Internet
Traditional jokes are jokes that have been around for a while. They’re not as popular anymore because of the Internet, but they’re still “classics.” Traditional jokes usually look like a short story or a question and answer.
Some of the most famous traditional jokes include:
- Chicken and the road jokes.
The classic joke is:
“Why did the chicken cross the road?”
“To get to the other side!”
You expect some sort of funny response to the question, but the answer is really obvious. Of course he’s crossing the street to get to the other side. Why else would he cross the road? Some people also say “the other side” is death, because it will die crossing the road.
This joke has been reused many times with other animals and people. Just replace the chicken with anything and add an appropriate response. Example: “Why did the duck cross the road? Because it was the chicken’s day off.” (The duck is doing the chicken’s job of crossing the road!).
- Light bulb jokes.
Light bulb jokes ask, “how many people does it take to screw in a light bulb?” Changing a light bulb is a pretty easy job, and you don’t usually need any help. These jokes use light bulbs as a measure of intelligence, using stereotypes of certain types of people like lawyers, blondes or policemen.
Watch out, they can sometimes be offensive! Example:
Question: “How many policemen does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
Answer: “None. It turned itself in.” (“Turning itself in” can mean that it screwed itself in, or that it visited the police station and admitted to committing a crime.)
- Knock knock jokes.
These jokes use word sounds to create the punchline. The questions always follow the same order. Someone says “knock knock,” and someone else responds “who’s there?” The knocker then gives an answer of who’s at the door. This can be anything, like an animal, a thing or even just a sound. The sound is repeated with the question word “who?” and then the knocker delivers the punchline.
A: “Knock, knock.”
B: “Who’s there?”
B: “Lettuce who?”
A: “Lettuce in, it’s cold out here.” (“Lettuce in” sounds like “Let us in.”)
You probably would not tell these jokes at a party anymore because they’re so old that everyone has heard them. You can, however, tell a traditional joke about a modern topic, like this light bulb joke about Apple employees:
Question: “How many Apple employees does it take to change a light bulb?”
Answer: “Seven. One to change the bulb and six to design the T-shirt.”
This joke makes fun of the way Apple runs their business, focusing on design and marketing.
Find it online: There are still many websites dedicated to traditional jokes. Websites like Comedy Central and Reader’s Digest have huge collections of jokes, some of which talk about modern topics.
A one-liner has only one line or sentence. Because it’s so short, it’s really important to understand every word or you can miss the meaning.
For some great examples of one-liners, watch some videos of the late comedian Mitch Hedberg. Hedberg was a stand-up comedian, a type of comedian who stands and tells his jokes in front of an audience. These jokes are usually anecdotes (more on that later!), but nearly all of Hedberg’s routine was made up of one-liners. Take this one, for example:
“I tried to walk into Target… but I missed.”
Target is a store, but it’s also an object that you aim for. This one-liner and many others often use puns. A pun is a play on words, like using a word in an unexpected way. For example, if you say something is “very punny” then it’s a pun… but it’s also funny.
If you can’t understand why a one-liner is funny, try looking up the words in a dictionary. Is there more than one meaning? Is it used in a different way? Search Google for any names or references you don’t understand (for example, searching for Target would explain that it’s a store, if you didn’t already know that).
Find it online: Social media website Twitter only allows users to write 140 characters (letters or numbers), which makes it the perfect place for one-liners. Comedian Summer Ray and Jen Doll have great one-liner jokes that use observations about life to make funny comments.
You can sometimes find puns in comment sections of many websites. You can also find them on the social sharing website Reddit, like this one-liner page.
An anecdote is a short story about something that really happened to you or someone you know. They’re funny because they really happened.
To understand anecdotes, you need to “put yourself into someone else’s shoes,” which means you should imagine being the person in the anecdote. It also helps to know how people behave, since anecdotes often show people doing unexpected or silly things.
Here is an example of an anecdote that needs a little knowledge of American culture:
“When the coffee shop clerk asked for his name, my brother-in-law answered, ‘Marc, with a C.’ Minutes later, he was handed his coffee with his name written on the side: Cark.”
You might already know this, but when you order a drink at Starbucks, they write your name on the cup so they can call you up. Marc pointed out that his name is spelled with a “C” because the name is usually spelled with a “K” at the end, like “Mark.” Instead of writing “Marc,” the clerk wrote Cark… which just doesn’t make sense!
Find it online: You can find anecdotes on any website where people share stories about their lives. Facebook, Tumblr and other blog websites like WordPress are full of people sharing anecdotes about their lives.
Sometimes an anecdote becomes so popular that it’s shared among many people online. One example is from Lindy West, who shared her story of discovering a possible spider’s nest on Twitter, which means she posted updates as it was happening, and the result was hilarious.
You can find more traditional anecdotes on Reader’s Digest, where users submit their own funny short stories from their lives.
4. Non Sequitur
This is an especially fun type of joke because it uses nonsense! Non sequitur is a Latin term that means “It does not follow.” A non sequitur is when you try to connect two points that have nothing to do with each other.
One of the most famous non sequitur jokes was written by the author Lewis Carroll in his book “Alice in Wonderland,” when he asked:
“How is a raven like a writing desk?”
There is no right answer here because a raven and a desk have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Many people have offered their own answers, and each one makes less sense than the last, like this one:
“Because there is a ‘b’ in both.” (Neither word has a “b” in it.)
Carroll’s own answer was:
“Both are nevar put back-end front.”
“Nevar” is “raven” spelled backwards, and a writing desk should not be placed down backwards or you won’t be able to write on it.
Don’t try to make sense of that, because it doesn’t! And that’s the point—it’s not supposed to make sense. This kind of joke can be frustrating for English learners because it’s hard to tell when a joke is a non sequitur. A good sign that something isn’t supposed to make sense is when the punchline seems to be about a completely different subject.
Find it online: A meme (pronounced “meem”) is an image, video or text, that people share over the Internet, usually with some slight change. Some memes use non sequiturs (be warned that some memes use crude language!).
You can find non sequiturs in memes like this one. You can find other memes on Know Your Meme (again, watch out for the language).
A parody makes fun of something by copying it in a funny way.
The popular late night show “Saturday Night Live” uses parodies to make fun of current shows, movies and real-world events. Comedian Weird Al Yankovic creates parodies of songs by using the same music but changing the words. For example, Weird Al’s song “Tacky” uses the same music as Pharrell’s “Happy.” It even makes fun of the music video.
Understanding a parody usually requires knowing the original. You can find out the original by searching Google for “what is (song, joke, skit, etc) a parody of?”
Find it online: There are entire parody websites online, like The Onion, which writes pretend stories that look like news stories (and sometimes fool people!)
Twitter has many parody accounts as well, where people pretend to be fictional or famous people like this fake account of Mark Zuckerberg (the creator of Facebook).
Sometimes you might see a photo shared on social media with many different edited (“photoshopped”) versions, like the McKayla Is Not Impressed meme which shows silver Olympic medal winner McKayla Maroney making an unimpressed expression. People loved her expression so much that they started making images of her making the face in front of really impressive things to be funny.
Thanks to the Internet we know what’s going on in the world right as it’s happening.
Of course, that means we can also make fun of anything as it’s happening. Even things that are “no laughing matter,” or very serious, can’t escape from the Internet’s desire to make everything funny.
Topical jokes are jokes made during or right after some big event. They can be controversial (likely to upset many people), and some use dark humor (humor that uses negative or sad commentary). You might even see a topical joke about a tragedy followed by the phrase “too soon?” meaning, is it too soon to make light of something bad?
Late night talk shows use this type of humor to make fun of things like politics and other current events. Here’s a joke from the “Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel,” from February 18:
“IKEA is being accused of evading over $1 billion in taxes. Prosecutors have actually been after IKEA for years. They’ve just been having a hard time putting their case together.”
IKEA is a Swedish furniture store that’s famous for selling furniture that you assemble, or put together, on your own at home. The joke is that even the lawyers are having trouble assembling evidence and putting their legal case against IKEA together. This joke uses something that’s currently happening as a setup for a pun.
Find it online: Topical humor is everywhere on the Internet, especially on social media websites where people share current event like Twitter and Facebook. To see some funny comments, try looking at any “trending” topic on Twitter (remember to change the location to an English-speaking place). Usually, at least one consists of people saying funny things about something that happened recently.
Last April, everyone was talking about the Hamburger Helper rap album that the macaroni company released on April 1st (also known as “April Fool’s Day”). That’s already pretty funny, but everyone still has funny things to say about it.
You probably won’t find all the jokes in this article funny.
But if you can understand why they’re funny, you’re doing great!