11 Types of Jokes in English (With Examples and Audio!)
“A comic says funny things; a comedian says things funny.” — Ed Wynn
If this quote made you smile, you should be very proud.
Humor is an important part of any culture. Laughing together makes us feel closer and gives us something to share with friends and strangers. It’s also an easy way to get to know a new culture.
Understanding humor as an English learner is a huge step towards understanding English like a native. Today, thanks to the Internet, jokes in English are all around us.
Here are 11 types of jokes in English, all with examples, explanations and audio.
- 1. Classic Jokes
- 2. One-Liner Jokes
- 3. Anecdote Jokes
- 4. Non Sequitur Jokes
- 5. Parody Jokes
- 6. Topical Jokes
- 7. Ironic Jokes
- 8. Observational Jokes
- 9. Character Jokes
- 10. Puns/Wordplay Jokes
- 11. Slapstick/Physical Jokes
- What Makes a Good Joke?
- How the Internet Has Changed Jokes
- How to Learn English with Jokes
- And One More Thing...
1. Classic Jokes
Classic or traditional jokes are jokes that have been around for a while. They are not as popular anymore because of the Internet, but they are still classics. Traditional jokes usually look like a short story or a question-and-answer format.
Some of the most famous traditional jokes include:
Chicken crossing the road jokes
Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To get to the other side!
Explanation: You expect a funny response to the question, but the answer is really obvious. That is why this joke is funny! Of course the chicken is crossing the street to get to the other side. Why else would it cross the road? Some people also say “the other side” really means “death,” because the chicken will die crossing the road by getting hit by a car.
This joke has been reused many times with other animals and people. Just replace the chicken with anything and add an appropriate response. For example:
Q: Why did the duck cross the road?
A: Because it was the chicken’s day off.
Explanation: The duck is doing the chicken’s job of crossing the road!
Here are a few other popular answers to this age-old question:
A: Because she felt like it.
Explanation: This answer is just obvious enough to be funny.
A: To change the light bulb.
Explanation: This answer refers to another type of classic English joke, called…
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 (how smart someone is). They use stereotypes of certain types of people, like lawyers, blondes or policemen.
Here’s one popular example:
Q: How many policemen does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. It turned itself in.
Explanation: “Turning itself in” can mean that the light bulb screwed (turned) itself in, or that it went to the police station and admitted to committing a crime, so no officers were needed.
Here are a few other example of light bulb jokes:
Q: How many actors does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Only one. They don’t like sharing the spotlight.
Explanation: According to stereotypes, actors are vain and want attention on the stage, so they don’t want to share the (spot)light while changing the light bulb.
Q: How many Jewish grandmothers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: It doesn’t matter. We can just sit in the dark.
Explanation: According to stereotypes, Jewish grandmothers are martyrs, and because of this, they don’t want to be fussed over, so they will happily sit in a dark room instead of changing the light bulb.
Knock knock jokes
These classic jokes always follow the same order. Someone says “knock knock,” and someone else responds, “who’s there?”
The knocker then gives an answer of who is 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.
Here are some examples:
A: Knock knock.
B: Who’s there?
B: Lettuce who?
A: Let us in! It’s cold out here.
Explanation: “Lettuce” sounds like “Let us” in English.
A: Knock knock.
B: Who’s there?
B: Figs who?
A: Fix your doorbell. It’s not working.
Explanation: In spoken English, “figs” sounds a lot like “fix.”
A: Knock knock.
B: Who’s there?
B: Nun who?
A: None of your business.
Explanation: In spoken English, “nun” and “none” sound exactly the same.
You probably will not hear many crossing the road jokes, light bulb jokes or knock knock jokes. That’s because they are so old that everyone has heard them.
You can, however, tell a traditional light bulb joke about a modern topic, like this one about Apple employees:
Q: How many Apple employees does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Seven. One to change the bulb and six to design and sell the T-shirt.
Explanation: This joke makes fun of the way Apple runs their business, focusing on design and marketing instead of actual work.
Find it online: There are still many websites dedicated to classic jokes. Websites like Reader’s Digest have huge collections of jokes, some of which talk about modern topics.
2. One-Liner Jokes
A one-liner has only one line or sentence. Because they are so short, it is really important to understand every word or you can miss the meaning.
For some great examples of one-liners, watch this video 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.
Stand-up comedians’ jokes are usually anecdotes (more on those next!), 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.”
Explanation: Target is a store, but it’s also an object that you aim for. This one-liner is actually a pun, or a play on words. We’ll talk more about these later too!
“I just flew in from New York. My arms are tired.”
Explanation: The joke teller is pretending he flew like a bird, by flapping his arms, instead of on a plane.
“I don’t suffer from insanity. I happen to enjoy every second of it.”
Explanation: The joke teller is admitting that they are a little insane. They are also insisting they like it, so they don’t suffer from it—they enjoy it!
“So, apparently my smoke alarm is also a food critic now.”
Explanation: This joke teller is such a bad cook that they burn everything, which triggers (turns on) their smoke alarm, which also lets the joke teller know that they can’t cook, just like a food critic does.
If you don’t understand why a one-liner is funny, try looking up the words in a dictionary. Is there more than one meaning? Is a word used in a different way?
You can also 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: On X (previously known as Twitter), the comedian Summer Ray has great one-liner jokes that use observations about life to make funny comments. You can also find some great one-liners on Reddit.
3. Anecdote Jokes
An anecdote is a short story about something that really happened to you or someone you know. They’re funny because they are really true.
To understand anecdotes, you need to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” or 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 are a couple of examples:
“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.”
Explanation: When you order a drink at Starbucks, they write your name on the cup so they can call you once it’s ready. 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!
“Teaching is not for overly sensitive types, let me tell you. Yesterday, I was reviewing the future, present and past verb tenses with my ESL class. I gave them the example—’I’m beautiful’—and asked which tense the example was in. From the back row, a student raised her hand. Her answer: past tense.”
Explanation: This poor teacher was insulted by their student. The student was suggesting that the teacher’s beauty had faded some time ago, so the statement “I’m beautiful” was clearly in the past tense and no longer true.
Find it online: 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, which means she posted updates as it was happening, and the result was hilarious.
You can find more anecdotes on Reader’s Digest, where users submit their own funny short stories from their lives.
4. Non Sequitur Jokes
This is an especially fun type of joke because it uses nonsense as its comedic source!
“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, and there are often hilarious results.
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 obviously have 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, clearly.)
Carroll’s own answer was:
“Both are N-E-V-A-R put backwards.”
Explanation: “Nevar” is “raven” spelled backwards, and a writing desk should not be placed backwards or you won’t be able to write on it.
Don’t try to make sense of that, because you can’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.
The popular comedian Norm MacDonald, who was on the American comedy show “Saturday Night Live” for many years, was famous for his non sequitur jokes, some of which are in this clip:
Find it online: Many memes use non sequiturs, such as this one. You can find other memes on Know Your Meme.
5. Parody Jokes
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 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 source. You can find out the original by searching Google for “what is (song, joke, skit, etc.) a parody of?”
For example, TL;DR Wikipedia is a hilarious Instagram account that parodies Wikipedia articles into short, funny jokes. For example, for the U.S. holiday of Presidents’ Day:
“Presidents’ Day: An annual U.S. holiday honoring those in the market for a new mattress or car.”
Explanation: This parody makes fun of the various sales promotions at mattress stores and car dealerships that seem to pop up every year in the U.S. over Presidents’ Day weekend.
Find it online: There are entire parody websites online, like The Onion, which writes pretend stories that look like news stories. Sometimes, people are fooled into thinking they’re real news articles!
6. Topical Jokes
Thanks to the Internet, we know what is going on in the world as it is happening.
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 made during or right after some big current event. They can be controversial, and some use dark humor. You might even see a topical joke about a tragedy followed by the phrase “too soon?” which means, “is it too soon to make light of this bad thing that happened?”
Here are a couple of examples:
“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.”
Explanation: IKEA is a Swedish furniture store that’s famous for selling furniture that you assemble (put together) by yourself. 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.
“A DoorDash delivery driver saved a woman’s life when she fell and broke her hip outside her house. When she returned home from the hospital three weeks later, she complained the pizza was now ice cold.”
Explanation: The good deed of the DoorDash delivery person isn’t recognized, for comic effect, even though they saved the customer’s life.
In the U.S., late night comedy shows are the main source of topical jokes. Here’s a monologue from “The Jimmy Kimmel Show,” where Jimmy tells topical jokes about current events:
Find it online: Topical humor is everywhere on the Internet, especially on social media websites where people share current events, like TikTok and Facebook.
7. Ironic Jokes
An ironic joke is a joke that says one thing but actually means another thing—usually the opposite.
Take a look at some examples to see what I mean:
“I wish I knew what it is I am trying not to think about.”
Explanation: Charlie Brown of the Peanuts is trying not think about something, but he can’t even remember what it is!
“I expect nothing and it’s still too much.”
Explanation: This ironic joke is also from famous cartoon character Charlie Brown. Here, he doesn’t expect anything to happen. Then, when nothing happens, it’s still overwhelming (difficult to deal with).
Here’s another example that most people can relate to:
“The pandemic helped people unite all around the world by keeping their distance.”
Explanation: In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, most people went into lockdown (stayed home and practiced social distancing (staying away from others). Because everyone took part in this, people felt much closer to each other even though they were far apart physically.
If you don’t understand an ironic joke, try to figure out which two parts of the joke don’t make sense together.
Find it online: This post from BoredPanda has over 100 ironic jokes—see how many you understand!
8. Observational Jokes
An observational joke discusses everyday objects, people or situations. These types of jokes often start with, “Have you ever noticed…?” or “Do you ever wonder why…?”
Usually, the topic of the joke will be familiar to most people. However, it isn’t something they have really thought about before. The joke then points out the humor.
Here’s a video example from comedian George Carlin, talking about “stuff”:
Find it online: Observational jokes often come up in stand-up comedy performances. You can search YouTube for stand-up comedy performances by people like George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld and John Mulaney to hear more observational jokes.
9. Character Jokes
Sometimes, a comedian or someone telling a joke will pretend to be a certain type of funny character.
The character usually has a very clear character trait that is either amusing, entertaining, annoying or some combination of the three.
One popular example comes from late night television host Stephen Colbert, who played a character (also called Stephen Colbert) on his show “The Colbert Report.” The character was very political and would say things like:
“I can’t stand people who disagree with me on the issue of Roe versus Wade…which I believe is about the proper way to cross a lake.”
Explanation: Roe v. Wade is a very important court case in the U.S. about the sensitive topic of abortion (ending a pregnancy). But the names also sound like the words “row” (how you move a small boat) and “wade” (walking through water)—two ways you might try to get across a lake.
A really great example of character comedy comes from the TV show “Saturday Night Live,” mentioned above. This show uses a lot of character jokes, especially during the Weekend Update segment. You can take a look at 20 of the most popular Weekend Update characters in this video:
Find it online: Again, “Saturday Night Live” is full of character jokes. You can find more video examples on the official YouTube channel.
10. Puns/Wordplay Jokes
Wordplay is involved in any joke where the words themselves help make the joke funny. Here’s an example:
“What do I look like, an inferior decorator?”
Explanation: “Inferior decorator” sounds like “interior decorator”—a person who designs or decorates the inside of a house or building. The word “inferior,” however, means low quality or status.
Puns are a very popular type of wordplay. These jokes use words that have multiple meanings. Here’s a double pun by famous British author Douglas Adams:
“You can tune a guitar, but you can’t tuna fish. Unless, of course, you play bass.”
Explanation: To “tune a guitar” means to fix the guitar strings so they make the correct sounds. But “tune a” also sounds like “tuna,” which is a type of fish. A “bass” is the word for another type of fish, but it’s also the word for another type of guitar.
Many English pick-up lines are actually puns! But be careful using them when you talk to your crush. People usually feel quite strongly about puns. Some people think they’re lame and not funny at all, but others find them totally “punny”… a pun that’s funny!
Find it online: Pun.me is a whole website dedicated to puns and other types of jokes! You may also hear puns made by English talk show hosts or by characters in comedic movies or TV shows.
11. Slapstick/Physical Jokes
A slapstick is a simple comedic tool made of two pieces of wood. If you “hit” someone with a slapstick, the wood pieces smack together and make a loud noise. It looks and sounds like the person really got slapped, but in fact, the slapstick won’t hurt them at all.
These days, “slapstick” usually refers to a certain kind of physical comedy. It involves large, overly enthusiastic and dramatic movement. Often, this type of comedy also involves people fighting or hitting each other.
Here’s an example of classic slapstick, called “For Heaven’s Sake”:
Because slapstick involves physical movement, there’s usually not much talking. That’s true of most physical comedy, actually.
There are plenty of modern examples of people using and enjoying physical jokes, too. Take a look at famous comedian Mr. Bean performing at the opening of the 2012 Olympics in London:
So, even if classic slapstick comedy isn’t funny to you, there may be other types of physical comedy that you appreciate (enjoy).
Find it online: Charlie Chaplin was an extremely famous physical comedian from the days of black-and-white films. You can find a collection of his clips on YouTube. Similarly, you can see more of Mr. Bean on his YouTube channel.
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 told in some new or unexpected way. Some use silly humor while others make fun of more serious subjects. Jokes usually use either current events or universal topics (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 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 the Internet Has Changed Jokes
Before the Internet, jokes were mostly made on TV shows, by comedians, among friends or at 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 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, and they can combine words with images and short videos, like in memes.
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, hilarious comments.
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
- Different meanings of certain words
- Cultural or pop culture references
For example, read this joke:
“A man walks into a bar… and breaks his nose.”
Explanation: Why is this funny? Because it uses the multiple meanings of “bar” in English.
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 by the video below, are filled with quips, jabs and gags to give you a better idea of what’s considered funny in English:
Find more comedy—and other natural learning opportunities—in native English videos on the FluentU program.
FluentU takes authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
Here are some basic tips for learning from jokes:
- Look up names. Search Google for any names mentioned in a joke. Jokes about Trump, Biden, Target, Presidents’ Day or Taylor Swift are funnier when you know who or what they are.
- Check the dictionary for multiple word meanings. As mentioned, 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.
- Ask the joke teller to explain. Sure, this isn’t ideal—often when jokes are explained, they lose their effect. But if you don’t understand the joke, ask! Then you’ll have the required background knowledge to tell the joke yourself someday.
Jokes are a great way to learn while having fun, too!
Let’s go back to that Ed Wynn quote from the start of this post: “A comic says funny things; a comedian says things funny.”
In case you don’t quite get it, the quote is explaining the difference between a comic and a comedian.
A comic makes people laugh by saying things that are funny. But a comedian makes people laugh by making anything funny, even if it’s not funny on its own. A comedian can talk about the normal things we do in our everyday lives and make them funny. Which do you think is harder to do?
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!
And One More Thing...
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