Shropshire Star

Broccoli, Brexit and the art of good gags

Sean Horgan pauses as he digests the top-rated gag from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, then declares: “That is genius.”

Bridgnorth's Sean Horgan

The line would appear to most of us to be a real eye-roller from festival veteran and Swedish comedian Olaf Falafel.

It goes: “I keep randomly shouting out ‘broccoli’ and ‘cauliflower’ – I think I might have florets.”

But while it may not have everybody rolling in the aisles, Bridgnorth comedian Sean reckons nailing a good one liner like that is far harder than it looks.

“You’re thinking about one thing, and there’s this great surprise at the end,” he says.

“The key is that it delivers in an area that you recognise. The punchline has to be a surprise, but it’s almost an expected surprise.”

Every year television station Dave selects its top 10 jokes from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and more often than not the first response is: “I could have written that.”

They’re not all puns – last year Adam Rowe won the award for this gag: “Working at the jobcentre has to be a tense job, knowing that if you get fired you still have to come in the next day.”

Ken Cheng won the year before with this little number: “I’m not a fan of the new pound coin, but then again, I hate all change.”

Ken Cheng

So how do you go about putting together a great joke? For Sean, it involves a great deal of precision.

“It’s like a daredevil jumping between cliffs,” he says. “A good joke is like a jump from the set-up to the punchline.

“If the distance is too small, it all goes too quickly and nobody is impressed. But if the distance is too large it’s like a bloke jumping between cliffs and not quite making it to the edge.”

Sean, who has found fame online for a viral video titled What Men Really Do At The Gym, has been doing stand-up for about a year, and is hosting a free comedy night at Bridgnorth’s Old Castle pub tomorrow night.

He may be a naturally funny person, but he says he has found getting the hang of stand-up requires a great deal of discipline and hard work.

“It’s not like being funny with your mates, it’s a lot harder to do, and there’s a lot of craft to it,” he says.

“You have to go off and learn your trade, that’s the part that people don’t see.

“You have some comedians who are all about one-liners, people like Gary Delaney and Milton Jones, but others will use a quick line at the start of their set just to get the crowd laughing.

Milton Jones

“I’ll use them when I’m changing subjects or starting a new bit, to get an audience in the right frame of mind.

“It can be the most mind-numbing, boring process. A lot of comedians will write a word diagram on one subject, then everything connected with that subject, then do the same for another subject, and see if any of the sub categories underneath match up.

“That’s how a lot of one-liners work. With the florets joke, you can sort of see how they came to that.”

Dudley comic Wayne Beese – a former journalist at the Shropshire Star – enjoyed the joke from Mark Simmons in this year’s list.

Wayne Beese

It goes: “To be or not to be a horse rider, that is equestrian”

Wayne adds: “Laughter is an involuntary reaction, it’s like hiccups, it’s not controlled.

“So the best jokes have to be the ones that surprise you – it’s the surprise, it’s the saying of something or a punchline that’s not expected, that provokes the involuntary reaction in us and the subsequent laughter.

“One liner comics will often heighten this level of surprise in their punchlines by using familiar phrases or expressions in the set up to the joke.

“We know the way these phrases normally end and we start to build a picture up in our heads about where this is going.

“Then suddenly the rug is pulled from under us when the punchline is different – sometimes completely different, coming out of nowhere, and sometimes very slightly different and nuanced. There’s your surprise, and hopefully your laughter.”

He adds: It’s a common thing we see every year on social media for people to pick up these lists and sneer, to label them rubbish jokes. I think that’s unfair.

“They’re always going to be better live and spoken in front of an up-for-it audience, rather than lifeless on a bit of paper while we’re half asleep eating our cornflakes.

“The competition has given real profile to some unheralded acts in recent years like Masai Graham from West Brom, another fantastic one liner comic who won it a couple of years ago.

“It’s a tough craft, one liners, so all power to them and congratulations to everyone who made the list this year.”