Evan Puschak, the man behind The Nerdwriter video series, has crafted a fantastically detailed breakdown of a single Louis C.K. joke about playing Monopoly with his two daughters. Any person who likes making people laugh should watch it.
The joke, which is precisely 207 words long, is based around Louis’ daughter grappling with the fact that she will never beat her father in Monopoly:
I play Monopoly with my kids. That’s really fun. My 9-year-old, she can totally do Monopoly. The 6-year-old actually totally gets how the game works, but she’s not emotionally developed enough to handle her inevitable loss in every game of Monopoly. Because a Monopoly loss is dark. It’s heavy. It’s not like–when you lose at Candy Land, “Oh, you got stuck in the fudgey thing, baby! Oh well! You’re in the gummy twirlios and you didn’t get to win.” But when she loses at Monopoly, I gotta look at her little face and I go, “OK, so here’s what’s going to happen now, OK? All your property, everything you have, all your railroads, your houses, all your money – that’s mine now. You gotta give it all to me. Give it to me, that’s right. And no–no, you can’t play anymore, see, because even though you’re giving me all of that, it doesn’t even touch how much you owe me. It doesn’t even touch it, baby. You’re going down hard. It’s really bad. All you’ve been working for, all day, I’m going to take it now and I’m going to use it to destroy your sister.
Puschak breaks the joke down to its component parts: establish premise, provide a counterpoint, attack the punchline and then add on the tags, or final jokes after the punchline when the audience is still laughing. But he also does a great job of helping you to notice the other little things Louis does along the way that separate him as a comedian, allowing you to understand a bit better how comedians sculpt jokes.
Louis, for example tucks in small jokes during the setup to get the crowd chuckling before the punchline. He tosses in specific Candy Land visualizations that seem spontaneous but are, in fact, premeditated. He stays in a certain area of the joke when he noticed the crowd laughing (”telling a joke is like riding a wave of feeling,” he says), and he lets the audience see the world again through the eyes of a 6-year-old learning from her empathetic father.
Doing so helps the audience remember how it feels as a young child to learn that the world is unfair, which is much darker than having a comedian remind you of what you already know.
And finally, he tacks on a social commentary about the modern economy that wakes the audience up and brings them back into their adult miseries.
Along the way, Puschak beefs up his argument using past interviews with Louis and Chris Rock, as well as by showing ways a lesser comedian might have told the joke.
The change is small, but, Puschak effectively argues, what differentiates merely good comedians from the best one. Anyway, it’s a good video.