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A joke uses words within a specific and well-defined narrative structure to make people laugh. It takes the form of a story, usually with dialogue, and ends in a punch line. It is in the punch line that the audience becomes aware that the story contains a second, conflicting meaning. This can be done using a pun or other word play, a logical incompatibility, nonsense or other means. A linguist, Robert Hetzron, offers this definition:

"A joke is a short humorous piece of oral literature in which the funniness culminates in the final sentence, called the punchline… In fact, the main condition is that the tension should reach its highest level at the very end. No continuation relieving the tension should be added. As for its being "oral," it is true that jokes may appear printed, but when further transferred, there is no obligation to reproduce the text verbatim, as in the case of poetry."<ref></ref>

A good joke is succinct, containing no more detail than is needed to set the scene for the punchline at the end. In the case of riddle jokes or one-liners the setting is implicitly understood, leaving only the dialogue and punchline to be verbalized. Identified as one of the simple forms of oral literature by the Dutch linguist André Jolles,<ref></ref> jokes are passed along anonymously. They are told in both private and public settings; a single person tells a joke to his friend in the natural flow of conversation, or a set of jokes is told to a group as part of scripted entertainment. Jokes are also passed along in written form or—more recently—through electronic messaging systems. Internet joking has indeed become a major method of transmission. Either as written narratives or graphic cartoons, jokes are sent through email to friends and acquaintances; individuals joking with each other in a physical space have been replaced here by electronic social groups. This correlates with the new understanding of the internet as an "active folkloric space" with evolving social and cultural forces and clearly identifiable performers and audiences.<ref></ref> Along with individual transmission of jokes to email contacts, internet services are also available to provide a fresh joke-a-day to your email inbox or archive joke collections on electronic bulletin boards.

Jokes are a form of humour, but not all humour is a joke. Some humorous forms which are not jokes are: involuntary humour, situational humour, practical jokes, stand-up comedy, anecdotes, Charlie Chaplin. All of these are humorous, but none of them is a verbal joke. The Shaggy dog story is in a class of its own as an anti-joke; although presenting as a joke, it contains a long drawn-out narrative of time, place and character, rambles through many pointless inclusions and finally fails to deliver a punchline. Also, humour which is generated through performance can be funny but is not considered a joke. For the joke by definition contains the humour in the words (usually the punchline), not in the delivery. Stand-up comics, comedians and slapstick work with comic timing, precision and rhythm in their performance, relying as much on actions as on the verbal punchline to evoke laughter. This distinction has been formulated in the popular saying "A comic says funny things; a comedian says things funny".<ref group=note>Generally attributed to Ed Wynn</ref> This article concerns itself only with verbal jokes, leaving performance comedy aside.

Joke sections
Intro   Telling jokes    Printed jokes and the solitary laugh    Electronic joking    Joke cycles    Classification systems    Joke and humour research   See also  Notes  Footnotes  References  

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