I’m sure we’ve all heard someone say “Boy, that was an old joke!”. But I have found that the person who usually says that is the person who laughed the hardest at that line. I am a believer that there is no such thing as a corny, old joke. It’s just in the way the line or material is presented.
I have heard some of the biggest stars in ventrilodom use lines that were old and came from Vaudeville days. Why was it still useable? They updated the joke and knew how to present it! Just to babble out a string of unrelated older material will get the performer no where. It sounds like the vent in question just had a collection of joke books and took random jokes to put together a patchwork routine. The real artist knows how to blend new material into a routine with older stuff to form a great new show. It’s the theory of “hitching up old horses to new wagons”. The “old horses” can still pull the wagon quite well, if handled properly.
Before you work on a routine, have a road map of where you want to go. Know your character so that the map makes sense. Then do what is called “comedy mapping” wherein you put the subject of the routine in the center of a circle then offshoot ideas off the center circle to have a natural progression of where you want to take the routine. If you find an appropriate older joke that fits in the mapping, don’t be afraid to use it. You may have to modify the joke a bit to make it work correctly but you will learn how to do that when you start performing and polishing the material. If the joke is about a dog and you use some other character, with a little adapting you might be able to make the switch and make it fit nicely.
Comedy is a trial-and-error work in progress project.. Experiment but don’t let the “old joke” bugaboo throw you off. If you need any further advice check out my “Comedy Writing For Kidshows audio book, available here at Maher.as the ideas in it are good for adult shows as well as children.
When someone says that’s an old joke, smile and know they really mean “audience tested”.
To contact Mark Wade- firstname.lastname@example.org