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"A punchline should be equated to an actual punch in the face. That's why it's called a punch-line. You deliver it and run. You do not hang around explaining how you did the punch and that the recipient should probably be in a lot of pain now."
Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw

That which ends the joke and makes it funny. This is where dodgy Sitcoms cue the Laugh Track. And kitschy comedians get the rimshot. And bad puns get the Collective Groan. In other words, it's the comedy equivalent of a Wham Line: the surprising payoff to the Straight Man's setup.

Punchline-related Subtropes include:

  • Brick Joke: The setup is made, then the show moves along, then much later the punch line is dropped unexpectedly.
  • Escalating Punchline: The punch line keeps on being extended to heighten the comic effect.
  • Feghoot: The setup is a convoluted story that exists only to set up the punchline of an elaborate pun.
  • Late to the Punchline: It takes the hearer a long time to figure out the point, but they get it eventually.
  • One-Two Punchline: A comic strip finishes with more than one punch line.
  • Orphaned Punchline: The punch line appears without the rest of the joke.
  • Orphaned Setup: The rest of the joke appears without the punch line.
  • Subverted Punchline: The joke appears to be setting up one punchline but then goes for another.
  • Stealth Pun: The punchline is left for you to figure out on your own, maybe when you're getting something from the fridge.
  • The Triple: In a common joke formula, the punchline appears as the third item on a list.

If somebody Cannot Tell a Joke, this is the part they're most likely to forget.note  When it works, however, it's responsible for a very good many Funny Moments.

See also Stock Jokes for all those punch lines you've heard a million times.

Compare and contrast with its dramatic cousin, the Wham Line. Also contrast Anti-Humor, which purposely avoids using punch lines.

Not to be confused with the 1988 film starring Sally Field and Tom Hanks, or the 2015 anime, or the web series The Punchline.


Anime and Manga

Live-Action TV

  • Generally averted in Monty Python's Flying Circus. The Pythons observed that very funny sketches in other shows were often let down by a poor punchline. Their solution? Don't write punchlines at all. It may seem obvious now, but at the time it was nothing short of revolutionary. They usually offered a segue into the next sketch instead, though a few sketches made fun of such punchlines. The restaurant sketch with the dirty fork is an example of the latter, where the cheesiness of the punchline (which is marked by a title card saying 'And now for the punchline' and was "Luckily I didn't tell him about the dirty knife.") is shown to ruin the humour of the sketch. When a later sketch is ended by a policeman who tries to arrest everyone for making a strange sketch, another policeman then enters and tries to arrest everyone else for trying to get out of the sketch without a punchline.
    Inspector Thompson's Gazelle of the Yard: And this is the cruncher: offences against the 'Getting out of sketches without using a proper punchline' act! Namely, simply ending every bleeding sketch by just having a policeman come in, and... Wait a minute... **Another policeman enters and arrests him**
    • In a particularly Zigzagging example of this trope, a rather long winded sketch about a door to door practical joke salesman ends with the salesman whispering "do the punchline". The actor is understandably confused and speaks to the producer to check if they are scheduled for a punchline. The producer pulls out a script, bursts out laughing at the punchline...and then drives off without telling either the actor or the audience. So the lack of punchline about a punchline about a lack of punchline was itself a punchline.
    • Big lampshade is hung in the Not-Quite-Rude Chemist sketch (Customer: "I'd like some after shave, please." Chemist: "Certainly, sir. Walk this way." Customer: "If I could walk that way, I wouldn't need after shave." (Policeman enters and hauls the customer off)
    • They did occasionally do a conventional punchline if they thought of one that worked well. The Nudge, Nudge sketch is a good example.
  • Another subversion was A Bit of Fry and Laurie:
    • In one memorable sketch, Hugh Laurie stopped in the middle to protest that this was one of those sketches where Stephen's role just got sillier until there was no way to end things properly, and it was just abandoned. Stephen protested that of course there was a proper end to the sketch, and he'd go and get the script to prove it. After a few seconds, Hugh realised he wasn't coming back.
    • A Bit of Fry and Laurie ended another sketch by having all the characters walk out of a boardroom after Hugh upsets a 'foreign' woman by saying English words that just happen to be offensive words in her language. Then having the shot lingering on the empty set and surrounding studio while a caption made various remarks such as "Rooms spend most their time empty don't they?". At one point a mysterious nude man walked past in gloom at the back of the studio. The characters did eventually come back but only for a huge fight to kick off.
    • They were quite fond of this kind of thing. One sketch ended with Fry asking "What do you think?" as part of the sketch, to which Laurie replied by giving a critique of the way Fry had written the sketch.
    • Another Fry and Laurie sketch paused in the middle for a "contest" where viewers could phone in their suggestions for the punch line, with the winning entry being performed at the end.
  • Similarly, The Kids in the Hall sketch "Comedy Inc", in which a comedy writer's boss chews him out for writing bad sketches like "Comedy Inc", ends with a long pause, after which the boss asks the writer, "You forgot to write an ending, didn't you?"
  • The Fast Show`s core concept is an inversion of the Python type approach, instead being practically all punchlines with very little lead-up. This was also sometimes used by Not the Nine O'Clock News and its Spiritual Successors, but interspersed in between more conventional sketches.
  • Six episodes in Series 10 of Nevermind The Buzzcocks (aired in early 2002) had Mark reading off a punchline in the beginning of each episode (before guest introductions) and telling the full joke later during the show. The full list (highlight to read the full joke):
    • Buddy Holly only decided to take his fatal plane trip in order to get the band's laundry done. When The Crickets arrived at the gig, the manager broke the bad news to them: "Sorry lads, you've got no clean pants. Oh, and, uh, four eyes is dead."
    • Macy Gray used to work in a photocopying shop. She says that Posh Spice was the only person who could photocopy her ass with the lid down.
    • Jon Bon Jovi is scheduled to appear alongside Charlotte Church at the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympics (in Salt Lake City). If you just tune in to see whether's she grown up, now she's 16, the proof will be if she asks for two carrots with the snowman. (although he announced it as "Wonder if she asks for two carrots with the snowman.")
    • "Bob the Builder" has such a cult following that many celebrities have taken roles in the show. Chris Evans had a smaller part in "Bob The Builder" and an even smaller part in "Billie the Piper".
    • Top Loader are one of Jamie Oliver's favorite bands and featured on Jamie's album, "Cooking: Music To Cook By". I'm releasing my own compilation called "Punching Chefs: Music To Punch Chefs By". The first single's gonna be "Hey Fatty Tom-Tom".
    • Seal used to have a job putting up prostitute's cards in phone boxes. Annoyingly for him, someone always came round straight after and took them down. I say someone. Jamie Theakston, of course. (He announced it as "I say someone. It's Theakston.")
  • Frasier: Not just the typical sitcom kind, but on a large scale as well. Many episodes are built entirely to set up the last scene as one big payoff, typically in the form of Frasier's grandiose speeches coming out all wrong.


  • In P.D.Q. Bach's choral cantata "Knock, Knock," punchlines are sung by the chorus after the setup has been delivered in recitative.

Standup Comedy

  • Alexei Sayle aborted one of his walking monologues by saying "It strikes me that..." and then suddenly being punched off screen.


Real Life

  • Orange you glad I didn't say banana?
  • One of the best known examples of a punchline, "To get to the other side!", is actually meant to be an example of Anti-Humor. Few people realize it now, but it was a subversion of older iterations of the joke. Most people hear it before they are old enough to have come to expect the typical conventions of a joke (like a punch line), so the joke is simply unfunny.

Ba-dum TSHH!