The science of comedy: The best gags from this year's Fringe

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

What makes a good joke? For Brendon Burns, winner of last year's if.comedy award, it's all about algebra and hang time. (Eh?) If that doesn't raise a chuckle, here's 50 top gags from comedians on this year's Fringe

Stand-up comedy is just some dude with a social disorder professing to be the world's only sane man. And that's what makes comedy interesting. It's a language with a degree of craziness. All the best comics have a twisted world view, and people either feel that they share it or that they don't and maybe they just find it amusing.

Compared with other art forms, comedians have to be interesting to keep people's attention. I was at the Glastonbury Festival this year and some guy in a band announced to the crowd: "Hey. I wasn't going to wear my wellies but then I thought I'd join all of you and wear my wellies. God bless the welly!" Everyone cheered like he was the Second Coming. There's no way we could ever get away with being that banal. You have to entertain people on so many levels.

Click here for the 50 best jokes from this years Fringe

My favourite jokes are when there's a hang time; where the crowd has to consider the target before realising that it's them and their pretensions. The first joke I remember, and the first opening line I ever saw, was by Flip Wilson. It had a massive influence on me.

Wilson was a black American comedian, pre-Pryor and pre-Cosby – the guy they all nodded to for tackling racism before people even called it racism. It was 1980, in Texas, and my folks had snuck me into a dinner-and-show comedy club. Everyone in the club was white, all wearing Stetson hats. Wilson was the only black guy; he was wearing a tux and he had a full band. For his opening line he walked up to his white bandleader and said: "Does your Daddy know you work for a nigger? It'd kill him!"

The entire room killed themselves. At first, they thought he was making fun of the band-leader, then they thought he was making fun of himself – and then they realised that the target was actually each and every one of them. He was the most powerful man in the room, running the show. I was nine years old and I still remember the hang time between him saying it and the laugh. It was so powerful.

My entire show last year was a hoodwink – there was a plant in the audience. I knew that, slowly but surely, I'd be able to create a mob mentality in there. And at the very end, I had the Flip Wilson moment I'd wanted since I was nine years old. You can do that kind of comedy in the UK – people are very comedy-literate.

My other favourite jokes are those that can work on three levels. I like jokes that people can take either at face value, or with a subtext, or which I can tell by pulling a silly face. In a lot of my routines, I'm just venting my spleen and it's funny because it's always at a terribly trivial target. That's the nature of the human psyche. We don't get upset about the world in general, we get irritated by people having loud Walkmans. We get upset about the trivial and silly about the serious.

It's not for nothing that we're sometimes called joke technicians. Comedy is algebra with personality. You only have to look at how many guys in my industry are maths geniuses. That said, my least favourite jokes are those that are just words by numbers, where there's a rhythm and people only laugh because they've already got the punchline. I like jokes where it's left up to the audience. I hate it when comedians complete the algebra: A + B = C. I prefer to say, "A + B ... Go on, you're smarter than that – what does it mean?"

Is there anything you can't write a joke about? Absolutely not. One of my favourites is by Vince Fluke. "So I was watching The Great Dictator with Charlie Chaplin. Turns out I was watching actual footage of Hitler. What the hell was I laughing at?"

I have the label of being offensive. But I'm at the Edinburgh Festival and my show has the tag-line, "Warning! This show may cause offence." If people come and get outraged, I tend to think, 'Don't be ridiculous.'"

I've become a better joke-writer as I've got older. For years after I started out, at 19, I was not a joke technician. I'm a testament to putting the work in. I used to be much more about performance over material before I realised that people are owed jokes. This is comedy, you're a comedian – so tell some jokes. That's the real art and it's the toughest bit of our job. Joke-writing is hard and it takes a long time to learn how to do it. I learnt a lot about it from Adam Bloom – he's a lot more meticulous than me. Ed Byrne is another great guy to learn from. He simply trims the fat. Everyone hails him as the best at cutting to the funny. There's nothing's unnecessary in his routine – no posturing, no pondering, no pretensions.

Have I learnt what doesn't work? No. My strength is that I can have a 20-minute routine appear to me in a flash of inspiration. My weakness is that what is funny to me is often not funny to other people. If it was up to me, I'd just be yelling a word that I was amused by that day over and over again. I'm basically a pretty good joke technician with a terrible sense of humour.

This year, I've written a show that's fun and I have fun doing it. Expectations are up because I won the if.comedy award last year, but they should be up. The show is a love letter to all the punters who have forked out money to buy a ticket to see me over the past 10 years. I just want to make that guy in the second row, with the folded arms, who is a bit grumpy and has had a bad week, laugh like a drain and make him forget about life for a while.

Brendon Burns is at the Assembly Rooms, 8.55pm, to 24 August, except 18 (0131-623 3030)

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions