Punchlines: You’re Being Set Up For The Unexpected #IndustryTips


Rappers are celebrated for their ability to ‘spit bars’, with punchline rap making the distinction between good rappers and great rappers. Punchlines, whether they’re delivered in a melodic or rap style showcase how well the artist can take two seemingly unrelated topics, people, or events and bring them together in a new twist.

Admittedly not all rappers are created equal. From witty oneliners to intricate double entendres there is so much we can learn from this art form than just the entertainment value it first appears to hold. But what is that and how can artists and other creatives take this highly developed skill to new levels?

Punchlines are everywhere. The punchline to a funny joke can be spun into a punchline for a rap bar and vice versa. Not only are punchlines found in music, they are the premise of what makes a joke funny and are commonly used in advertising and marketing too. Think about the bar Steve Jobs’ used as a response to the Sony Walkman and its limited feature of playing one CD at a time. He literally slammed the once popular device making it obsolete with one battle rap style statement when he introduced the iPod as, “one thousand songs in your pocket.” Bars!

So what makes a punchline work, and how can we use succinct bars to deliver sophisticated messages?

To work effectively your message needs:

• A set up: a statement or premise
• A punchline: an unpredictable twist

Using captivating titles like, ‘Choice, happiness and spaghetti sauce’, and shedding new light on the story of David and Goliath to make it obvious why David was always the clear winner, one of my favourite authors Malcolm Gladwell has been able to create clever and sometimes quirky analogies to bring about new perspectives. Named as one of the 100 most influential people by Time magazine, he is a thought leader in his field revolutionising psychology and sociology with his unrivalled ability to make associations between things like the rise in popularity of Hush Puppies shoes in the mid-1990s and the steep drop in New York City’s crime rate after 1990.

“If you can write a rhyme, you can write a script.” – John Singleton

Fashion designers, filmmakers, and even architects, also demonstrate a similar skill by creating a narrative around their work to present metaphors that allow us to see the world through fresh eyes, with their completed work ultimately becoming the punchline.

Comedians have a set up before the punchline bringing about an unexpected twist to make a joke funny. Advertisers do this through the clever use of slogans. Whilst rappers deliver hard bars. How are you delivering punchlines in your work to take your craft to the next level?


• Make new connections
Create memorable punchlines
Change people’s perceptions

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