No, this isn’t a joke. Flash fiction and stand-up comedy have a great deal in common. For starters, both forms are compact surprises. How do they do this? It’s all in the set-up, the delivery, and the punch. Let’s look at each in turn…
The Set-up answers the 5 W’s: Who, What, When, Where, Why, How. The set-up happens quickly, often in only a few sentences (unless the whole story is only a few sentences). Sometimes one of the W’s is not stated directly but only through implication. The “How” or “Why” may even be left out completely although it is a good idea to include at least one of these to help ground the reader. The inclusion of either a “How” or “Why” is especially important when the narrative starts after point of change.
The first similarity that probably came to mind was probably brevity. After all, space is at a premium in both flash fiction and stand-up comedy. That’s true but how do these writers follow the “less is more” axiom while still making the story memorable? Sparse details and structure. Careful choice of nouns and verbs can form a painting rather than a sketch. Structure organizes the information for the reader or listener, making the narrative memorable and easy to understand. Rarely is the point of the delivery to totally confuse the audience!
The punch is the climax and usually the most memorable part. The punch sticks with the audience for two reasons: it is short and it is sweet. In both flash fiction and stand-up comedy, the punch is often only one or two sentences. The punch is “sweet” because it often surprises the reader, often providing a twist that overturns the reader’s expectations and makes them think of things in another light. Often the punch is emotionally charged
Of course there are differences. For one thing, flash fiction can end unresolved. For another, jokes are supposed to be funny while flash fiction is seldom funny.. But there are plenty of similarities in the set-up, the delivery, and the punch. And both types of writer have my great respect. So rock on, flash fiction writers and comedians!