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Comic timing

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Title: Comic timing  
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Subject: Key frame, High comedy, Documentary comedy, Shock humour, Comedy music
Collection: Comedy, Humor Research
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Comic timing

Comic timing is the use of rhythm, tempo and pausing to enhance comedy and humour. The pacing of the delivery of a joke can have a strong impact on its comedic effect, even altering its meaning; the same can also be true of more physical comedy such as slapstick.

A beat is a pause taken for the purposes of comic timing, often to allow the audience time to recognize the joke and react, or to heighten the suspense before delivery of the expected punch line. Pauses, sometimes called "dramatic pauses" in this context, can be used to discern subtext or even unconscious content — that is, what the speaker is really thinking about. A pause can also be used to heighten a switch in direction. As a speaker talks, we naturally "fill in the blanks" , finishing the expected end of the thought. The pause allows this to happen before the comedian delivers a different outcome, surprising the listener and (hopefully) evoking laughter.

Rowan Atkinson are two other stand-up comedians considered to have superior timing.


  • Some examples 1
    • George Carlin 1.1
    • Rowan Atkinson 1.2
    • Victor Borge 1.3
    • Sacha Baron Cohen 1.4
  • Farce 2
  • Pregnant pause 3

Some examples

George Carlin

Carlin's most famous routine was his "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television", in which much of the humour is derived from a sudden, rapid-fire delivery of the seven words. The remainder of the routine was a mock-scholarly analysis of why these words are not as bad as the world would have us believe. Here, comic timing is used again as Carlin moved from the rapid list to a more reasoned dissection of the words.

Rowan Atkinson

Atkinson is another example of timing in this regard. His "No One Called Jones" routine involves his reading a class roll of students at what we can assume is an exclusive English boarding school. In one version of this routine, each name is a double entendre. In this sort of routine, it is very important to use beats, as simply racing through the list would spoil the effect of many of the jokes.

Victor Borge

Commonly recognized as a master of comic timing, Danish-American comedian beat)...which could be a problem for those of you who have three feet."

Borge, therefore, builds his audience up to the joke, but only delivers the actual punchline when he is fully aware that they are silent and prepared to hear it. His famous "

Sacha Baron Cohen

In Cohen's mockumentary Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, the character Borat is coached on the importance of comic timing. He is to state "That suit is black (pause) NOT!" However, he does it with both no pause, with too long a pause, and even the word "pause."


The farce is another example of comic timing. Here, the humour is derived both from rapid speech and rapid movement — people running into and out of rooms at breakneck speed and managing to cause havoc in the process as done to perfection in the series Fawlty Towers.

Pregnant pause

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