Class notes: How-to

How to tell a joke

Daniel Greenstein, BA ’79, Dentist-comedian

Dr. Dan in action:

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Daniel Greenstein (BA '79) sings ACUTENECROTIZING- ULCERATIVEGINGIVITIS, from "The Dr. Dan Show."

For most of us, a visit to the dentist is the stuff of nightmares, but for patients of Daniel Greenstein, it’s like having front row seats at the Laugh Factory. In addition to operating a successful practice in Boca Raton, Fla., Greenstein—aka “Dr. Dan”—is fairly well known in the comedy world. The dentist-comedian began the comedian part of his career in 1989, doing stand-up at local bars. “[It] was a lot cheaper than playing golf or buying a boat. So I thought, ‘This will be my new hobby!’” he recalls.

Since his big break on “America’s Funniest People” in 1992, Greenstein has performed at local and national dental conventions, sold more than 1,000 of his parody song CDs, and landed an interview on NPR’s “All Things Considered.” His routine consists of a combination of parody songs and laugh-out-loud health care jokes, like this one: “I don’t understand why everyone is so nervous when they come to the dentist. I’ve got headphones, nitrous and valium … I’m having a great time!”

We asked for his tips on reeling the audience in with a good joke.

Illustration by Daniel Guidera

How to tell a joke:

Know your audience
What you find funny and what someone else finds funny may be completely different. The trick is to find something that the audience can relate to.

Set them up
Every good joke needs a setup and a punch line that makes the audience howl with laughter. The setup is usually one or two lines that provide the background information needed to understand the reference of the joke. Then you surprise them with the punch line. 

Practice, practice, practice
Jokes don’t always come easily, even to the professionals. Practice in front of the mirror, a friend—heck, even your dog. Some jokes rely on comedic timing, while others rely on the tone.

Then test, test, test
Find an open mic night and test out your material at your local comedy club or bar. Add a little flavor (a dash of wit or a hint of confidence) and keep trying it out until you get it right—or toss it if it’s a lost cause.