Jokes are a form of verbal humor, including one-liners, riddles, and other things that make us laugh; but the joke is also a form — a funny, made-up story with a punchline told by one person. It is distinguished from an anecdote, which may be a funny story and have a punchline, but is about a real or true incident. Because it is a form of story, it has some of the attributes of a story, such as a beginning, middle, and end. The beginning is the set-up. While the setting, mood, and tone of, say, a short story or novel are established over time, these elements are often compressed into as little as a single sentence in a joke.
Some jokes, like the type invoked by the last set-up sentence above, are only two sentences — the first sets up the story, and the second delivers the punch line. This is the most compact kind. Notice that the question is only formal here — a real answer is not expected, and in most cases, cannot be given.
This distinguishes this form of humor from a riddle in two ways. First, the input of another person is crucial to the riddle form, while it is not in this kind of joke. Second, in a riddle, the question is specifically constructed to be answerable by a clever guesser, but in a joke of this sort, the question is functioning as the set-up and not intended to give too many clues to what is to come. Here’s an example:
Notice that there is not sufficient information in the question for anybody to guess the response. Instead, the question sets the scene and mood: it creates tension by suggesting a dramatic and dangerous topic, and then undermines the tension with a ridiculous response. This helps us to understand this example as a joke, rather than as a riddle.
There are certain categories of jokes that have many, many examples. Others include those about computers, blondes, lawyers, the army, off-color jokes, and those about certain instrumentalists — notably violists, banjo players, and drummers.