How does one refer to the first part of a joke?

The follow up is often referred to as a punchline but I'm unsure how to refer to the first part. Is it a 'joke' or does a 'joke' include the punchline?

  • 2
    I usually use the term "run-up". Commented Jul 13, 2012 at 12:22
  • 17
    Related: in a comedy team, the run-up or set-up delivered by a straight-man is called a straightline (which, incidentally, is the shortest distance between two puns). Commented Jul 13, 2012 at 17:34
  • @ChrisCudmore bravo.
    – Joel Anair
    Commented Nov 4, 2014 at 18:23
  • I think "rising action" would be suitable. It's a literary reference and ties into "risible". Of course, that's me projecting where there is established terminology.
    – Paul Rowe
    Commented Dec 9, 2015 at 18:03

2 Answers 2


The first part of the joke is the setup, a general question or observation which offers an opportunity to give the punchline in response.

The joke is the setup and punchline combined, as either on its own is not inherently funny, in contrast to a one-liner. To the setup and punchline may also be added tags, additional punchlines using the same setup, and toppers, additional punchlines which use the entire earlier joke as a setup.

  • 69
    Here's a joke about UDP... Commented Jul 13, 2012 at 14:09
  • 20
    @PatrickMcDonald A handshake for you, good sir
    – Jimmy
    Commented Jul 13, 2012 at 15:53
  • 54
    The best part about UDP jokes is that nobody cares if you get them.
    – Cameron
    Commented Jul 13, 2012 at 16:49
  • 4
    A punchline by itself might be inherently funny if the joke is based on the lack of context (i.e. an orphaned punchline)
    – Gareth
    Commented Jul 15, 2012 at 9:38
  • 6
    I love how this proves that EVERYONE gets sidetracked (from real work at overflow or superuser) by the 'somewhat related but definitely from a different stack exchange site' side panel. Don't get me wrong, though; I love how the next generation of coders will have a substantial appreciation of english and UX!!!
    – lol
    Commented Feb 19, 2014 at 21:15

Set-up is what professional comics/writers call it. Here in the UK some also call it a feedline as opposed to punchline.

  • 14
    I believe 'feedline' is only used of a setup delivered by a different person than the punchline. Commented Jul 13, 2012 at 17:18
  • The setup might be a lot longer than the feedline. The feedline is the line before the punch line (if that makes sense). It is the line off which the punchline can be made. Commented Feb 23 at 0:34

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