So are there really such things as hard sell and soft sell jokes? I believe there are such things. I notice that sometimes a joke does well when I detach myself from it, like a soft sell. Then some bits I have to really commit to make them work. It’s like the difference between a throwaway line and an act out.
A soft sell punch line is something like an “under the breath” type of punch. You say the punch line then you move on without putting much attention to it. Sometimes when a joke doesn’t work, doing it this way can actually give it some laughs. Instead of awkwardly waiting for that laugh, you throw it away like an unwanted baby. For some strange reason, the crowd will pick it up and enjoy it more. Maybe it has something to do with that “I don’t really give a crap” attitude that takes away the pressure and just makes the bit funnier.
On the other hand, some bits really need your commitment to get the crowd to believe in it. It’s your enthusiasm or conviction that carries the joke over to acceptance. It’s almost like preaching. You grab the audience by the balls and tell them how it is. They don’t have any other choice but to join in and laugh.
But how can you tell which bits need to be done in the soft sell or hard sell? I do not have the answer. For me, it’s really just by doing it and trying either way. After doing it so many times, you just get a sense of it.