He set the joke up by saying “I love that everybody’s drinking, having a good time? This is beautiful.” That signals the upcoming topic: “You know that Donald Trump doesn’t drink, right? Does not touch alcohol. Which is oddly respectable. But think about that? [short pause]. That means –” and here he critically pauses for four seconds, to let the joke build with the audience, so that they’ve already begun to laugh before he gets to the payoff: “every statement, every interview, every tweet — completely sober.”
He pauses with every two words here, and barely raises his emphasis or pace for the punchline. And then he’s back to his normal style.
But in that four-second pause Minhaj confronted a public speaker’s greatest fear: a silent room. The great Bob Newhart once said: “Jack Benny was, without a doubt, the bravest comedian I have ever seen work. He wasn’t afraid of silence. He would take as long as it took to tell the story.”
Newhart himself was a master at making silence work — just listen to one of his old telephone skits on Youtube. Try this one.
If you’re giving a speech, say at a work farewell or a wedding, try to build in a bit of silence. It takes confidence but also conveys it.