Former Head Writer of the Tonight Show Picks His Joke of the Week

Oct 29, 2018 · 2 min read

Congrats to Matthew Hall for winning this week’s joke pick!

Pro comedy writer Joe Toplyn, Former head-writer of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman, picks his joke of the week:

Winner: Matthew Hall, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Man whose farts ended police interview pleads guilty

Punch line: He had the right to remain silent…but deadly.

To write this great joke, Matthew used Punch Line Maker #1: Link two associations of the topic.

One handle of the topic — one element of the topic that grabs your attention — is “fart.” “Fart” is associated with a phrase that describes one of its varieties, “silent but deadly.”

Another handle of the topic is the inappropriate occasion for the flatulence, “police interview,” which is associated with the Miranda warning statement “You have the right to remain silent.”

Matthew linked those two associations of the topic by grafting them together at the word “silent,” creating his punch line.

Notice that if he had wanted to, Matthew could have added an angle to his joke, which might have led to a finished joke like “Apparently he thought he had the right to remain silent…but deadly.”

Adding an angle usually helps to set up the audience better for the surprise of a punch line, but always makes a joke longer. And Joke Maximizer #1 is “Shorten as much as possible.” So did Matthew maximize the laugh potential of his joke by leaving off an angle? It’s a judgment call, but I think so.

Four-time Emmy winner Joe Toplyn is a former head writer for David Letterman and Jay Leno. He also wrote the book “Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV.”

Written by

The world's largest writers' room devoted to humor. We connect funny writers with major companies that need their talents. Sign up at

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade