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

Congrats to Joe Marchi 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: Joe Marchi, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool to be drained after 80 ducks are found dead.

Punch Line: On the bright side, take away the reflection and it’s only like 40 ducks.

To write this great joke, Joe might have used Punch Line Maker #5: Visualize the topic.

Joe might have visualized what those 80 dead ducks floating in the reflecting pool looked like. Then he might have formed a different perspective on that picture: the reflections of the dead ducks are actually dead ducks. That different perspective became the basis of his punch line.

“On the bright side” is an example of how a strong angle can really set up a punch line effectively. “On the bright side” leads the audience to expect that there’s actually something good about all those dead ducks. Then the punch line arrives and does deliver good news, but the good news rests on really surprising logic. And the more surprising a punch line is, the funnier it is.

A writer could also have used Punch Line Maker #3 on this topic, asked the question “Who killed the ducks?” and answered it with an association of “Lincoln” to come up with a punch line like “Police are investigating the John Wilkes Booth Reflecting Pool.” A fertile topic like this can yield more than one joke.

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.”