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

Congrats to S.J. Newman 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: S.J. Newman, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Trump says he’s been too busy to get Melania a birthday present

Punch line: Too busy to be with Melania is the birthday present.

S. J. might have used Punch Line Maker #3 to write this great joke. That’s the one where you start by asking a question about the topic.

One question that the topic invites is “What present would Melania like?” To find a surprising but true answer to that question, S. J. focused on one handle of the topic: “Trump too busy.”

“Trump too busy” is associated with the idea of “he can’t be with Melania,” which in turn is associated with the idea that Melania would like that, given the many reports in the media about their strained relationship. So the idea that Melania would like the present of Trump’s absence became the basis of the punch line.

Usually a joke benefits from having an angle, which helps misdirect the audience and make the laugh bigger. But S. J. didn’t lead into his punch line with an angle like, “But Melania is okay with that.”

Instead, he left the angle out so that he could take full advantage of Joke Maximizer #6: Make the punch line parallel. He worded his punch line to copy the structure of the preceding sentence, the topic, as closely as possible, which is another way to make the punch line more surprising and, therefore, funnier.

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.”