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

Congrats to Jake Jacobson 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: Jake Jacobson, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Professor says algebra and geometry perpetuate white privilege.

Punch Line: From here on in, students will solve for Malcolm X.

Jake turned to Punch Line Maker #1 — Link two associations of the topic — to write this great joke.

The two topic handles he focused on are “algebra” and “white privilege.” The former has the association “x,” the classic variable. The latter has the association “racial issues,” which has a sub-association “Malcolm X.” Jake’s punch line links the associations “x” and “Malcolm X.”

But Jake didn’t just stop there and leave his punch line as something like, “Instead of x, Malcolm X.” That punch line would have been too out-of-nowhere for the audience, hurting the laugh.

Instead he set up his punch line with the angle “From here on in, students will solve for…” That angle makes the joke much more effective because it directs the audience logically from the topic to the punch line: the topic tells how the professor identified a problem, and the angle and punch line tell the (surprising) step she took as a result. The audience isn’t puzzled because the punch line has a clear context.

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.”

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