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

Congrats to John Mahone 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: John Mahone, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: ESPN Says New Streaming Service, ‘ESPN+,’ Will Launch April 12

Punch line: It combines the excitement of Saturday afternoon TV with the thrill of wondering if what you’re watching is actually a sport.

To write this great joke, John might have used Punch Line Maker #3: Ask a question about the topic. One question that the topic suggests is: “How will ESPN+ differ from ESPN?”

To answer that question, John thought about the topic handle “ESPN+” and brainstormed associations for it. The association he focused on was “less-popular sports.” Remembering Joke Maximizer #8 — “Wildly exaggerate” — he then transformed “less-popular sports,” into “not actually sports,” and based his punch line on that idea.

John also set up his punch line very effectively by writing an angle that captures the rah-rah excitement of a typical ESPN announcement. As a result, the angle strongly misdirects the audience and makes the punch line more surprising and, therefore, funnier.

To see how much John’s angle adds to the joke, here’s a version that’s less funny because it has basically the same punch line but a weaker angle: “It’s just like ESPN, but with no actual sports.”

And here’s an angle/punch line combination that’s even more bare-bones and therefore even less funny: “But it doesn’t have any actual sports.”

So to maximize the laugh, misdirect the audience with a solid angle.

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.”