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

Congrats to Chris Ballard 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: Chris Ballard, Follow her on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Amazon is now worth $1,000,000,000,000.

Punch line: Or from $500,000,000,000 used — click to see all buying options.

To write this great joke, Chris used Punch Line Maker #1: Link two associations of the topic. This topic is so short that the two handles are immediately obvious — “Amazon” and “$1,000,000,000,000.”

Among many other associations, “Amazon” is associated with that notification that you’ll often see under the price of a book listed on Amazon. For example, the notification for my book is “More Buying Choices, $18.86 (42 used & new offers).”

The other handle of the topic, “$1,000,000,000,000” is, like any handle, associated with itself. Chris linked the Amazon price notification to “$1,000,000,000,000” by rewording a standard Amazon price notification to reflect a cover price of $1,000,000,000,000. And that rewording became his punch line.

But notice that Chris didn’t use the exact wording of a typical price notification, which would have resulted in a punch line like “More Buying Choices, $500,000,000,000 (42 used & new offers).” That punch line wouldn’t have flowed smoothly from the topic, so it would have been confusing. And Joke Maximizer #4 is “Make everything clear.”

Instead, Chris adjusted the wording of his punch line to make it flow smoothly from the topic. But he kept enough key elements of a real price notification — like the words “used” and “buying” — so that the audience was sure to make the surprising connection that gets the laugh.

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.”