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

Congrats to Brett Anders 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: Brett Anders, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: This Dog Couldn’t Close His Mouth, So He Got Braces

Punch line: Finally, a situation where a dog’s bite was literally worse than his bark.

Brett might have used Punch Line Maker #1 — Link two associations of the topic — to write this great joke.

One handle of the topic, “dog,” has as one association “bark.” The other handle of the topic, “braces,” has as one association “bite,” in the dentistry sense of “the relation between tooth surfaces when they’re in contact.”

Brett linked those two associations, “bark” and “bite,” through the idiom “his bark is worse than his bite.” Brett modified that idiom to fit the facts of the topic and made the result his punch line.

Notice that Brett’s punch line incorporates some wordplay because “bite,” as used in the original idiom, has the different meaning of “the act of biting into something.” That wordplay adds a little extra surprise, and funniness, to the punch line. So you might wonder why the joke doesn’t end on “bite.”

Brett apparently concluded — correctly, I think — that to put “bite” at the end would have hurt the joke too much. The wording would have been something like this: “Apparently the dog’s bark was not in fact worse than his bite.” Something about the double negative of “not…worse” makes that alternative punch line confusing. And Joke Maximizer #4 says to “Make everything clear.”

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.”