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

Congrats to Jeremiah Ortega 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: Jeremiah Ortega, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Kale recalled in 34 states after being mislabeled

Punch line: It was mislabeled as being edible.

To write this great joke, Jeremiah might have used Punch Line Maker #3: Ask a question about the topic.

One “5 Ws and an H” question that the topic suggests is, “How was it mislabeled?” Jeremiah answered that question by brainstorming associations of the topic handle “kale.” The association he chose — that kale is inedible — works as a punch line because it’s surprising and most people would probably accept it as true in the context of a joke. I know I would, even though I don’t think I’ve ever eaten kale.

Notice that when you use Punch Line Maker #3, writing the all-important angle for the joke is easy; you just rephrase the question you asked about the topic as a statement. So “How was it mislabeled?” becomes “It was mislabeled as…”

Jeremiah was careful to use Joke Maximizer #4: Make everything clear. For example, the alternative punch line “It was labeled as being edible” means the same thing as Jeremiah’s punch line but would have been slightly harder to process. And the harder it is for an audience to process a joke, the less they’ll 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.”