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

Congrats to Chip Fenwick 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: Chip Fenwick, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Ronald Reagan Hologram Unveiled At Museum Dedicated To Him

Punch line: He’s there, but he’s not really all there… just like when he was President.

To write this great joke, Chip could have used Punch Line Maker #1: Link two associations of the topic.

One handle of the topic, “hologram,” has the association “not really there.” The other handle of the topic, “Ronald Reagan,” is associated with Alzheimer’s Disease, which has the sub-association “not all there.”

Chip’s punch line links “not really there” and “not all there,” expressing the idea that Reagan was “not really all there” when he was President.

Notice that Chip decided that his audience would be willing to agree that Reagan was mentally unsound when he was in office. Even though the fact-checking website Snopes says that that claim is unproven, I agree with Chip that a general audience would accept it enough to get the joke.

Chip also decided that “when he was President” is the most surprising part of the punch line, which is why he put it at the end; Joke Maximizer #2 is “End on the laugh trigger.”

But he could just as easily have decided that “not really all there” is the most surprising part and worded the punch line like this: “So just like when he was President, he’s there, but he’s not really all there.”

Sometimes it’s not clear what the best laugh trigger is. In that case you just make a judgment call and pick the one that seems to work the best.

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.”