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

Congrats to Eileen Budd 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: Eileen Budd, Follow her on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Canadian religious leader found guilty of having 25 wives.

Punch Line: In all fairness, that only comes to 19.98 U.S. wives.

Eileen wrote this great joke using Punch Line Maker #1: Link two associations of the topic.

One handle of the topic, “Canadian,” has as an association “Canadian dollar,” which has the sub-association “worth less than a U.S. dollar.” The other handle of the topic, “25 wives,” has as an association “25.”

Eileen’s punch line links those two associations with the idea that 25 Canadian wives would only be worth 19.98 U.S. wives.

Notice how Eileen’s careful choice of words makes her joke as funny as possible. “Comes to” leads the audience to expect a laugh trigger about money, more than, say, “is equivalent to” would. Remember Joke Maximizer #4: “Make everything clear.”

“19.98” is funnier than, say, “16” because it not only suggests money more clearly but also because it’s very specific; Joke Maximizer #9 is “Get specific.”

“19.98” is also more logical than “16”: 25 Canadian dollars do seem like they’d come to about 19.98, not 16, U.S. dollars. I bet Eileen actually looked up the currency exchange rate; I would. If a punch line is logical, the audience will be laughing instead of puzzling over illogical details.

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.”