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

Congrats to Brady Alland 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: Brady Alland, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Kit Kat Trademark Ruling: Candymaker Can’t Own a Shape

Punch line: The company released a statement saying, “Give me a break.”

One method Brady might have used to write this great joke is Punch Line Maker #1: Link two associations of the topic.

One handle of the topic is the candy “Kit Kat,” which is associated with the song from its commercial that has the lyric “Give me a break.”

Another handle of the topic is something like “bad news,” which is associated with things you might say when you get bad news, like “Give me a break.” Brady’s punch line uses the lyric to link the company to the idea of bad news.

Notice that if Brady had left out the angle — “The company released a statement saying…” — the joke wouldn’t have worked as well. Anyone who heard that setup and then only the words “Give me a break” might realize that the phrase has two meanings, but that realization alone probably wouldn’t be enough to prompt a laugh.

To prompt a laugh, a punch line has to be something incongruous that suddenly turns out to make sense. Brady’s angle leads to this incongruity: the company released a formal statement, but the wording of the statement is oddly informal. Why is that? Oh, the audience suddenly realizes, the informal wording makes sense because that’s a line from their song. And they laugh.

So don’t leave your jokes unfinished; add an effective angle.

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.”