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

Congrats to Phil Smith 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: Phil Smith, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Smoking Weed Might Be Drying Up Your Vagina

Punch line: I think you might be smoking it wrong.

To write this great joke, Phil may have employed one of the less-often-used techniques in a joke writer’s tool kit, Punch Line Maker #5 — Visualize the topic.

To do that, Phil would have started by forming a mental picture of the topic. One way to do that would be to imagine a naked woman smoking a joint and looking questioningly at her vagina. Hey, if the topic is weird, the mental picture is bound to be weird, too.

The next step would be to change some aspect of that mental picture in an exaggerated or otherwise surprising way. In this case, Phil apparently changed his mental picture by imagining the woman smoking the joint not with her mouth but with the other body part mentioned in the topic. And that different perspective on his original mental picture became the basis of his punch line.

Notice that Phil didn’t just write a punch line like “So don’t smoke weed with your vagina.” Yes, the shock effect of such a blunt joke helps to make it funny, but to make it even funnier, Phil used Joke Maximizer #11: Don’t be too on-the-nose. By not stating his punch line directly, Phil lets the audience form the unusual mental image themselves, which adds to its surprise.

As a side benefit, the off-the-nose punch line also makes the joke acceptable to a somewhat wider audience.

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.”