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

Congrats to Peter Yatteau 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: Peter Yatteau, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Nicolas Cage Is Reportedly Quitting Acting in Three or Four Years

Punch line: I didn’t know he started.

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

One handle of the topic, “Nicolas Cage,” is often associated with “no acting ability.” Sure, he won a Best Actor Oscar for “Leaving Las Vegas,” but that was over 20 years ago and most people would probably accept the idea that he’s done a lot of crummy work since then.

The other handle of the topic, “quitting acting,” has the association “no acting.” Peter’s punch line links those two associations of the two handles.

A rough draft of that punch line might have been something like this: “That’s weird. How can he quit acting when he was never able to act in the first place?” To make that punch line as funny as possible, you would edit it using the Joke Maximizers.

Using Joke Maximizer #1 — Shorten as much as possible — and Joke Maximizer #11 — Don’t be too on-the-nose — would transform that rough draft into a punch line like “That’s weird. I didn’t know he started.”

Peter shortened the punch line even further by leaving out an angle like “That’s weird.” Leaving out the angle is fine here, because whoever delivers the joke can convey the attitude of the angle with a puzzled facial expression.

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.”