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

Congrats to Nathan Cowley 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: Nathan Cowley, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Lunch ladies charged in half-million dollar scam

Punch line: I knew $5,000 was too much for tater tots.

Nathan used Punch Line Maker #1 — Link two associations of the topic — to write this great joke.

One handle of the topic, “lunch ladies,” has the association “school lunch items,” which has the sub-association “tater tots.” Another handle of the topic, “half-million dollar,” has the association “a lot of money.” Nathan linked those two associations with a punch line about really expensive tater tots.

He maximized the comedy impact of his punch line by keeping it short and putting the laugh trigger, “tater tots,” at the very end.

Why did Nathan choose tater tots for the school lunch item? Why not, say, cheese ravioli? Maybe because Joke Maximizer #7 advises “Use stop consonants, alliteration, and assonance.” And “tater tots” features alliteration and four stop consonants — four Ts — in only three syllables.

Notice that Nathan could have worded his punch line something like “Apparently they were charging $5,000 for tater tots.” But he exploited the Superiority Theory of Laughter to get a slightly bigger laugh.

Not to get too theoretical, but the Superiority Theory of Laughter says that we laugh when we suddenly feel superior to someone else. Nathan’s version of the joke allows the audience to feel suddenly superior to an idiot who paid $5,000 for tater tots.

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.”