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

Congrats to Sam Gregory 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: Sam Gregory, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Mum accidentally fed her kids pet food after she filled their school lunch box with dog biscuits.

Punch Line: That was for lunch. For dinner they ate their homework.

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

One handle of the topic, “kids,” has the association “school,” which has the sub-association “homework.”

Another handle of the topic, “dog biscuits,” has the association “things dogs eat” and the sub-association “kids’ homework.” (“My dog ate my homework” is, of course, a classic excuse that kids give their teachers.)

Sam’s punch line links “kids” with “dog biscuits” by using the “homework” connection, implying that the kids continued eating the way dogs do in a surprising way.

Notice that the topic Sam was presented with is pretty long, with a lot of elements. That means the joke could potentially go off in a lot of different directions. But Sam made sure his audience all went in the same direction by writing the angle “That was for lunch. For dinner…” That angle clearly leads the audience to expect a punch line about what the kids ate next, and that clarity helps maximize the laugh. (Joke Maximizer #4: Make everything clear.)

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.”