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

Congrats to Alex Forstenhausler 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: Alex Forstenhausler, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher suffers heart attack on a plane

Punch Line: They immediately rushed to give her C3PR.

Alex’s great joke is an example of Punch Line Maker #4: Find a play on words in the topic.

One handle of the topic, “Star Wars,” has as an association “C-3PO.” Another handle of the topic, “heart attack,” has as an association “CPR.” The play on words “C3PR” links those two associations and becomes the basis of the punch line, the laugh trigger.

Alex made his joke its strongest by using Joke Maximizer #1 (Shorten as much as possible) and Joke Maximizer #2 (End on the laugh trigger).

One characteristic of a good joke topic is that it’s something the audience will let you joke about. Is it okay to joke about the heart attack of that beloved actress? I agree with Alex that it is, because (as I write this) Carrie Fisher is in intensive care but still alive. If she had died, I think a mass audience would probably consider the topic unacceptable for humor for a while. But, like much in comedy writing, what’s acceptable is a judgment call.


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.”