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

Congrats to Diana Saenz 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: Diana Saenz, Follow him on Comedywire

Joe’s comments:

Setup: Dolly Parton makes surprise visit to Tennessee senior center

Punch line: Telling Dolly she was making an appearance was the only way they could get her to her new home.

To write this great joke, Diana might have used Punch Line Maker #3: Ask a question about the topic.

Reading that topic, Diana might have asked the question, “Why did Dolly Parton visit the senior center?” The obvious answer, “To entertain the seniors,” wouldn’t be surprising, so it wouldn’t lead to a joke.

To find a surprising answer to that question that also rings true, Diana brainstormed unexpected-but-true associations of the topic handle “Dolly Parton.” One such association is “old”; she’s 72. “Old” has as one sub-association “live in an old age home,” which became the basis of Diana’s punch line.

To complete the joke, Diana had to write a logical angle that maximizes the surprise of her punch line. An angle/punch line combination like this wouldn’t have quite worked: “Dolly thrilled the seniors when she said she was moving in with them.” That’s because usually elderly people don’t voluntarily move into an old age home; they have to be convinced, or tricked, by other people. Diana’s punch line solves that logic problem.

Celebrities are usually fair game, but is implying that lovable Dolly Parton has dementia too mean? I agree with Diana that it isn’t, because Dolly still seems to be mentally sharp. If Dolly were showing signs of impairment, I think most people wouldn’t accept making jokes about her.

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.”