Comedy writing: where do all those jokes come from?

Seriously, how does one practice comedy writing?

comedy writing

Publicity photo of the cast of the television program The Tonight Show as it prepared to celebrate 1963 with its new host, Johnny Carson. CC BY 2.0/Wikimedia

If you’re in a creative line of work, you’ve probably already realized that everyone gets to where they are a little differently. With some luck, a few connections and some serious effort, you can not only improve in your chosen field (even something as difficult as comedy writing), but even achieve dreams that some would call a little too wild.

For example, a friend of Bob Alper, we’ll call him Joe (since that’s his name) had a long-time dream of writing for The Tonight Show, specifically under Jay Leno. He loved to write and was employed as an advertising copywriter. Every morning he retreated to his home office and wrote jokes for radio hosts, and once in a while, for comedians.

What’s the process?

Joe and Bob walk into a diner …

… where they have a nice lunch while Bob performs a bit of his comedy — quietly, of course — after which Joe takes the themes of Bob’s comedy and comes up with about a dozen jokes. After a trial by fire at a comedy club, successful jokes net Joe $10 each.

Joe continued to write for Bob and other comedians, until the fateful day that Leno came to town. A few special connections allowed for a lucky opportunity: Joe’s material was placed in an envelope in Jay Leno’s dressing room. Leno loved Joe’s work.

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