How To Write A Monologue Joke

Nite Show logo 3Happy Tuesday, Modern Philosophers.

I’ve been hard at work writing monologue jokes for tomorrow night’s taping of The Nite Show With Danny Cashman.

I know a lot of you are curious about my process for writing for a popular late night TV show, so I thought I’d share some tips on how to write a monologue joke.

Remember, while this process works for me, it may not be for everyone.

Study the list of suggested joke topics supplied by the host.   Danny gets us started with a list of topics that he refers to as “Thought Starters”.  If the host gives you ideas he’d like used, the smart move is to use his ideas.  After all, he’s going to pick the jokes that make it onto the air, so why not stack the odds in your favor by writing about subjects that clearly appeal to him?

Think of the best joke you can for that topic.  Once you’ve picked a topic off of the host’s list, do some mental writing.  I always find that the first joke that pops into my head is going to be the best one.  I truly believe that writers have “a gut” just like detectives do.  Go with your gut and write the joke that came to you first.

Write 1It’s the host’s show, so write the best joke that he’d like for the topic.  Even if you write the funniest joke ever conceived for a particular topic, it might not make it onto the air if the person who is going to tell the joke doesn’t like it.  Or thinks it’s not written in his voice.  Or worries that it might be too controversial.  So get into the host’s head, push aside all the cobwebs, maybe turn on a light or two up there, and then write the best joke you can in his voice.

But wait, didn’t he hire you because he likes the way you write jokes?  There’s the rub, Modern Philosophers.  Were you hired to write jokes in your voice, or the host’s voice?  Ponder on that one for a moment.  Maybe get yourself a Snapple.  Check your email.  Really let the Deep Thoughts simmer for a while in your head.  This isn’t a step that can be rushed.

Maybe try to write a hybrid version of the joke that combines your writing style with the host’s voice.  Sure, that sounds difficult, but you’re a writer for a TV show.  You didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.  Do it.  Make it happen.  If you can’t handle a little challenge like this, maybe you don’t belong working on late night TV!

Realize that hybrid jokes are stupid and have no place on television.  Who’s stupid idea was it to write a joke that combined your voice with that of the host?  Are you a moron?  You can’t do that.  Sure, people are half asleep while they’re watching late night TV, but some of them actually DVR the show and watch it when they’re wide awake.  You can’t risk them catching a hybrid joke and reporting you to the Writers’ Guild of America.  You can’t handle that kind of hassle.  Not on your salary.

Write 2Write several versions of the same joke.  Genius!  I knew you’d come up with an intelligent way to solve this problem.  Why are you just writing this show?  Maybe you should be pushing to be a producer.  If you write several versions of the same joke, you not only solve the two voice problem, but you also look like a rock star because you’re turning in enough jokes to fill the entire show, rather than just the monologue.

Never delete a joke.  On more than one occasion, a joke that I almost sent to the recycle bin, has made it onto the air.  This goes back to my previous statement about always trusting your gut.  There was some reason that joke crawled out of your head.  Don’t kill it before it has its chance at becoming a late night TV sensation.  If the joke makes it onto the page, makes sure it gets into the host’s hands.

Remember, the rejected jokes will make for an awesome blog post the following Sunday.  Since you’re writing several versions of the same joke, you know there are going to be a lot of rejects.  Don’t sweat it.  You’re a writer, so rejection is a part of your life.  Take the jokes the host didn’t choose, and share them in a blog post the day after the show airs.  Let your blog followers tell you how incredibly funny you are.  Blog love is often better than that love you get from distant relatives or your high school crush.

Try to write at least one joke about Star Wars, Time Travel, or Zombies in every batch.  Sure, they probably won’t get picked for the show, but imagine your feeling of accomplishment when you figure out a way to work Star Wars, Time Travel, or Zombies into a topic on the host’s list and he uses it on the air.  There isn’t another rush like it.

Write 3Never get discouraged.  If you’re anything like me, Modern Philosophers, you’re well aware that you are the funniest person you know.  Not everyone is going to get your humor.  Ever joke cannot be a winner.  Humor is subjective, and unless you’re the host of the show, your opinion doesn’t really matter in the end.  What’s important, though, is that the host knows he can count on you to deliver dozens of jokes for every show.  It makes his life easier, and earns you a reputation as a go to member of the writing staff.

Don’t bother submitting knock knock jokes.  This is the twenty-first century.  Did I really even have to include that one on this list?

Well, those are my tips on how to write a monologue joke.  Hope they come in handy.

Thanks to The Sweet Irish Girl for supplying photos of the handsome model for this post.

About Austin

Native New Yorker who's fled to the quiet life in Maine. I write movies, root for the Yankees, and shovel lots of snow.
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10 Responses to How To Write A Monologue Joke

  1. Allen says:

    These are great tips — thanks for sharing! It’s great to get an insider’s view of how the process works.

    I agree humor writers have a gut. And at the rate mine’s growing, I’m sure it’ll come in useful.

  2. Austin, this is a fabulous post. Filled with new found appreciation for writing late night talk show jokes for an opening monologue—and a new instruction manual—I feel I should go out and begin writing monologue jokes for the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, James Corden, and Seth Meyers—all at once! I’m sure the other Jimmy…Jimmy Kimmel, is in there somewhere. I wouldn’t dare of course, seeing as I still need to have part two of this post, whereby you describe how you became a member of the Writers’ Guild of America, and skillfully learned how to dodge letters of complaint about hybrid jokes. Mostly though, I’m thrilled at the prospect of making the small fortune that comes from writing jokes about the power of the dark side, whatever happened to Tony and Doug after The Time Tunnel left syndication, and how one gets a gig like Chris Hardwicks, The Talking Dead. And how do I know that there is a small fortune in writing one-liners? Because you were able to afford a handsome model for The Sweet Irish Girl to photograph for your post! :O)

  3. The Hook says:

    Watch out, Zoolander!

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