The Hidden Formula Behind Almost Every Joke on Late Night


Disney’s Hall of Presidents finally added a Donald Trump robot. He’s really making an impact at Disney. Today he deported Aladdin and he gave Scrooge McDuck a tax break. How do late-night show writers come up with so many jokes? There is a method. And it’s surprisingly mathematical. When you have to write over a 100 topical jokes each day, there’s no time to wait for inspiration to strike. You need a reliable algorithm. Most Late Night Jokes you hear on TV are written using a step by step process, perfected to mass produce punchlines, rain or shine. When someone asked him about stakeholders, Trump said “I believe the word is fork.” To understand the formula we first need to review our Comedy Theory 101. From Aristotle, to Freud, to Gene Perret, who wrote for Bob Hope, thinkers have been identifying and naming the various triggers common to situations that make us laugh. The list goes on. For our formula we’re going to start by focusing on just two. Simply put, people laugh when they are surprised. This is where we get the familiar setup/punchline structure of a joke. People laugh when two things that seem very different are put together in a way that exposes a hidden similarity. If you were a chick, who’s the one guy you’d sleep with? John Stamos! For our setup, we can choose any story as long as it includes two different subjects that grab our audience’s attention. We already have, as the setup, the news that Disney made a Trump robot. So what about the punchline? To generate one, we just need to draw a surprising link between these two ideas. Here’s what the pros do. We’re going to free-associate two lists of words and phrases that come to mind when we think of our two topics. Now, we look for two items, one from each column, that have a logical connection, that activates as many of our laugh triggers as possible. The idea of Trump deporting a fictional character like Aladdin is surprising. It triggers recognition of pop culture knowledge, and gives Fallon’s liberal audience a sense of superiority to the president, because it makes him seem ridiculous and intolerant. Plus making fun of authority is a socially sanctioned way to misbehave. Now that we know our joke will involve Trump Deporting Aladdin, all we need to do is find a way to get there from the set up. There are many possibilities. A particularly reliable one is to ask Who/What/Where/Why/When/How questions about the set-up. In this case, “What did robot Trump do in Disney World?” does the trick. And just like that we have our joke. And yes we got two jokes for the price of one. But how does each late night show manage to find its own angle on the exact same story? Disney’s Hall of Fame debuted an animatronic President Trump today, whereas Jeff Sessions will debut at the Country Bear Jamboree. If your list is long enough, you’ll find an original joke. And now that you know how easy this joke-writing is, it kind of makes sense why Jimmy Fallon can’t stop smiling.

100 Replies to “The Hidden Formula Behind Almost Every Joke on Late Night”

  1. All if them are irrelevant to me, They're nothing but political messages senders that want to divide this country and degrade ower Beautiful Republic.

  2. Oh, we get fooled, they earn easy money, really. I once heard Jay Leno earns 30 million a year. These shows are not cheap projects. How many people, comedians, writers you can hire with a big budget. 30, 50 maybe more. Every one of them writes one joke daily and that's it.
    If making jokes is mathematical, then how come a very cheap low rating channel creates the best shows, at least, every now and then. There is no easy job buddy under the fierce competition everybody is subjected to.
    But maybe the very old trick you may do on us pays off. Like you are cheated, people, they earn a lot because of your stupidity and what? you earn easy money with this tricky little video and logic.
    If it is that easy, why Leno had to retire? Why was Conan canceled?

  3. I loved the list but i think the writers only thought "A trump robot would deport latins, aladdin is brown, he would deport him" nothing mathematically about it

  4. I don't know where you got this but it isn't true. Also, Fallon of all people was a bad example to use as someone who will laugh at apparently anything. From my observation, it looks like the writing staff look for similarities between past situations and the person being discussed. Look for anything that contradicts what that person said or did. And, lastly, skill. They don't pull these jokes out of their asses like this video suggests.

  5. Yet this guy isn't a well paid comedy writer.
    It must be just too easy.

    Or he's just butthurt seeing them play actual Trump video clips showing how moronic he is.

    The frustration of having to force yourself to laugh at Dennis Miller is driving you insane.

  6. This video should be called 'why comedy is going down the toilet'. God, this shit kills me, I know children who have more unique and creative ways of telling jokes. Literally destroying the souls of humanity, one shitty overcalculated joke at a time.

  7. They use to capture the moment, the sign of the times, the peak of a guests achievements, etc, now it 100% liberal political agenda 101 and not worthy of watching at all anymore.

  8. Most writers on late night comedy/politics show have the same writers and the hence the same jokes. And a lot of them you can see from a mile away.

  9. Colbert's thing is talking out Trump's tweets, and he always says "Dot dot dot…dot dot dot." He's been doing it for over 6 months now but they still laugh.

  10. Yeah, you couldn't do this with Craig Furgeson. Go to The Jay Leno Fly to see what a real late night host is.

  11. Almost all jokes in opening monologues on these shows are terrible. Even Carson's were. Most of them sound like they were written by someone's grandpa.

  12. Ok I have watched a few videos from this channel and they have figured out the formula to sound like a wise insightful channel. Get a bored 20 something to narrate. Make charts and lists. Pepper in big words here and there. Pretend they have hit on the secret to life.

  13. The Free Association part is solid. That is how a lot of joke writing is done by many of my comedian buddies. Also how they make side money as card writers.

  14. It's easy to deconstruct jokes when the have already been made but it's still hard to write them from scratch.

  15. Disney put a robot Trump in the hall of presidents yesterday. Unfortunately it had to be removed today for grabbing Frozen princess Elsa by the pussy.

  16. All of them are practically copies anyway usually the same layout just watch any talk show.
    -The host's desk on the right of celebrity guest's chair
    -skyscraper background
    -Donald trump is the basis of almost every joke

  17. There are no jokes on late night TV, it is just a bunch of nobodies with either a laugh track or trained seals in the audience responding to useless words said by useless people.

  18. If I succeed with my writer's packet, I'll credit this as the first video I saw to learn how to do it.

  19. Notice how the first few minutes are full of "low hanging fruit/Trump jokes"
    The formula to writing a joke is this: find a premise, some irony, and punchline.
    We were on the african safari
    I shot an elephant in my pajamas
    How he got in my pajamas is a completely different story
    We tried removing the tusks
    To no avail
    So we went to Alabama
    Where the Tuscaloosa

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