He is Late-Night

I liked the format of writing separate notes for Grit. I’m giving that another shot. I write better book notes posts when I write as I read. When putting longer book notes posts together, sometimes I worry that excerpts are all coming from the same chapter. If I write while reading, I can cover sections while they’re fresh in my head. Diving back into a book’s highlights weeks or even months after reading the book means overcoming a good amount of inertia.

Comedy Writing for Late Night TV1 is by Joe Toplyn. He knows Late Night TV. In The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise asks if one of the leader’s knows the samurai well and he’s told that “he is samurai”. Late Night with David Letterman, The Tonight Show, Late Show with David Letterman. Emmys. Everything. Joe is late night TV.

Joe distills that knowledge into straightforward breakdowns of writing techniques. It makes it clear that writing jokes can be mechanical. And if there’s a system, it can be taught and learned.

The only jokes are the jokes themselves, all pulled from jokes that aired on TV shows. He doesn’t punch up the explanations with humor. It’s straightforward. He lays out the underlying concepts, explaining how each concept is applied to all sorts of segments you see on comedy shows. The same concepts are used on the monologue, headlines, desk pieces, sketches, prop pieces, and on and on.

When I was a kid, my dad taped2 The Tonight Show. While I got ready for school, my dad would be drinking coffee and watching Jay Leno3. There’s an interesting morning ritual. Years later, my dad lost The Tonight Show and the Sonics in a very short, very rough span.

I’ll continue writing a couple notes posts as I read through the book. And sometime down the road I’ll try writing a few jokes. It’s gonna be very rough.

  1. It’s not available on Kindle so it’s the second physical book I’ve bought this year (the first is Ego is the Enemy).

  2. If you don’t know what “taping a show” is, then you probably weren’t alive when my dad was taping The Tonight Show.

  3. I’m part of a generation that seems to hate Jay Leno because of the whole Conan O’Brien feud. Whatever, I like him.