How Alan Zweibel Wrote ‘Saturday Night Live’s Best Joke

How Alan Zweibel Wrote ‘Saturday Night Live’s Best Joke

Chevy Chase’s best-ever punchline on Weekend Update was also the joke that got writer Alan Zweibel a job on the first season of Saturday Night Live, he told Dana Carvey and David Spade this week on their Fly on the Wall podcast. The joke itself is a master class in simplicity, salaciousness and surprise: “The post office is about to issue a stamp commemorating prostitution in the United States. It’s a 10-cent stamp. If you want to lick it, it’s a quarter.”


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Carvey was delighted by Zweibel’s very specific use of language and rhythm in that punchline. “If you want to lick it, it’s a quarter,” Carvey emphasized, “not twenty-five cents.”

“‘Quarter’ is a better rhythm,” agreed Spade, adding that “quarter’s got a K (sound) in it.” (Years ago, comedy playwright Neil Simon suggested that words with the aggressive ‘K’ sound are just funnier, making cities like “Cleveland” funnier than “Duluth.”)

“I wrote that joke in 1975 when I got the job on SNL,” Zweibel said. “The next year was going to be the Bicentennial so they were going to have commemorative stamps about things in history. I say, ‘Okay, what's a funny thing that you can have a stamp about? Oh, maybe prostitution.’ I can't even begin to tell you how many different punchlines I had. I had one where you took the stamp out to dinner first. Then it was, ‘If you want to lick it, it's a lot more.”

In his book Laugh Lines: My Life Helping Funny People Be Funnier, Zweibel says that joke took him about a week to write as he struggled for the perfect punchline. “I had a feeling that licking it could come into play, but the first wave of potential endings was the stamp responding with an array of sounds including sighs, moans, cries of ‘Oh, God, more!’ and ‘Smaller circles!’ but none of them seemed just right,” he wrote.

Zweibel changed his focus to the cost of the stamp, leading “to some convoluted phraseology that involved the health department.” Eventually landing on “quarter” was an aha moment, and the writer “was ecstatic that I could finally move on to writing another joke about something else.”

Zweibel had tried his own hand at stand-up comedy, but he wasn’t much of a performer. After a rough night at Catch a Rising Star in 1975, he considered giving up the comedian life. He was approached after his set by a young guy with long hair, who informed Zweibel that he was one of the worst comics he’d ever seen. “But your material isn’t bad,” said young Lorne Michaels, who invited him to submit jokes for a new television comedy show he was producing. 

Zweibel spent the next two days typing up his best one-liners to submit in a binder. He brought it into his job interview, with his stamp joke strategically placed at the very top. “That joke got me the job,” Zweibel told Spade and Carvey, “and Lorne is the first to admit it.”

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