13 Rules for Writing Jokes for Late Night

Late-night writers have to write hundreds of jokes a week, so waiting for inspiration isn’t an option.  Here are 13 tips for writing comedy like the pros.


GET INSIDE THE HOST'S HEAD Seth has a different comedy cadence than Jimmy or Jimmy or James or Lilly or Amber or Stephen or Samantha. Study the host you're writing for and learn their comedic rhythms.



CONSULT CONAN'S TRANSITION LIST uher that wtnout or thinking Unfortunately Even more impressive And the good Even more amazing news is Which Or means as he calls it I know what He you're prefers the term all thinking If everything To be fair goes well It's official In defense Don't

Laurie Kilmartin


WRITE FAST EDIT LATER Paralyzed by doubt? Give yourself permission to spill dumb stuff all over the page and do it as fast as you can before Internal Editor can interrupt. You may be surprised that the 'dumb stuff' contains a lot of comedy gold, just waiting to be

How to Write Funny


FIND THE LINK BETWEEN DIFFERENT IDEAS DISNEY DONALD TRUN TODAY HE DEPORTED Theme Park Twitter Aladdin Putin ALADDIN AND GAVE Cryogenically Frozen Deports Foreigners SCROOGE MCDUCK Princess Tiny Hands A TAX BREAK. Country Bear Jamboree Ivanka Space Mountain Jeff Sessions Scrooge McDuck Tax-cuts for the Rich A common late-night



LESSONS FROM SEINFELD: USE FUNNY WORDS KEYy e ene alne Intr aou CRACKED Before coming upon Pop Tarts for the first time, jokes Seinfeld, clueless kids were like chimps in the dirt playing with sticks. The joke works, he says, because four of the seven words are funny. Chimps? Chimps

New York Times/YouTube


LESSONS FROM SEINFELD: BE CONCISE A joke can fall flat if it's just a split-second too long, Seinfeld argues. So look to shave words or even syllables to find the cleanest, most effienct path to the laugh. It's more like songwriting.

New York Times/YouTube


LESSONS FROM SEINFELD: LAUGHS COME LAST CRACKED CON If you have a long bit, the biggest laugh has to be at the end. For Seinfeld's Pop Tart bit, he ended on: They can never go stale because they were never fresh.

New York Times/YouTube


WHEN THE GOING GETS TOUGH GET WEIRD CRAGKEDCOM When Ben Schwartz wrote jokes for Letterman, he knew big news items would be well covered by staff. So he'd focus on the weird --squirrels and their nuts or cab drivers returning Olympic medals. Fresh angles increased his odds of making it



SCOUR THE HEADLINES O Reality is an awesome source for joke fodder. For example, the real-life headline Woman Arrested with Coke In Breast Implants offers ample opportunities for funny associations. You can practically hear the arresting officer shouting, This is a bust!

Joe Toplyn


SAY IT OUT LOUD One way to figure out if jokes will work on late night is to get them off the page. Even if you're alone, the simple act of saying a joke out loud is a good yardstick. Try telling a friend or three. Actual laughs are



LEARN TO WRITE JOKES BY WRITING JOKES Even if you don't have a late-night writing job, treat it like a job. That means scheduling writing time with specific goals. For example, write 30 jokes every day from 10 to noon.

Stand Up Comedy Clinic


WHEN YOU'RE OUT OF IDEAS KEEP GOING d Z H B CRACKEDCOR Being out of ideas' may simply mean you've worked through the obvious angles. Can you find another way to tackle the premise? When you reach your limit, try to write ten more jokes. Every dang day.



GO TO A PUBLIC PLACE AND TAKE NOTES CRACKEDCO Hang out in a busy coffee shop for a couple of hours and just watch. Write down what you see and hear about how people actually navigate the world. Later, highlight the bits that strike you as funny and relatable.