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Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV: How to Write Monologue Jokes, Desk Pieces, Sketches, Parodies, Audience Pieces, Remotes, and Other Short-Form Comedy Paperback – May 5, 2014

4.9 out of 5 stars 76 customer reviews

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  • Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV: How to Write Monologue Jokes, Desk Pieces, Sketches, Parodies, Audience Pieces, Remotes, and Other Short-Form Comedy
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Joe Toplyn began his television career on the writing staff of "Late Night with David Letterman." He went on to become co-head writer of "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" and head writer of "Late Show with David Letterman." His other writing credits include the sketch show "In Living Color," several situation comedies, and the comedic detective show "Monk." In addition to his four Emmy wins, Toplyn is honored to have received over a dozen Emmy nominations.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 444 pages
  • Publisher: Twenty Lane Media, LLC; 1 edition (May 5, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0615953891
  • ISBN-13: 978-0615953892
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #68,861 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I'm Steve O'Donnell, former Head Writer of "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and "Late Night with David Letterman." Unlike most comedy writers, Joe Toplyn is well-organized, systematic and methodical. Aspiring gag-smiths and joke-mongers may appreciate his new "how to" guide as a goofy version of Rommel's famous book on armored warfare. "Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV" is clear, comprehensive, and studded with humorous vignettes from the author's own experience, many of which involve astonishingly dangerous moments in pursuit of a funny visual. Fortunately, there is minimal permanent damage from the many near-collisions, suffocations, and immolations by homemade napalm atop five-story towers. (Counter-intuitively, Toplyn outdoes Rommel on this point.) The hefty 430 pages are a remarkable blend of business-like instruction with very silly examples culled from Toplyn's years of labor on Letterman, Leno, on-line, and beyond. The forms, the approaches, the jargon, and the pitfalls of the host-desk-and-guest format are all explored with straightforward plainness. Toplyn is an Engineer of Yoks, and his sensible perspective on a completely ridiculous subject matter is a metaphysical achievement. There is a wealth of playful asides but there is also plenty of old-fashioned pedagogy. (The Five W's and the H, for the love of Mike!) Characteristic of the author's Friar's Club/NASA dual nature is the impressively thorough index, one of the most specific and detailed since Grey's Anatomy. (The companion volume to the ABC series.) Emblematic of the book's variegated contents are some of the more particular index entries: paper cut, fat jokes, hidden camera, stop consonants, hacky jokes, and even Aristotle.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
It's been a lifelong dream of mine to get staffed on a late night show. With this book, I now have all the knowledge and creative tools necessary to pursue that dream.

Through his decades of experience working for the likes of Letterman and Leno, Joe Toplyn has figured out the secret to writing each type of late night comedy piece repeatedly and consistently. The section on monologue jokes alone is worth the price of the entire book. In addition to writing comedy pieces, this book will also teach you about the late-night tv industry and how to put together a professional submission packet.

The timing of this book release could not be better. The late night tv lineup is going through more changes than it ever has before. There are likely dozens of late night writing jobs up for grabs. Get this book, put together your own writing packet, and maybe you can grab one for yourself.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I don’t believe you can learn to be funny. What you can learn, however, are methods to structure your funny. And that’s exactly what you learn from this book. So far I have only read as far as the chapter on monologue joke writing, but that’s because I am in post production on an indie feature I wrote and produced last year. And I wanted to write an original sitcom pilot I'd been meaning to write for a while. Oh, and I'm a stay at home dad to two kids. No biggie. But more about my film in a minute. Anyway, that chapter blew my head clean off with its clarity. I read it in bed, and I woke me wife up with my enthusiasm as I tried to explain my huge paradigm shift, but all she said was “that’s nice”.

I have read 13 books and I have done 2 courses on stand-up comedy and comedy writing. I don’t think this puts me at a disadvantage with doing comedy, as some comedians think. I have worked as a stand-up, an MC, a sketch comedy writer and performer, and a joke writer. And been paid. I think you do what you can to model what has worked before.

But the problem with a lot of books is they try to cover too much ground. They want to show you how to write jokes, monologues, stand-up, sketch, solo shows, sitcoms, and screenplays. There’s no way one 300 page book can cover all those. The best ones just focus on one area. That’s exactly what this book does.

The section on monologue joke writing was the clearest explanation I have ever read. Typically, in other books that cover this, you get lessons on how to pick topics, generate ideas, but then you have figure out how to structure them yourself. You get something like “the punchline is your own reaction”. Huh? I have to make a sarcastic comment on what I’ve written. But not all comedy’s sarcastic, so then what do I do?
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Format: Paperback
I wish I'd won four Emmys, or even one. Joe Toplyn is a guy who knows what he's talking about. His COMEDY WRITING FOR LATE NIGHT TV is a potent mix of algorithms for the engineering of jokes with fall-out-of-your-chair examples of jokes that work. Who knew that comedy could be understood? Having spend my childhood worshipping Johnny Carson, and my adulthood in the company of extremely funny people, I am struck dumb by the intellectual firepower that the formidable Mr. Toplyn brings to the conscious and artful construction of jokes. His how-to instructions are so lucid, so simple, and so easy to apply that even I have become funnier.

If you aspire to comedy writing, whether on late-night TV or anywhere else, this book is a must-read.

If, like me, you just love to laugh, this book is the most fun you can have without crossing state lines or breaking the law.
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