Using a Top 10 List to Write Jokes

by Chris McGinty

[I’m posting this before midnight on Wednesday, even though I hate streak habits, but I’m going to come back later and do some edits because I have something I wrote as a teenager I want to include and I want blurbs under pictures. If you see this before I fix that then come back, it’ll probably be worth it]

There’s this thing I do sometimes where I think of a thing that will probably work and I just decide it works. Today’s article will be dedicated to one of those things. I might test my hypothesis before I post this, but I want to get the thought down. I want to talk about writing jokes by discussing some of the things that people who write jokes have said. Now, since I believe that essays on writing humour are the least funny things in existence, I’m not going to include any jokes in this. That’s like the perfect segue into discussing irony and I’m not talking about irony in this.

I recently reread “The Joy of Work” by Scott Adams. It’s the one where he discusses writing humour. The part that I always cringe at is when he talks about how he just lets bad ideas go and keeps looking for something better. If I could let bad ideas go, I wouldn’t be writing this blog post. Stephen King has said, “I think a writer’s notebook is the best way to immortalize bad ideas.” I can’t operate like that. I believe my worst ideas will eventually lead to my best, so I write everything down. Adam Scott’s point, and probably King Stephen’s too, is that if you don’t occupy your mind with bad ideas you make room for potentially good ideas. It rings of that Homie Sherlock’s view of how the brain works.

What’s the deal with these comedians whose standup I don’t like all that much, but I like listening to them talk. Speaking of Jerry Seinfeld, he also talks about writing jokes through the lens of a streak habit where he sits down and writes jokes every day. Scottman Kingruthers (or whatever their names were) are both people who write every day when they’re working. Maybe there’s something to all that, but we’re not here to discuss that, nor are we here to discuss irony.

I want to discuss late night talk shows. For those of you born in the last few months, you may not know what those are. It’s mostly because you barely understand the concept of mommy and daddy at this point, but also something about a writer’s strike. It’s unimportant and I shouldn’t have even brought it up. What I want to discuss is… what? No, I mean it’s unimportant to this blog post, not that it’s unimportant as a whole. I understand that people’s jobs are at stake and all that, but I deliver food to people and they get to write every day so I probably don’t give a fuck. What I want to discuss is… what? Yes, it’s insensitive. Listen, I’m going to pray right now for their success…

I tried not to be ironic. You saw me try.

What I want to discuss is the thing that the late night talk show writers do every day. They write a lot of jokes. Most of them are probably pretty bad, but that’s how they get to the good ones. It’s how John Cleese would get to the sketch ideas that were the most unique. He would keep thinking until he had one that was really clever.

ScoTatums, you know the Dilbert guy, said something in “The Joy of Work,” “Ideally, you want situation that makes you smile even before the humor has been added. [he spelled humour wrong] If you start with a fresh and inherently funny situation you’re halfway home.” I was actually sitting on my couch when I read that, but maybe he’s talking about a Zeno’s paradox kind of way.

Top Ten Reasons You Should Use a Top Ten List to Write Jokes

10. If it was a Bottom Ten List it might get vacuumed up.

9. It’s significantly fewer than 69. No one writes 69 jokes.

6. If you and your partner read the jokes aloud then you can perform oral at the same time.

5. e=mc2 so t=li10

Johnny5. It gives you a format to focus your attention. No, this isn’t funny. Don’t try to disassemble it.

4. Did Led Zeppelin stop at 4? Look how many jokes they wrote.

3. You can write the jokes in the same amount of time it takes Jerry Seinfeld to nap… I mean, transcendentally meditate.

2. Why ask why? Try your humour dry. Tip your Melman.

  1. If it could make David Letterman funny… I would be a millionaire now. I think I got my colloquialisms mixed up.

You see, pretty much like I thought. Not all of the jokes were winners, but it gave me some material… what? Where’s 7 and 8? Um, 7 ate 9 and then moved to Bermuda. Anyway, it gave me some material I could conceivably use in a blog post about Top Ten Lists.

I feel like one way to get your joke writing done every day is to use the Top Ten List format. After all, if it could make David Letterman funny… I would be a millionaire now. I think I got my colloquialisms mixed up. Besides, comedians like Jerry Seinfeld preach the virtues of writing every day. And meditation for some reason. You can write the jokes in the same amount of time it takes Jerry Seinfeld to nap… I mean, transcendentally meditate. Seems like good advice that you just didn’t take… or that Scott Adams dismissed accidentally in a brainstorming session.

That’s just an example of how I could then make the jokes a part of my writing. I think there may be something to this. I understand that the jokes I wrote really weren’t very good, but I think the idea is that I would write ten jokes on multiple subjects and use the jokes that actually work. After awhile, maybe I would just get used to writing jokes and wouldn’t need a silly format to plug into.

Chris McGinty is a blogger who fancies himself a joke writer all of a sudden. Why did the blogger cross the road? There’s free Wi-fi at McDonald’s. Now to just get the McDonald’s sponsorship.

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