The Birth, Life, and Death of Jokes

Jun 24, 2013

Some time in the late 1980s, when my main job was writing allegedly funny newspapers and magazine pieces and books  I was visiting a friend who worked in the offices of "Late Night with David Letterman." I think she was an assistant to Dave's assistant or something. Anyway, she introduced me to the show's head writer Steve O'Donnell and she must have mentioned me before because he said, "Oh yes. The humorist."

This was said in a tone that combined the way you might say "the pornographer" with the way you might say "the rodeo clown." It wasn't meant to be nice, and I experienced a wordless understanding of the distinction he was making.

Today, I have words for it. The humorist writes and is read. The comedy writer writes for an audience. Comedy writers have to come up with jokes that will be sent out onto a battlefield where the weak die on the beach. Today, we talk about the birth, life, and death of jokes.

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