Swapping Jokes

Ken Levine AKA Our Pal Who Doesn’t Know We Exist, scores again!

tv-jokesby Ken Levine

Recently in a post I wrote a joke that some felt was too insensitive. Was it? You could argue either way. But I decided it was easier to just swap it out for another joke. I could have stayed with it, but in this case figured it wasn’t worth offending some people. I say “in this case” because in other instances I have kept original jokes that was controversial.

But I kept those because I thought they worked and were appropriate and those who were offended were overly sensitive. You can’t do humor without offending someone. I have never however, kept a joke because I thought it would be too hard to replace.

Professional comedy writers learn early that swapping out jokes is just a part of the game. Many young writers are very defensive. They like the joke they wrote, it took forever to come up with that joke, or both. But jokes often need to be changed. And not just because they don’t work. Actors have a problem, the network has a problem, standards & practices have a problem, legal has a problem, the scene changes and it doesn’t fit as well anymore, it’s funny but too jarring, it’s funny but makes the character seem too stupid, it’s too hard to shoot, it’s too similar to another joke, or of course – it’s too Jewish. You get the idea.

Comedy writers need to get in the habit of swapping out jokes. When my writing partner, David and I can’t agree on a line, rather than argue for forty minutes and one team member ultimately unhappy, we just throw it out and come up with something else. It’s easier, faster, and reduces a lot of unnecessary tension.

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