Watch Smarter

The Hidden Formula Behind Almost Every Joke on Late Night

Once you know it, you’ll see it in every punchline.

How do late-night show writers come up with so many jokes? There’s a method—and it’s surprisingly mathematical.

When you have to write more than 100 topical jokes each day, there’s no time to wait for inspiration to strike. You need a reliable algorithm. Most late-night jokes you hear on TV are written using a step-by-step process perfected to mass produce punchlines. In this Season 2 premiere of Watch Smarter, Slate’s series about hidden tropes in pop culture and beyond, we go back to comedy 101 to learn how a few basic elements form the building blocks of nearly every joke you hear on late night.

See all Watch Smarter episodes and follow the series on Facebook.

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