Today a watchdog group released its 2019 list of the toys deemed most unsafe for children. At the top of the list: Tickle Me Epstein.
How I wrote it:
This news item grabbed my interest because it reminded me of the prop pieces we used to do on Dave Letterman’s late-night shows. Writers would write jokes for a segment like “Dave’s Toy Shoppe” and then the prop department would actually build the “wacky props” and Dave would display them as he delivered the jokes. Prop pieces always got big laughs.
To write this joke I turned to my Punch Line Maker #2: Link the topic to pop culture. The handle of the topic is “unsafe toys,” so my first task was to think of someone or something in pop culture that would be unsafe in toy form.
Sex offender Jeffrey Epstein had resurfaced in the news, because of his association with Prince Andrew. And Epstein was known for sexually abusing underage girls. So a Jeffrey Epstein toy would definitely qualify as unsafe.
To create a snappy name for the toy I thought of lots of real-life toys while keeping in mind what Epstein did, including his massages. Tickle Me Elmo came to mind.
Luckily for me, “Elmo” and “Epstein” both have two syllables and begin with “E.” So substituting one for the other to create the name of the toy results in wordplay that is tighter than it could be and therefore more surprising and funnier.
Of course, there’s nothing funny about sex abuse. But the joke works for most people because it doesn’t call to mind any graphic details of Epstein’s crimes.
Plus the joke is really about how some stupid company thinks it can convince people to buy an obviously bad product. And stupid companies make great targets for jokes.