Scientists now think that Covid-19 may have escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China. As evidence, they point to a cell in the lab where there’s a blanket almost covering a dummy coronavirus head made of papier-mache and hair clippings.
How I wrote it:
I used my Punch Line Maker #1: Link two associations of the topic. “Covid-19” was an obvious choice for one topic handle because it’s responsible for a lot of the topic’s newsworthiness.
But the choice of the second topic handle wasn’t so obvious. “China” was a possibility but, in connection with “Covid-19,” it doesn’t add much to the newsworthiness. A word that adds more is “escaped.” So I chose “escaped” as my second topic handle.
The verb “escaped” is an unusual choice because topic handles are almost always nouns or noun phrases. Still, the word seemed to have a lot of potentially useful associations, so I went with it.
Brainstorming associations of “escaped,” I visualized an escaping prison inmate placing a handmade dummy head of himself in his bed to fool the guards. Grafting a coronavirus into that scenario, I had my punch line.
To describe the escape scenario and make my punch line completely clear I needed a lot of words. But I wanted to adhere to my Joke Maximizer #5–“Don’t telegraph the punch line.” And the longer the punch line was, the more likely the audience would be to get ahead of it. If the audience predicts a punch line, they won’t be surprised by it and they won’t laugh.
I minimized the potential problem of telegraphing by moving the most revealing details of the image I was painting as close to the end of the joke as possible.
I also prolonged my misdirection of the audience by using the phrase “a cell in the lab,” which could also refer to a biological cell.