In October, “The Phantom of the Opera” is returning to Broadway. But things will be reversed because of Covid: If the audience takes off their masks, it’s the Phantom who’ll scream.
How I wrote it:
The actual news story that I read was about Broadway theaters reopening after having been shut down by Covid-19. The topic handles “Broadway” and “Covid-19” both have a lot of associations, so I was fairly sure I could turn the story into a joke.
Brainstorming associations of “Broadway,” I thought pretty quickly of “The Phantom of the Opera.” Maybe that’s because the musical prominently features a guy wearing a mask, and “wear a mask” is one of the associations of “Covid-19.”
I confirmed online that “The Phantom of the Opera” planned to reopen. Then I edited the topic of my joke to focus on that musical and planned to write a punch line about wearing a mask.
But various punch lines I came up with didn’t seem quite right. Would Covid-19 lead the Phantom to switch to a mask rated N95? That seemed a little obvious. Would the Phantom’s mask now have to cover his nose and mouth? I couldn’t remember how much of the Phantom’s face his mask already covers.
Then I realized that the audience would probably have to wear masks, too. And I connected the audience’s masks to the Phantom’s mask with the idea of people screaming in fear when the masks are removed. And I had my punch line.
My Joke Maximizer #4 is “Make everything clear.” To ensure that the punch line would be clear in its written form, I included “things will be reversed” in the angle. If I were delivering the joke out loud I might not need those words. Instead, I’d clarify the switcheroo in the punch line by stressing the words “audience” and “Phantom.”
For more joke-writing techniques like these, get “Comedy Writing for Late-Night TV.”