My Greatest Hit as a Gag Writer
…was a thrill but not enough
My greatest hit as a gag writer put much needed money in my pocket when I needed it most, but real insight into the perils was yet to come.
by David Stone
Just for fun…
I was paid $75 for the punch line, way back in 1976, when I invested hours trying to make the big time as a gag writer. Lo Linkert did the artwork and made the sale.
It’s a feat I never duplicated; hence, I now write almost everything but jokes.
Passionate but unwise, my friend Jim and I tossed off the yoke of ordinary jobs to be artists. Like priests, we thought we were called to it.
But after a few months, I was too broke to ascend as high as a “starving artist.”
My Greatest Hit Lands
Gag writing, aimed then at partnering with cartoonists and greeting card companies, required hours of jotting funny ideas on a legal pad.
Then, in the clear light of day, you reviewed what seemed hilarious the night before.
What the hell ever made me think that was funny? Did it have anything to do with writing jokes at two in the morning?
I deleted most of them and typed the survivors up on index cards and submitted them through the mail.
The early months were nightmarish. So awful I thought about going back to poetry and getting paid in copies.
Then, I scored a little. First with Gibson Greeting Cards. They paid me fifty bucks for a single gag. It sounds great until it registers that I got paid nothing for hundreds of gags written before that.
The joke played off a misspelling of “sex.” There’s only so far you can go with that, or so I thought.
My Exit Ramp
While the lack of income was enough to scare me back into a suit and tie, something else finally put the kibosh on my comedy career.
You wouldn’t expect it, but writing gags became boring. Formulaic.
Spontaneous funny stuff stopped popping up in my imagination, and worse yet, what sold was not what I thought was funny.
And there were other jobs where I could make actual money without the boredom that the rewards of my greatest hit partly relieved.
Anyway, I still like this one, although I confess I was never 100% sure the idea was original.
I kept the $75 anyway.
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