Defending the Bomb: ‘Last Week Tonight’s’ Josh Gondelman Explains a Failed Joke

June 10, 2015 | Liam Mathews

Every comedian has jokes that they believe didn’t get the laughs they deserved, or tweets that didn’t get enough faves. ANIMAL’s feature Defending the Bomb gives a comedian the opportunity to explain one of these failed jokes and make the case for why it’s actually funny.

You might not yet know Josh Gondelman’s name, but chances are you’ve laughed at something he’s written. He’s a writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, the co-creator of the hugely popular Modern Seinfeld Twitter account, and the co-author (with Fast Company’s Joe Berkowitz) of the forthcoming book You Blew It, an examination of all the myriad ways technology allows us to embarrass ourselves. For further proof of his joke-writing prowess, check out his own Twitter or his stand-up. Not all of his jokes are winners, though, and here he tells ANIMAL a joke about a part of growing up that he worries may have only happened to him.

What’s a joke of yours that you think is funny but always bombs?

Looking through my notebook, the one that I’m really psyched about is: “I’m 30 years old, and I just moved in with my girlfriend. 30 isn’t old, but here’s the bubble that I know I’m on: At 30, you can still stay at my apartment when you come to town, but you can’t crash with me, and that’s a big difference. Like when you’re staying with me, it might be you sleeping on my couch for a day or two, but when you’re crashing with me it’s you and your band for a week and a half.”

That one just never worked. It just never played.

Have you tweeted it, or have you just told it onstage?

A lot of the stuff that doesn’t work onstage works better as a tweet, which I think means either it’s a reference that is so specific that only people who are already following me on Twitter and know what my life is like will get it, or that it’s the kind of thing — Twitter really rewards premises, I think, and you don’t really have to flesh out a whole bit for it to work. You get a lot of, “this thing is like that thing,” whereas onstage you then have to go “and here is why, punchline, end of joke.”

What is funny about this joke to you?

I think it’s the linguistic distinction between “staying” with me and “crashing” with me, and then the idea of how poorly people, especially guys, treat themselves and their homes in their 20s. I definitely had the idea of like, “Yeah man, your whole band can stay. They can sleep on the floor and use my towel as a blanket, who cares?” And now it’s like, “No, you can’t. My girlfriend and I have a home, and we don’t want you to turn it into garbage. I don’t want five people drunk driving a van to my apartment at five in the morning.” That to me is the essential humor, like the garbage we put up with as young people.

How does this joke get received when you tell it?

It’s just kind of flat. I don’t know whether it’s that people don’t relate to it and it’s not a phenomenon that happens outside of my own life, or if it’s just like “Yup, those are facts, where’s the joke?”

Have you given up on it, or are you still working it out?

I think that one’s done. Maybe it will get written into a script somewhere sometime, or a short humor submission somewhere, but it doesn’t seem to pack a substantive punch as a stand-up joke.

What did you hope people got out of it that they didn’t?

I thought there would be more recognition of “this is how growing up feels.” But then when people don’t laugh, I’m kind of like, “oh. I’m way behind. My life is in a state of arrested development, and everyone else is like, ‘oh, you poor soul.’”

I think you’re doing pretty well for a 30-year-old guy.

Yeah, I feel pretty good. But it all came together very recently. I turned 30 in January, and my life has been significantly upgraded since then.

(Photo: Mindy Tucker)