Did you know Saturday Night Live pays freelancers $100 per joke for Weekend Update? You can't just tie them to a rock and hurl them through an 8th floor window of Rockefeller Center, however. You must first get your name on something called "the fax list," which is a list of standups and comedy writers who have been vetted by a comedy writing establishment hopelessly mired in outdated modes of communication.
The jokes, locally grown and harvested, are then peddled at their peak, topical freshness to various late show outlets around New York City. The shows then have the option of using them, or ignoring them completely — instead going with the jokes that their staffs of professional, full-time writers have already proposed. The thankless pursuit is chronicled in a Wall Street Journal piece today, where you can see standup Liam McEneaney (batting average: 1,100 swings, 1 hit) quietly pontificating Kardashian wedding cake witticisms at a twee Brooklyn tea shoppe. He compares joke writing to "solving crossword puzzles."
Of course, freelance gag writing is hardly a new racket: The Kids in the Hall, for example, named themselves after the young writers who'd lob Sid Caesar jokes on his way into the studio to tape Your Show of Shows. But that was a more innocent time, before fax machines, before Twitter — which is essentially a 24-hour, global, one-liner think tank — to a time when only a select few were crazy enough to think they could actually make a living writing jokes. Now everyone and their grandmother fancies they can do it. It's getting hard out there for a punchline pimp. [WSJ, screengrab via WSJ]