Joe Palana is an improviser and standup comic who recently graduated from Harvard. He is currently on a year-long adventure traveling to all 50 states and performing at open mics in each one. Check out his website, and see if you can catch him at a local show here. If you live in a state he’s visiting and ever thought it would be fun to have a comedian sleep on your floor, please send him a message! Joe is a Nice Guy.
Fun fact: Joe and I once found ourselves on a truly miserable boat cruise in the middle of Boston Harbor. At one point, everyone on the deck started aggressively dancing and making out. We dealt with it by dancing up on couples—butts first—and talking loudly about UTIs. We made zero new friends, but we cemented our Friendship For Life.
This week, Joe talked to me about how his work ethic and the way he comes up with jokes. Also, DiGiorno!
How do you first start crafting a joke?
For me, I think the best jokes are ones that take a relatable thing and do something surprising with it. I usually start with something commonplace and obsess over it until I figure out what could be surprising and funny about it.
Autocorrect is a powerful friend and an even more powerful enema— Joe Palana (@JoePalana) August 17, 2017
A lot of my jokes start of with some phrase or idea stuck in my head that I’m sure there’s something funny about. I kept thinking that enemy/enema was a funny connection but blink-182 had used Enema of the State already. I don’t really like blink-182 so I thought there must be another way to use that word mix-up that’s funny. Then I got stuck on the idea of how great it would be to write like Groucho Marx. Then somehow these two ideas clicked after I got frustrated with autocorrect and this joke was born. I like to think the idea of autocorrect being someone’s enemy is relatable but the idea of it messing with that very sentence is a fun unexpected twist.
Groucho Marx is so funny! Who are some other comedy people that you admire?
I think Norm Macdonald is probably my favorite comedian. I think he might be the best pure joke writer currently working. Mitch Hedberg would also be a huge inspiration for pure joke writing. Mel Brooks, Louis C.K., Maria Bamford, George Carlin and Dave Chappelle are also big, more general comedy influences that I look up to.
All my break ups end the same way: “it’s not you, it’s DiGiorno” — Joe Palana (@JoePalana) April 19, 2017
I had recently gone through a breakup, so the words “break up” kept going through my head, and I thought I’d be less sad if I could find something funny in breakups. Then I woke up thinking about DiGiorno (which isn’t wholly uncommon) and boom, this joke happened. I also just like the idea of the perennial loser who’d be saying this after being cuckolded multiple times by a frozen pizza. The fact that DiGiorno actually played into that character was a surreal pleasure.
Was that the best Twitter interaction you’ve had?
Yeah, the whole exchange with DiGiorno is probably the peak of my Twitter experience. I just kept assuming, “Oh, this will be the last time they’ll play along,” and it just kept going past my wildest dreams.
How often are your tweets based on real events?
They’re very rarely personal like that. But if there’s a big holiday or a cultural/political event coming up, and I have a funny take, then I try to comment on it. There’s only been about 5 tweets that are actually from my own life.
People say our generation is coddled but I think my chambermaid would disagree— Joe Palana (@JoePalana) October 4, 2016
I think that tension between Baby Boomers and Millennials is an area rife with both conflict and humor. In a lot of ways that conflict was really at the forefront of this past election cycle. For me, I like diving into potentially controversial areas and taking the dumbest stance possible because by going to humorous extremes you can hopefully highlight the sillier parts of both sides of any issue. The joke’s main idea is a character who takes one stance but is completely out of touch with their own status in the world. The fun part is that could apply to both Baby Boomers or Millennials depending on how you read it.
You mentioned that you’re traveling around the country doing standup right now. Have you ever taken a tweet and made it into something for one of your sets?
I have! A lot of times I try not to do one-liners in my standup because it’s hard to do that without sounding like I’m ripping off Mitch Hedburg or Steven Wright. But occasionally a tweet stays with me, especially if it’s on a loaded topic and it gets worked in as maybe a punchline for a longer set. One example was: “How come we hear so much about Klansmen and not Klanswomen? Frankly I think the KKK could stand to be more inclusive as an organization.” There’s a lot to say about racial tensions in this country and that one joke ended up becoming a whole 5 minutes making fun of white supremacists because I think it’s good to call out that kind of behavior.
You tweeted a new joke every single day for a whole year – that’s really impressive. How have your jokes change over time?
I think the content and style of my jokes has certainly evolved. I have a much better ear now for what will probably work versus what probably won’t (not that I don’t misfire more than occasionally). Probably the biggest thing was just my work ethic changing: forcing myself to write at least one new joke a day really got my brain to notice funny things around me. I also started writing them down because I used to forget my jokes all the time. I hope my forays into Twitter are entertaining for other people. I know it’s for sure been helpful to me.
Karen Chee is a writer/performer who contributes regularly to The New Yorker and McSweeney’s.