When the Punch Lines Are Hiding in Plain Sight

Emily Catalano Photo: Don’t Tell Comedy/YouTube

Conventional wisdom states that for a joke to be successful, it needs to rely on the element of surprise. But sometimes the best jokes have punch lines that seem glaringly obvious in hindsight. They hit especially hard because they surprise you twice — first you’re taken aback by the content of the punch line, then you’re dumbfounded that you didn’t see the punch line coming. The most memorable joke in Los Angeles–based comedian Emily Catalano’s recent Don’t Tell Comedy set, recorded at the Unità Club in El Segundo, California, belongs to this category.

“I was just in San Francisco,” Catalano, who’s performed on Conan and The Drew Barrymore Show, begins. “I got to go to a Giants game, and I was excited about it. Right when it started, in the first inning, I got my period. I wasn’t prepared. I didn’t have anything with me, nobody in the bathroom had anything, and I was with a bunch of dudes that didn’t have anything. I didn’t know what to do.”

Catalano pauses the story to do a bit of crowd work. “What would you do in that situation, sir?” she asks a man in the front row, getting a quick laugh. “You would have left the game?” she confirms. “I didn’t leave. This is what I did: I used my sock.” The audience gasps at the reveal. “Thank you. It worked. I was pretty proud of myself that day. I guess what I’m trying to say is I went into the game a Giants fan, but I left a Red Sox fan.” The elaborate pun gets a gigantic, prolonged response from the audience, two separate members of which can be seen in the front row visibly shaking their heads in disbelief.

The joke’s writing is clever, but Catalano’s delivery and timing are equally important to its execution. She speaks at an unhurried pace, pausing to let each line linger. Her brief digression into crowd work elongates the setup so that this deeply silly punch line is extra gratifying when it arrives. It’s one of several jokes in this set where she utilizes these talents. “Some people say that a man in a relationship will sometimes end up with somebody like their mother,” she explains in her opener. “I don’t think it’s true 100 percent of the time. I’m not anything like my boyfriend’s mom, but I’m a lot like his dad. Because I’m going to leave him … No, he’s cool. He rides a motorcycle, which is awesome. Because I’m afraid of commitment.”

Catalano closes her set with a refreshing take on anxiety. “I read this article that was like, ‘Anxiety is just misplaced excitement,’” she says. “It was like, ‘Try this: Next time you’re anxious, just say, I’m not anxious. I’m excited.’ I was feeling a little anxious the other day, so I was like, All right, I’ll try this new hack: I’m not anxious. I’m excited this mole on my neck might be cancer. She waits a beat then continues, “It worked! I’m pretty stoked to die!”

When the Punch Lines Are Hiding in Plain Sight