Working Hard at "Nothing"

It takes a lot of hard work to make good storytelling look easy. In this short video about the origins of “The Pop Tart Joke”—which is a clever little story in itself—Jerry Seinfeld shows us just how hard it is, and offers great storytelling advice along the way.

Good storytelling is a challenge.

"I’ve probably been working on this for two years. … It’s a long time to spend on something that means absolutely nothing."

Write from your own experience, and grab their attention right away.

"You think of something that you think is funny and you go from there. It’s a fun thing to say—Pop Tart. I like the first line to be funny right away."

Use active verbs.

"When I was a kid and they invented the Pop Tart, the back of my head blew right off."

And concrete nouns.

"A specific part of my head blew off. Not just my head, but just the back."

jerry4A good setting is crucial.

"It was the 60s and we had toast. We had orange juice that was frozen years in advance that you had to hack away at with a knife to get a couple of drops, and it felt like you were committing a murder before you got on your school bus."

Set up the plot.

"In the midst of that dark and hopeless moment, the Pop Tart suddenly appeared in the super market, and we just stared at it like an alien space craft and we were like chimps in the dirt playing with sticks."

Be creative.

"What makes that joke is you’ve got chimps, dirt, playing, and sticks. Seven words and four of them are funny."

Keep it taut.

"So now I’m looking for the connective tissue that gives me that really tight, smooth link. Like a jig saw puzzle."

Make it flow.

"And if it’s just a split second too long, you’ll shave letters off of words. You’ll count syllables to get it just … it’s more like song writing."

End with a bang.

"Then I had to figure out how to end the thing and that’s the hardest part. If you have a long bit, the biggest laugh has to be at the end. It has to be, and this was very daunting.

"Once this Pop Tart had come into the world, I didn’t understand why we were still eating other kinds of food, because this seemed to be definitely the new way. Two in the packet and two slots in the toaster. Why two? One’s not enough, three’s too many. And they can’t go stale cause they were never fresh."

Check it out. It’s worth the five minutes.