How To Write

How I Wrote A Clean Joke Book & How To Finish A Project That’s Slowly Killing You

clean joke book

The next installment in my How To Write series focuses on the month I spent writing a clean joke book, how it wasn’t a fun experience at all, and how to finish a project that’s sucking your will to live. 

There’s nothing funny, or fun, about writing a joke book. Especially an 80,000 word manuscript in just over a month.

In my early 20s, I was broke. All of my income paid the bills. The little change left over every month paid for food, gas and an occasional comic book.

I’m a 41-year-old single father of two young kids, rent and all of the fun financial obligations attached to middle age.

I’m still broke.

Looking for a full-time job became a full-time job after being laid off for the second time in five years. The leftover hours that didn’t get devoured by resume sending, cold calling, LinkedIn begging and panicking were devoted to freelance writing for any media outlet on any topic. I penned articles on hot-button issues like the importance of Grandparents day and activities for the vivacious Baby Boomer. It’s the writing equivalent to prostitution.

Every full-time content job demands a writer cut all ties with other outlets. Freelancing for other companies isn’t allowed. Neither is a personal blog. No writing work outside of company work.

And then “POOF!” the company pivots to video, cuts an entire writing staff, and the most writing done all day involves emails to personal contacts includes questions like “how’s the family?” and “got any $60,000-a-year positions you need to be filled?”

“I might have something.”

Jeff, also a writer, still takes the occasional side job without his employer being any the wiser. His something came from a headhunter that does all the dirty work. She finds jobs, finds writers to fill those temporary positions and takes a nice cut of the money.

“It’s an 80,000-word joke book for not bad money,” he explains, leaving the worst for last. “It’s a clean joke book.”

Do that many clean jokes still exist?

He connected me with the headhunter. The rest proved easy since the publisher of the book coincidentally published two of my books. Once they heard about my interest and involvement, the contracts took a matter of days.

The dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s left me with the task of finding hundreds of clean, unoffensive jokes. After a few days of joke collecting my spirit felt as empty as my checking account.

Even the funniest pun couldn’t put a smile on my face.

I somehow managed to finish the manuscript, mostly on time, and after two rounds of editing the only tasks left were an acknowledgments page and a pen name. The publisher and I agreed early on in the process to write the book under a fake name, so it didn’t affect the sales of my previous two titles. It would look kind of odd in their catalog if the guy who wrote two books about being an asshole also penned a guide to jokes to tell at the next church meeting.

I wanted a believable nom de plume even if I couldn’t pronounce nom de plume or spell it without a quick web search. I settled on my son’s first and middle name, Evan Thomas, and submitted my choice of a pseudonym then forgot all about the project until a few weeks before its release.

The publisher emailed to let me know printing would begin that week and to explain that pre-sales of a book are crucial, which I already knew from previous book promotion, but this time would be tricky because of the pen name. The title is available for preorder on Amazon, so my job was to “get as many people to purchase early” to help the ranking.

The book didn’t pop up after a title search so I searched by author.

Search: Evan Thomas

“Evan Thomas is one of the most respected historians and journalists writing today. He is the bestselling author of nine works of nonfiction: Being Nixon, Ike’s Bluff, The War Lovers, Sea of Thunder, John Paul Jones, Robert Kennedy, The Very Best Men, The Man to See, and The Wise Men (with Walter Isaacson). Thomas was an editor, writer, and reporter at Newsweek for 24 years, where he was the author of more than a hundred cover stories.”

I fired off an email to the publisher while yelling “STOP THE PRESSES!” because it seemed like the thing to yell and explained the name situation. Luckily, it wasn’t too late to change the name as to avoid any issues of people assuming “the most prolific history writer of his generation” was moonlighting as an authority on knock-knock jokes.

The image of an Evan Thomas fan asking the author for an autographed copy The Everything Big Book Of Jokes popped into my head.

Finally, the book made me laugh.

10 Jokes From The Clean Joke Book That Still Make Me Laugh

After 80,000 words and just over a month of research, I completed the book. Here are fifty jokes from The Everything Big Book Of Jokes that still make me laugh.

What time does Serena Williams go to bed? Tennish

The hardest part about water polo is keeping the horses from drowning

A skydiving student is getting instruction on how to open his chute.

“You count to ten out loud,” the instructor explains, “and then pull the rip cord.”

The student stutters “wa-wa-wa-wa-what was the nu-nu-number again?”

The instructor replies “two.”

Two friends are talking on the day after St. Patrick’s Day. “I had a crazy night,” the first guy says, “I got really drunk at the bar and took a bus home.” “How’s that crazy?” the second asks. “Well,” he explains, “up until last night I’d never driven a bus before.”

What do you call an elf that lives in Beverly Hills? Welfy

A little boy asks his mother at a wedding? “Why do brides wear white?” The mother responds “Because it’s the happiest day of their life.” The boy’s father adds “and that explains why the groom wears black.”

Two men are talking over a pint. “I’ll be honest,” the first man says “my wife is a saint.” The second man replies. “You’re lucky. My wife is still alive.”

“I’m starting to think the only reason you married me is because my great aunt died and left me $10 million,” a wife tells her husband.

“That’s absurd,” the husband responds, “I wouldn’t care who left it to you.”

Jake bumps into his old girlfriend at a coffee shop. He tells her about his big life change since they broke up. “I’m not an accountant anymore,” he explains, “I gave it all up to be a writer.”

“That’s amazing,” she replies. “Have you sold anything?”

“Of course,” he answers. “I sold my car, my condo…”

Two men are complaining about their wives.

“We have sex almost every night,” says the first guy.

“That doesn’t sound too bad,” the second replies.

“Yeah, almost on Monday, almost on Tuesday…”



The clean joke book project was a beast to complete. Eventually, I had to sit down and come up with a real action plan to get it completed and into the publisher’s hands in time. Here’s how I finished the project. Use these suggestions with whatever project is hanging over your head.

# 1) Take It On Massive Chunks At A Time: The typical approach to any large project is to break it down into smaller, digestible projects until the goal is reached.

This is a smart idea unless you absolutely hate what you’re doing. In that case, the small tasks will be the scourge of your day, and you’ll avoid doing it at all costs.

If you’re currently knee deep in a project you hate, put everything else aside until the project is complete. Spend extra hours working until you reach the end and never need to look at the task again.

For the joke book, I’d take the hours from 8 pm until about 2 am and accomplish as much as my brain and body would allow. The hardest part was starting. Once you start, don’t let yourself stop, unless you’ve passed the point of exhaustion.

#2 ) Crowdsource: I asked a friend for a joke. He couldn’t think of a clean joke off the top of his head but said: “my kid told me a pretty funny knock knock joke.”

I hadn’t considered including knock-knock jokes.

Find other people to help you do the work or at least bug them for ideas. In the case of the joke book, I asked anyone and everyone for clean joke suggestions.

I asked people to text them, email them, or point me in a direction to find a decent joke.

You’re stuck at what appears to be a dead end on your project. This typically isn’t the case. You’re stuck but only because you’ve run out of ideas.

Ask people for ideas.

Tell friends, family, coworkers, strangers on the train, or anyone who’ll listen about the project and ask the first thing that comes to mind. They’ll likely mention something you’ve covered but maybe in a way you haven’t considered.

#3) Done Is Better Than Perfect: You hate this project. You never want to see it again. It’s not that important in the grand scheme of life.

So why the hell do you care if it comes out perfect?

Done is better than perfect. Perfect isn’t measurable.

You might consider a completed job perfect. Someone could come along and poke 100 proverbial holes in the result.

As long as I delivered on what was required – in my case it was 80,000 words of clean jokes on a specific date – what the hell did I care if they were all funny or memorable?

Finally, remember that what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger, even 80,000 words of jokes. As I did the clean joke book project, learn that every job isn’t worth taking and new opportunities spring up every day.

No joke.

Thanks for reading! If you dug this article, please take a second to like, comment, or share this with friends or random strangers. If you’re new to the website, please check out my archives, and take a second to follow me on FACEBOOK, LINKEDIN, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM or TUMBLR.

Chris Illuminati is a freelance writer and published author. Follow him on Twitter @chrisilluminati or email him at cilluminati [@]

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