Standing in line for a roller coaster on the Jersey Shore, I noticed the following sign: “WARNING! You may not ride this ride if you are pregnant, have back issues, or have an extreme body type.” I chuckled at “extreme body type.” Extremely skinny is an extreme body type, yet no heroin-chic model would be turned away from the Great Sea Serpent.

It reminded me of a recent trip I’d made to another US theme park. I had just sat down on a train set in an enclosed loop- the only thing the ride did was go upside down over and over, the only thing securing passengers being seat belts. A very large man near me was unable to lock his seatbelt and he called the ride attendant – a girl of 17, 18, tops – over for assistance. She brought a belt extension, still no success, and he asked her, “So, what do I do now?”

I guess he was hoping she’d say, “Well, just hold on real tight,” but was disappointed. Clearly uncomfortable by the awkwardness of the situation, she told him he would have to leave the ride.

It gave me an idea for a joke that became, “I think the sign should be more direct. ‘CAUTION! This ride goes high in the air, turns upside down, and spins really fast… you might be too fucking fat for this ride. If you weigh 300 kilos, there is no metal on Earth that will hold you in place- you will be thrown from the ride and take out have the park with you. Finally, if you are out of breath just from reading this sign, you really don’t need more excitement in your life.”

Trying it out on stage, I was very pleased with the response, and that gave me an idea: what if I add several more examples to that list? Make the list so long that the crowd laughs less and less as it goes on, only to start laughing again because the list keeps continuing? I added six or seven more examples and gave it try! Once. I got the first part right, the crowd did indeed laugh less as it went on, but that was it. I preferred the reaction to the leaner, meaner version and decided to keep the original.

A few months later, a comic came up to me and told me he loved the joke – love when that happens – and said it had potential, that I could add a lot more examples to the list. I pooh-poohed that part of his feedback. He hadn’t seen me try that one time to do exactly that.

Long, long after – this is an old joke at this point – I decided to add one more thing to the list. Before the final line, I added, “No, food will not be served on this ride,” inspired by the many people I’d seen in lines shoving fried food, ice cream, or fried ice cream into their faces while standing in lines. That one line elevated the bit to a new level and the response wasn’t just stronger, but more consistent.

I’m writing all this not to show what a brilliant writer I am nor my bravery in targeting the morbidly obese (although, as 41 US states have adult obesity rates over 35%, one could argue that I’m kicking up), but to illustrate a point. I get an idea for a joke, try it out on stage, rewrite it, try it again, keep doing that until I find the perfect version. When it’s complete, like a song on a setlist, I can move it around, or have it on reserve in my head in case I feel it would make sense to add it on the fly. Other comics have a similar process, to the point that I can lip sync along to someone else’s material that I’ve heard so often, worded and performed the exact same way every time.

Except a joke is never complete. Da Vinci said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” As pompous and inane as it is to call dick jokes art, it’s still true that there’s no such thing as a completed work. We can always keep tweaking them, adding, subtracting, but I think most of us are, by our very nature, lazy. Which is not to say that we should be dissatisfied with a joke that gets applause as well as laughter, just that the only thing standing in the way of improvement is ourselves.

I mentioned that the one time I tried making that list even longer, I added six or seven more examples. I think it’s telling that I don’t remember what they were. Maybe the problem wasn’t making the list longer, maybe I just wasn’t funny enough. Maybe I’ll never be funny enough to make a long list work the way I hoped it would. Or maybe this is my Jeff Foxworthy moment and I could ride this ride (no pun intended) to fame and fortune!

“If you haven’t seen your penis in ten years… you might be too fucking fat to ride this ride!”