Joel Kim Booster Shares The Evolution Of A Great Pony Joke

What is it like when a joke totally fails? How do you make it better? The comedian gets candid about the process, shares some old tape, and more.

Photo Credit: Mindy Tucker

Since Brendan was outsourcing some of the segments on the show while Rico was gone, he managed to convince Associate Producer James Kim to do a new segment. And James came up with this idea called “Double Take.”

Here’s how this segment works: A comedian breaks down a single joke that bombed, and then said comedian talks about how they reworked it into something better. And James’ first guest (or maybe we should say “victim”) is New York funnyman Joel Kim Booster! He’s got a Comedy Central stand-up special premiering on October 20th and his debut album, “Model Minority,” drops on November 3.

One of the first jokes he wrote was about the time he got a Crimp’n Curl Pony for Christmas as a kid, and how his mother could no longer deny he was gay.

Joel brought two recordings of this joke. One performed in his early days as a comic at in Chicago, which you can hear in the audio above. (Heads-up, that set was filmed on an iPhone, so the audio quality is a little rough.) The other was when he did a stand-up set on Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show, which you can see embedded below.


Joel Kim Booster: Oh, God! That was really hard. I will say, the meat and potatoes of that joke has stayed the same. Oh wait, are we going to listen to the other one?

James Kim: Yeah, we will in a bit, but with that said, yeah. I can tell within that joke… there was stumbling in there.

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah. There’s a good joke in there, you can tell, but it’s just not quite there yet.

James Kim: Yeah. And then, of course, that last bit, the final punchline, and then you stumble on it.

Joel Kim Booster: Yeah, that was unfortunate.

James Kim: How were you feeling in that moment?

Joel Kim Booster: I don’t know. I think I probably felt great, honestly. I honestly was so delusion back then, I don’t remember feeling poorly about this. I mean, I uploaded it to YouTube afterwards, which, thankfully, like a year later I had the good sense to put it on unlisted. And even more thankfully, just saved it in general so we could do this horrific exercise right now on this podcast.

But no, I don’t remember feeling especially bad about it. But I will say, like, the pony joke in its current form is my favorite joke and it is the first joke I remember ever writing that other stand-ups that I respected would come up to me after a show and be like, “That is a great joke.”

And it’s sort of crazy that I found this terrible clip of it. It really makes me less proud of it.

James Kim: So now, let’s hear the evolution. Four years later you’re on “Conan” and you tell the same joke about your mom, who’s in denial about you coming out and you being gay, and this is kind of the moment where she finally has to realize that you are gay.

James Kim: There’s so much more confidence!

Joel Kim Booster: Oh, that’s better.

You know what’s funny? I was thinking about this joke and listening to the differences here. And my background is in theater, and I was an actor for a long time, and a writer, and then I started doing this. And when I did it in Chicago, I was so much closer to that world. And it’s so ironic because the thing that really makes this joke, I think, click into place for me, or made it click into place for me, was when I embraced the sort of inherent theatricality of this joke. Which is: there are characters.

And I think, like, adding the cry at the end was such a pivotal moment for me in this joke because, you know, YouTube comments are notoriously savage and mine are as well, but I will say the one thing that saves me from a lot of people’s ire is they say, “You know most of this set sucked, but that moment really got me. He really tricked me into thinking he was about to cry on television.”

So, I will say it saved me, but I think sort of embracing that part of myself and the part that [I] said at the beginning of my stand up career of being like, “No, leave the theater behind, you’re a stand-up comic now” was actually a wrong impulse on my part, because I think some of my best jokes sort of come from a place of theatricality.