Late-night hosts don’t get all their gags in-house—scores of wannabe comedy writers bombard the likes of Jay and Dave with their one-liners, the Los Angeles Times reports, then anxiously wait for the show to air "to find out if you got a joke on or not,” says one. The problem? Freelancers earn $75 to $100 per joke, get no credit, and undermine jobs protected under the writers guild.
Conan O’Brien and Jon Stewart refuse the non-union jokes, but freelancers told the Times they’d scored laughs on the Late Show, the Tonight Show, and Saturday Night Live. The writers' union has tried to stop the decades-old practice, but it’s tough, says a union head, when shows deny it’s happening. As for the freelancers, says one, having Letterman on his resume "helped me get tons of jobs, except for at the Late Show. I'm resigned to fact that I probably won't ever be a staff writer there."