Thursday, November 20, 2008

Writing Comedy: The Ridiculous Phrase

One of my favorite kinds of jokes is a ridiculous phrase that makes sense in context. These jokes hinge on a kind of logical turn that a lot (if not all) jokes rely on. I'm very interested in joke logic and I'm sure that will come up often in these posts.

Often times the structure of the sentence will be familiar, but the situation is completely outrageous. So when the joke starts, the audience thinks they are getting a normal sentence, but at some point it turns silly. Here's a primary example:

"You know how hard it is to run when you're holding a banana the size of a canoe?"
-Woody Allen, "Sleeper"

Allen's joke is literally true in the context of the film, but other variations of this kind of joke can be based less on a ridiculous situation and more on a ridiculous turn of phrase. Here are two more examples:

"Well, that covers a lot of ground. Say, you cover a lot of ground yourself. You better beat it, I hear they're going to tear you down and put up an office building where you're standing."
-Groucho Marx, "Duck Soup"

And this quote, which can be found at the two minute mark of the funny video below:

"The 11th [District] hosts the annual West Indian Carnival at which one can hear our greatest American ballads brought to life via the magic of the steel drum. If you would like to know what that sounds like, take a ball-peen hammer to a filing cabinet while humming ‘Oh, Suzanna.’"
-Stephen Colbert, Dec. 15 2005

This clip also foreshadows our next installment of Writing Comedy! It Comes In Threes!!!

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