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05/22/2006: Talking Dirty for Money the Classy Way
When I was in college, I lived in a place called Wolf House. It was co-op housing at UC Berkeley. And it was, I'm certain, exactly like you're imagining it. A microcosm of 27 people sharing unisex bathrooms, heating bologna directly on the gas flames of the stove and only occasionally falling out of second story windows. I loved it. There was something about coming home to find a vigorous hacky-sack game *in the living room* that I miss.
Wolf House was full of smart-asses. I learned there to be very careful with word choice. (And not just because my Midwestern references to "pop" were routinely misheard as "pot.") This was the kind of crowd where you didn't want to refer to anything as "hard" or "up" without hearing a boner joke, and lord help you if you had anything to say about an actual beaver. Twisting words into something sexual is a comedy standard. Those years would serve me well.
Here are three television jokes I can think of instantly that use this technique. The first is a classic exchange from Friends. It went approximately like this:
I'm over you.
When were you… under me?
This one was really quite sweet, since Ross doesn't really intend the sexual re-interpretation, but finds the syntax leading him into it. Here's another. This one is from the sitcom Cybil, reconstructed from memory:
Do you think either of us will ever fall head-over-heels in love again?
I think at our age, the best we can hope for is heels-over-head.
I like this one because the image is SO outrageous. Finally, here's one I wrote for the Buffy ep "Harsh Light of Day," in which Anya is trying to seduce Xander. She thinks having sex with him will help her forget him. It's a little unusual since she's re-interpreting her own language:
It's the secret to getting you out of my mind. Putting you behind me. Behind me, figuratively. I'm thinking face-to-face for the event itself.
Of course, these are all really just examples of taking a common idiom and then interpreting it literally. Sex wouldn't have to come into it. Doug Petrie, for example, got comic mileage out the phrase "making money hand over fist" in a Buffy episode without bringing sex into it at all.
But sex does seem to make these more memorable. (American Dad reinterpreted the song title "Come On, Eileen" into the dirtiest punch line ever. I will remember that for a very long time.)
The best way to find these jokes in your own writing is just to pay close literal attention to what you write. If you do this, you'll notice idiomatic speech all over the place that doesn't make literal sense. Then take it literally. This is, of course, how those guys at Wolf House did it… they listened with their ears attuned to filth. And you can too!
LUNCH: a convenience store spicy tuna hand roll!