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Home » Archives » June 2006 » Laugh is a Battlefield
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06/08/2006: Laugh is a Battlefield

More mail! Carole from Attleboro writes with kind words and a couple of interesting questions. Thanks, Carole! She asks why I don't often use examples from Arrested Development in my joke discussions. Well, let's take care of that right now. I was just thinking of one of their particularly genius jokes yesterday, and it made me laugh out loud. Just sitting in my living room, laughing out loud like a crazy person.

Remember this one? Tobias was speaking proudly, early in an episode, about how he was both a licensed analyst and a therapist. He combined the two words in what sounded like an-AHL-rap-ist. It was a funny character moment, not really a joke. Then, as I recall, much later in that episode, we saw his business card and realized that his new title was spelled "analrapist." Holy cow. This joke works like one of those hidden picture things. It's there right in front of you the whole time, but you don't see it until… you see it. Fantastic! What you end up laughing at is partly your own blindness in not having worked out the spelling immediately. And you can laugh as Tobias's own blindness for not seeing what he'd done. AND you can laugh at the reaction of the person reading the card (Buster, so it was hilarious). It has layers of funny as far down as you can dig.

This is a great illustration of joke deployment strategy. Whoever came up with this must have noticed that this word could be logically formed from common job descriptions. This writer might have even noticed this years earlier when looking though the yellow pages for professional help, I don't know. But then came the challenging part, working out how to use this comic observation for maximal funny. Because, you know, there is more than one way this joke could've been told. The card could've been the first thing we saw, for example, and then had the title explained, which would have been funny, too. Or, the first person to hear him say the title could've noticed the problem and asked him to spell it, getting the funny out right away, but without the visual component. Or Tobias could've delivered the whole joke himself "I was going to call myself an analrapist, but then I noticed…". None of these are as funny as the actual deployment on the show. Letting the audience sit with that information and then revealing the card…

If you have a joke that's not quite working, or even if it is, consider how you're laying it out. There are always other ways to deliver the humor. Would it work better reversed, or as a call-back, or as a visual reveal? Should the funny be split over two people or should one character deliver the set-up and the punchline? Once something is funny, it's very tempting to stamp it "done." But, just as with weaponry in a war, deployment can affect how efficiently you slay 'em.

Clarification: I remember Buster reading the card. It's possible this was in a later episode... I'm not sure who the first reader of the card was. But it worked. It worked great.

Lunch: tofu pups and health-food sauerkraut. Get regular sauerkraut. This "healthy" kind has the texture of applesauce. Bleah.


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