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Home » Archives » July 2006 » I don't even know what they're selling
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07/13/2006: I don't even know what they're selling

There's a radio ad that's playing a lot these days during my commute and it's driving me crazy. I bet you can figure out why. Here's the offensive excerpt. A wife and husband are complaining about how busy they are:

... we hardly have time to breathe!

Oh, don't worry, honey. I've got breathing scheduled for, oh, let's see... SOME TIME NEXT WEEK!

At this point I grip the steering wheel, clench my teeth, and swear a bit. What's wrong, of course, is that the joke is already well over by the time he gets to the (shouted) last four words. It's certainly over by the word "scheduled," and you could even make the case that the joke is contained entirely in the wife's line. After all, the funny is limited to the notion of a busy schedule interfering with breathing, which is the whole and sole point of her line. Of course, her line isn't funny because it's so familiar it's almost a cliche. Aaaaarhgh!

Stuff like this is one of the reasons that I'm not opposed to thinking about jokes, to analyzing them. Things like this can be avoided if you notice where the joke breaks -- where is the laugh? What is the humorous concept? You can certainly continue a line past that point, but you shouldn't expect to still get laughs out of the same joke once it's over.

This excerpt, by the way, is a perfect example of something that has the rhythm of a joke, even though it's not really a joke... the pause before those final four words, the husband's feigned hesitation ("let's see..."), the sudden increase in volume... that's rhythm stuff. The more you invest in a big shiny rhythm like that, the more you need to have a punch line that pays off. A huge shiny box better have a nice present inside, that's all I'm saying.

Lunch: roast chicken and yams at the NBC commissary. Good!


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