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Home » Archives » August 2006 » Don't Add a Second Coat
[Previous entry: ""The Thunder's Always Coming""] [Next entry: "The Inner Surface of Funny"]

08/11/2006: Don't Add a Second Coat

So. Project Runway. Don't you think Robert's last two outfits have been too similar to each other? It was the same coat. Well... not the SAME coat. But both coats filled the same square in the great cosmic fashion grid. Know what I mean? Well, it's just like with jokes...

Sometimes a room full of television writers will look at two jokes in the same script and realize that one of them has to be cut. Why? Because "they're the same joke." It seems weird the first time you hear it. They're not the same. All the words are different! What is meant is that both jokes have the same *point*, they're funny for the same reason.

Here's an example. Consider the following sequence of lines. (Remember, this is an exhibition only. It is not real professional comedy.)

Mom! I can't find my phone!

Dig through the stuff in your room. When you hit Indian artifacts, you've gone too far.

I looked through everything!

Better you than me. I'm always afraid I'll find the puppy we lost when you were three.

Both of Mom's lines are jokes. But they're the same joke. Both have the same point: the kid's room is a dump.

These two jokes are especially identical. They even exaggerate the messiness in the same way – by suggesting that things are buried in the mess. They clearly cannot both remain. Comedy relies on freshness of observation. If the observation has just been made… well, you're not going to get a laugh on the second joke.

Sometimes, the one-joke-or-two issue is not as clear cut as it was in the example. Sometimes a writing staff will disagree about whether or not two jokes are the same. In your spec, if two jokes are far apart in the script, if one is an escalation, if the point is similar but not exactly the same… then you'll probably get away with it. Note that Friends could load up a script with Joey-is-dumb jokes and every one would be delightful. But if they had two really specific Joey-can't-count jokes on the same page? Nope. Same joke.

I think sometimes, in writing a spec, a writer can't decide between two jokes. Which one will the readers like better? So he puts 'em both in, thinking he's building a joke run. It can be very tempting. Resist the temptation. Close your eyes and point if you have to, but make the choice, Sophie.

Lunch: Hot polish dog from a little food stand/restaurant with the best name ever: Pappoo's Hot Dog Show. I was hoping for puppets.


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