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09/13/2006: Habitat for Humor
So, I was flipping through my favorite book the other day, and I came across an excellent example of a certain kind of joke which I simply must discuss with y-- Oh, my favorite book? That would be Prisoner of Trebekistan, by Bob Harris. So funny! Available right now on Amazon. You can go get it now, and then come on back. We'll wait.
Okay, so here's the joke. (It's on page 277.) Harris is talking about the eensy animals known as chevrotains:
"They're also called 'mouse deer,' despite being neither deer nor mouse. If that sounds confusing, consider the woodpecker."
This is a kind of joke that requires the audience to do some math in their head. If you've ever heard a joke of this kind performed in front of a live audience, like at a sitcom taping, it produces a rolling laugh... one that progresses through the audience as people arrive at the conclusion with varying degrees of speed. The laughter of one person sometimes even triggers the rest of the audience into figuring out there's a joke to be got, so then they start doing the work. It's a comedy version of "The Wave" or a communicable disease.
I love this kind of joke. I remember one from my childhood, that occurred during an episode of Match Game. Remember that old game show? The celebrity panel was supposed to fill in the blank: Kissing ____. Richard Dawson held up an answer card that read "-er." A rolling laugh followed, as the audience performed the appending of the suffix to reveal the famous name.
You may be told by others that this kind of joke is too "thinky." "Maybe we can hand out pamphlets to the audience, explaining it," you might be told, snottily. And sometimes, in fact, a joke does require too much work. But the fact of the delayed laugh should not in itself be enough to make you cut the joke. Audiences like to feel smart, and this kind of joke does that.
Give them the tools, and let them build the punchline themselves. I love that.
Lunch: cheeseburger and banana cream pie. A good day indeed.