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10/02/2006: Punches in Bunches
First off, a big "thank you!" to everyone who has written to say they have read and loved Bob Harris's "Prisoner of Trebekistan." The general consensus seems to be that it's a book that gets read in one sitting. Not because it’s that short, but because it’s that suspenseful. Click here, and you can stay up riveted all night, too!
Moving on, can you stand another spoiler from The Office? This is from the latest episode. Here's the exchange (this is from memory, so it might not be exact.):
I watched Oprah today. And… I'm going to be a father.
(long beat, then)
What was Oprah about?
This is one of those wonderful moments with two punchlines in a row. Sitcom writing is often characterized as being all "set-up, punch, set-up, punch." But sometimes, it’s "punch, punch…" And that’s a beautiful thing.
And this example also illustrates that the resulting effect doesn't have to be "jokey" or unreal. In fact, you could make the case that the best, most natural way to get funny line following funny line WITHOUT any set-up, is when the comedy comes out of character, as it does here. Michael's self-importance and Pam's sensible mind and appalled tact fuel these lines, so they're totally natural, and not at all forced or jokey. To say it another way, writing lines that come uniquely out of character eliminates the need for a lot of set-up, allowing funny to follow immediately upon funny.
Note that the example also illustrates a perfect use of a "beat" – I have no way of knowing what was indicated in the script, but I called it a "long beat" in my transcription. Not only is the beat necessary for the funny, but, within reason, the longer the beat, the funnier, since it's that elapsed time that allows us to imagine the mental work that Pam is doing, trying to figure out what Michael could possibly mean. Writing teachers may caution against "directing" in your script writing, but in a case like this, it's crucial. The "beat" tells us everything about the nature of the interaction.
Lunch: "Rajma Masala" -- that MRE-style Indian food I like, over spaghetti