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Home » Archives » December 2006 » Surgical Strikes
[Previous entry: "A Visit From Ken Levine!"] [Next entry: "We Need an Arc Angel to Tell Us Where the Story's Going"]

12/03/2006: Surgical Strikes

So, here I am, reading the televisionwithoutpity recap of "The Amazing Race," and the recapper goes on a lively little digression about the movie Gladiator. She doesn't like the movie, and slams it with this comment: "The only thing missing from that movie was little robot silhouettes at the bottom." Oh my god, that made me laugh. And here's what made me love it. It's a two-percenter about Mystery Science Theater 3000, which was a show that was itself all about two-percenters. It's like a microscopic examination of a microscope and I love it.

A two-percenter, as I'm sure you've figured out, is a joke that the writers estimate will be understood and enjoyed by two percent of the audience. Sometimes the number cited varies, but the idea is the same, it means you're dealing with a fairly obscure reference. As an audience member, when you're part of the two percent that gets it, there's nothing better than this kind of joke because it feels like the writer is reaching into your own personal brain. In a good way.

You can try to include some of these jokes in your specs, but be careful. I suggest that you go out of your way to ask every person who has read your script if they got the joke. And make sure they're telling the truth. People don't like to volunteer that they didn't get something, so you might not find out if you don't ask. If you're getting too many blank stares, you might've written a joke that delights only you, the ultimate audience of one. That would be called a, let's see, an ideolaugh. Ha! No?

By the way, the perfect joke is one that *feels* to an audience like a two-percenter when in fact it's reaching far more of them. That's why observational stand-up is so good when it's done well, because Ellen or Jerry or whoever is describing events and reactions that you thought were specific to you, but which are surprisingly universal.

Any one script can probably only support one genuine two-percenter. But go ahead, write a great joke that almost no one will enjoy. Know that they'll enjoy it a lot.

Lunch: leftover noodles from Chin Chin


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