Home » Archives » February 2007 » When Life Gives you Clams, make Clamonade
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02/24/2007: When Life Gives you Clams, make Clamonade
There are many things that seem terribly clever and endlessly engaging when you first encounter them, but which quickly turn familiar and then grating. This year's hot toy, the newest novelty dance (aren't we about due for a new one, by the way?), the latest celebrity breakdown... these all have really short shelf-lives.
A joke that has outlived its shelf-life is consistently referred to as a "clam." I've talked a little about these before, I believe. You know a clam when you hear it. Here are a few of them: "I'm switching you to decaf." "Check please." "Who are you and what have you done with ___?" "Did I say that out loud?" "Too much information!" and its brother (hand over ears) "La la la". Also we have "Was it something I said?" And "That didn't come out right." Or "That came out wrong." And finally "That went well," and its sister, "He seems nice".
However, there are ways to adapt or revive clams even after they start to smell. Ways to extend their usefulness.
One way is, paradoxically, to overuse them. Stepping on a rake is a visual clam, but The Simpsons famously used it in an extended sequence which took it to absurd new levels. I also recently read a scene in which "That didn't come out right" was used a couple different times by different characters. If it had just been used once, it would be clammy. But the repetition of it became its own joke.
Another way is to use the lines in unexpected way. A character who has been sitting silently and suddenly blurts, out of the blue, "Did I just say that out loud?"-- that's pretty funny. (I bet it's been done, but still, funny.) "That didn't come out right" is pretty funny, too, if it's Dr. House saying it while removing a tissue sample.
Another way is to supplement the clam with fresh material. When Dawn complimented a burger on Buffy she said: "It's like a meat party in my mouth. (then) Okay, I'm just a kid and even I know that came out wrong." Yeah, the last part of the line is a clam. But "meat party" is priceless and tying her reaction to her age gives it more content than if it just sat there unadorned.
Another way is to express the same notion, but find a new way to say it. Even a minor variation helps. "Who are you and what have you done with ___" is less nerve-blastingly familiar as "Take good care of ___, wherever you're holding him."
There's also the option in which the writer acknowledges the clamminess. The Office can give Michael Scott any of these lines and have them work because the joke is that he still thinks they're funny. I can clearly imagine him saying, "That's it, I'm switching to decaf," followed by Dwight trying to actually take his coffee away while Michael fights to keep the smile on his face. In fact, just recently, Michael used the classic clam "...if that's your real name," and in his hands, it was funny.
The best option, of course, is to find your own jokes that are so short and punchy and funny that they would be clams if anyone else had thought of them yet. It's not an impossible task, actually. After all, every one of those clams listed above had its first appearance some time.
Lunch: Those stuffed jalapenos at Jack in the Box. Can't resist 'em!