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03/12/2007: This American Blog
Did you know we're famous, Gentle Readers? This very blog was mentioned on stage as part of the hilarious and wonderful This American Life Live Tour '07, which I attended in Los Angeles tonight. Ira Glass mentioned on stage that this blog sometimes engages in joke analysis. So I've decided, in honor of that, to indulge in some joke analysis this evening. The twist is... I'm not sure why this joke works.
Here is an excerpt from the script for "Fairway, My Lovely," the episode of Andy Barker, PI which I co-wrote with Alex Herschlag. (You can watch it here). I wrote the following exchange, which had to convey loads of information, but which also needed to have some funny in it. (Note that Lew is an aging retired private-eye of the hard-boiled variety.)
It does all add up. The affair, the pills, the condo, the fight they had during his lesson. Of course, she says they were just arguing about his grip...
There's always loose ends and you have to let 'em go. After all, you can't go back and listen to the fight.
Can't time travel.
Of course not.
Can't travel in time.
Nope. Wait! Yes I can! I mean, they taped the lesson! They probably still have the tape at the club.
And the scene continues from there. Lew's repeated rephrasing of the same information just struck me as funny. And even though I wasn't sure why, I kept it in, and I still find it hilarious, and I'm still not sure why!
It's absurd, of course, but absurd never really works on its own. A character doing something nonsensical might make us laugh for a moment, but if it's truly random, it's not all that funny.
So I think the joke works because it reflects so much about both characters. It speaks to Lew's dogged persistence combined with creeping forgetfulness, and it also illustrates Andy's infinite patience. I also think the joke plays with the viewers' expectations of how a scene is structured. We're so used to scenes in which a character lists a series of good reasons to do or think something, that there's something startling and refreshing about a scene with the rhythm but not the content of such a list.
Of course, if you don't find the exchange amusing, then that is also a valid answer to the puzzle. Why does the joke work? "It doesn't" is also an answer. (I still think it's funny.)
Lunch: Universal Studios salad bar and a very dry granola bar that caused me to have an impressive coughing fit in the writers' room.