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Home » Archives » June 2007 » Doing by Saying
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06/11/2007: Doing by Saying

You know that old "show, don't tell" rule? Well, it can applied in a very specific way that can make jokes stronger and funnier. Look at this joke:

He's the finest man I've ever met.

He's a degenerate liar!

Yeah, that's what I said.

Bleah. It's just so... bald and defensive and familiar. It feels like an old radio joke. But don't you think it's better with this small change?

He's the finest man I've ever met.

He's a degenerate liar!

Who will burn in hell forever and ever, praise God.

Doesn't that feel better? Instead of telling us that he's got a certain opinion, our Guy is demonstrating that opinion by actively condemning.

Here's another example. Remember this from the movie Pretty Woman?

Mr. Lewis? How's it going so far?

Pretty well, I think. I think we need some major sucking up.

Very well, sir. You're... not only handsome, but a powerful man. I could see the second you walked in here, you were someone to reckon with...


Yes, sir?

Not me. Her.

If Hollister had just said "Yes, sir, I'll see that you get a good flattering" or something, it wouldn't have been as funny as him actually doing it. Instead of telling us, he's showing us.

There are some actions: flattering, condemning, promising, etc, that you do by speaking. Even though they're not as active as diving through a window as a bomb goes off, they're still active, they're still a kind of doing. If you let your characters go ahead and do them, instead of just talking about what they think, you haven't just made a better joke. You've also made a stronger, more active character.

Sometimes rules are actually good.

Lunch: fancy brunch at the Hotel Bel-Air. Sushi, egg tart, strawberry shortcake. Veddy veddy nice.


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