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Home » Archives » June 2007 » Warning: This Post Contains an Unavoidable Swear
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06/19/2007: Warning: This Post Contains an Unavoidable Swear

Friend of the blog Erin has just pointed out a category of clam (an overused joke) that I hadn't noticed before. She sites examples like:

"I thought you said you could cook!"
"I didn't say I was a good cook."

Try Googling the phrase "I didn't say I was a good" and see what comes up -- it's quite a harvest. This is clearly an overused joke form, although, honestly, it's barely a joke. Friend of the blog Erin asks if this is a clam that can be rehabilitated.

I don't think so. There was a brief period where it got a second wind, when the second line was changed to the amusingly blunt, "I lied." But now that has grown hoary with age as well.

If you want to say that someone is bad at something, I suggest that you avoid the "I thought you said..." set-up altogether and go at the joke in a different way.

But, for the sake of fun, let's imagine that for some reason the thing you want to preserve is the notion of something being misheard or misunderstood. It looks to me as though there are at least three joke forms that use this. We've already looked at the first one, in which the humorous element is that the person is asserting and then denying some ability with a claim that they've been misunderstood.

Here is the second one, which is about actually mishearing the original assertion.

A Catholic learns what his daughter has been up to: "Did you say prostitute? Thank god, I thought you said Protestant."

In a clever variation on this form, it wasn't the words, but the grammar, that was misheard:

Mickey Mouse explains the grounds for his divorce from Minnie: "I didn't say she was crazy. I said she was fuckin' Goofy."

Then there is the final category, in which the original statement was misunderstood because the hearer either made a very logical assumption about the point of the original statement:

"I thought you said your dog does not bite!"
"That is not my dog."


"But I thought you said your husband had a vasectomy."
"He did. That's why I have to take every precaution."

Or the hearer failed to make the most logical assumption:

"I thought I asked you to take those penguins to the zoo!"
"I did, but I had some money left, so we're going to the movies."

I think these last two examples -- the vasectomy one and the zoo one -- are the jokes I've come across that best use the misunderstanding framework. And you know why they work best? Because they're character-based. They look like language-tricks, like the "Goofy" one, but they're actually jokes about assumptions, not mishearings. Anyone can mishear. But when you assume you reveal your character. Both the cheating-woman in the vasectomy joke, and the van-driver in the second joke, made an assumption that reveals their character.

Now, obviously, these are jokes that I've pulled off the rack. You can't put them in a script; you have to make up ones of your own. But once you understand the mechanism, that part's easy.

As you're going through your script, look at the jokes. If they don't reveal character, if they're jokey-jokes that anyone could say, look for alternatives. Write something that tells us about the characters.

Lunch: stuffed jalapenos at Jack in the Box


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