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Home » Archives » July 2007 » In Which I Become an Area of Expertise
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07/21/2007: In Which I Become an Area of Expertise

Whoa. This humble blog has been praised by the amazing John Hodgman. Holy crap! I'm absolutely beside myself. If you follow this link, you'll be taken to his blog entry which then links back here. Theoretically, you might never get out of the loop, so bring an apple.

Please linger on his side of the looking glass while you're over there. Hodgman has a sense of humor that manages to be both dry and twisty (like uncooked ramen). I highly recommend his book "The Areas of My Expertise" and I consistently giggle with glee when he appears on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

In fact, there was a joke he made during his most recent Daily Show appearance that I've been wanting to discuss with all of you, Gentle Readers, and this is the perfect time. He was displaying a chart that purported to show an increase in the number of leprosy cases in the U.S. The joke went like this:

"As you can see, over the last seven years the average number of fingers per American hand has dropped off, while the number of fingers that have dropped off has risen dramatically."

Wow. That joke is so well constructed that I want to live in it during the rainy season.

Here's why it works. The phrase "dropped off" is one we use automatically when discussing charts. As a joke writer, you should immediately look for humor in the literal interpretation of any metaphorical language. In this case, the beautiful collision of the subject matter and the way we naturally talk about charts produced the joke. It's identical in this way to this joke from my Buffy episode, "Harsh Light of Day," in which Anya is trying to talk Xander into sleeping with her.

I think it's the secret to getting you out of my mind. Putting you behind me. Behind me figuratively. I'm thinking face-to-face for the event itself.

Often, you find this kind of joke as you're typing. You write the words "dropped off" or "behind me," and it suddenly hits you that those words, taken literally, are colliding with your subject matter in an interesting way. Your first impulse might be to change the wording to avoid muddying what you're talking about. But before you do, play around with it for a while and see if the ironic clash of language can be turned into a joke.

A close relative of this kind of joke, by the way, is this classic one from the Simpsons in which Bart finds himself in the audience for a performance he doesn't enjoy:

I didn't think it was physically possible, but this both sucks and blows.

The starting place, again, is taking figurative language and considering its literal meaning. My buddy John Hodgman and I recommend it. Hee!

Lunch: cup o' noodles, pie


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