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Home » Archives » September 2007 » Clamity Jane Rides Again
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09/24/2007: Clamity Jane Rides Again

Clams! Yes, there's always room for clams. I'm talking of course about old and overused jokes and joke forms, known as clams, which need to be expunged from your spec scripts. It's shockingly easy to write a clam since you've heard it work before and it just lays itself out on the page so easily.

Here's one that's currently bothering me. Three people stand together. Two of them (Persons One and Two) want to get away from the other one.

Person One
Um... We actually need to go. We've got that thing.

Person Two
Oh. Right. Um. The thing. At the place. We better go.

Now, right away, I want to point out that this is not the same joke as the line from "Broadcast News" in which a character off-handedly says: "I'll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time." That's a joke about two people who know each other so well they share both their reference points and their internal labels for those reference points. The clam joke is about the opposite, two people trying to coordinate through their closeness and not doing it very well.

Both concepts are amusing, but this particular expression of it has simply become overly familiar. It also requires that reality-challenging conceit of the on-looker who doesn't notice the very obvious strange behavior of his companions. So what should you write if you want to exploit the humor of the three-person situation? Well, instead of a halting bad lie, how about a fast glib one? It's also been done, of course, but it has the advantage of being constantly made new because of the exact nature of the lie:

Person One
We have to go because there's this massive ottoman sale at Ikea.

Person Two
And I need a really big ottoman. Gotta run.

Or whatever. That's really just to give you the idea of a shape of it.

To clamtinue, a recent letter from Gentle Reader Amanda (Hi again, Amanda!) in Eureka, comments on another clam I discussed a while back, the facetious use of "I said good day, sir!" She mentioned that there is an interesting discussion of exactly this clam on line. I poked around and found it here. As you can see, the joke dates back even earlier than I had realized, although it looks at though "Tootsie" might be the first use of it in its current form. Fascinating. Someone needs to do a comprehensive study of the modern American clam. Until then, use your own instincts to smell them out and cut them from your script. This was a great joke in Tootsie, but as you can see from the long list of uses, it's become distinctly smelly since then.

Lunch: meal #10 at Del Taco (featuring two kinds of soft chicken taco)


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