Home Contact Biography Works Media News

Jane Recommends
Who Hates Whom / Bob Harris

Who Hates Whom: Well-Armed Fanatics, Intractable Conflicts, and Various Things Blowing Up A Woefully Incomplete Guide by Bob Harris

"The geopolitical equivalent of scorecards that get hawked at ball games. Only Bob could make a user’s guide to our increasingly hostile world this absorbing, this breezy, and—ultimately—this hopeful."
~ Ken Jennings, author of Brainiac


Jane in Print
Serenity Found: More Unauthorized Essays on Joss Whedon's Firefly Universe, edited by Jane Espenson

Flirting with Pride and Prejudice: Fresh Perspectives on the Original Chick-Lit Masterpiece, edited by Jennifer Crusie and including Jane Espenson's short story, "Georgiana"

Finding Serenity: Anti-Heroes, Lost Shepherds and Space Hookers in Joss Whedon's Firefly, edited by Jane Espenson and Glenn Yeffeth

Jane in DVD

Jane in DVD

Now Available:
+Battlestar Galactica Season 3
+Dinosaurs Seasons 3 & 4
+Gilmore Girls Season 4
+Buffy: The Chosen Collection
+Tru Calling
+Angel: Limited Edition Collectors Set

Jane in Progress


Home » Archives » February 2008 » Maybe She'll Get A Free Copier, Though?
[Previous entry: "English People Don't Actually Say Po-tah-to"] [Next entry: "Another Bite of That Onion"]

02/22/2008: Maybe She'll Get A Free Copier, Though?

I made reference, in my most recent post, to a joke feeling "written." This can happen when a joke relies on very specific wording or a specific structure. The reason that Senator Clinton's joke "that's not change you can believe in, that's change you can Xerox" fell so very flat during last night's presidential debate had a lot to do with its "written"-sounding parallel structure. This was particularly deadly in a joke whose point was supposed to be to praise spontaneity.

The reason that jokes like this are so tempting is often because when they're pitched in a room, they aren't written. Yet. Someone thinks it up and says it out loud, and in that moment it feels spontaneous because it is. And it's hilarious. In fact, the more structured and elaborate and perfect it is, the more hilarious it is when someone just opens their mouth and produces it. Problem is, it's only spontaneous once. Every single time it's said after that, it's going to sound canned, unless it's delivered by a very skilled actor who can somehow make you believe they're finding it on the fly. The classic Friends line: "You're over me? When were you under me?" might've sounded written except that it was so perfectly delivered. From Frasier, Niles' line "My brother is too kind - he was already eminent while my eminence was merely imminent," sounds completely written but was delivered with the joy of a pedant realizing he's just come up with a good one.

Traditional sitcoms provide a natural habitat for this kind of joke. When married with character, they can be the kind of sharp precise jokes -- hard jokes -- that work perfectly in that heightened world. I'm not putting down this kind of joke. They're little gems -- hard and sparkly.

But, if you're writing for a single-camera half-hour or a funny hour, you're usually better off sticking to "soft" jokes that rely on character without relying so heavily on the perfect string of words. Certainly that's what you should do if you're trying to make a point about the value of off-the-cuffedness.

Lunch: ceviche from Ralph's supermarket. It sounds unwise, but it was good.


Get Blog Updates Via Email

Enter your Email

Preview | Powered by FeedBlitz


Walt Disney Writing Fellowship Program
UC Berkeley
Jane recommends you also visit BobHarris.com



February 2008

Valid XHTML 1.0!

Powered By Greymatter
Greymatter Forums

Home | News | Works | Biography | Frequently Asked Questions

Site design Copyright © PM Carlson
This is a fan site owned and operated entirely by PM Carlson with the cooperation and assistance of Jane Espenson. This site is not affiliated in any way with Mutant Enemy, 20th Century Fox or ABC.