Monday, 1 April 2013

The Post-mortem of a Clown

10:38:00 Posted by Colin Davies , , , , 2 comments

When writing about comedy, and in particular jokes, the subject will inevitable become a discussion about taste, oppression, offence and bullying. It’s an unfortunate truth about funny, that is, more often than not, there has to be a fall guy.

So in the pursuit of the perfect joke, that is a joke that appeals to all, one has to understand how a joke works.

First rule of a classic joke is the SET UP and PUNCH LINE. A question has to be posed that is seemingly unanswerable with a guess. This engages the audience, sparks their interest and tunes them in. The question is intriguing, it stops the audience thinking about anything else. It is asked in such a way that it has the same stopping power as a slap in the face. 

"Why did the chicken cross the road?"

With in seconds of hearing the question the audience becomes almost obsessed to the point of a mini frenzy.


The answer, when delivered becomes a release of this tension and results in the laugh, groan or profanity telling the comic to leave.

The second rule, be surreal. The whole set up is designed to create the need for an answer and put the audience off guard. Chickens crossing roads is not a normal occurrence in most peoples lives. This sets up the non reality. If you make the opening argument too close to reality and maybe even plausible the audience will actually consider it as an idea rather than develop the need to know. 

Even topical jokes follow this rule only. The opening proposition usually contains the news story, this makes the audience take note. Hear they are not as much desperate for the answer, more anticipating how outrageous the answer is going to be.

“I can’t believe you just said that?”

The punch line still has be far enough away from the truth to be a shock rather than a plausible idea.

The problem with trying to find the perfect joke for all is the very high profile modern take on offence. A topical joke will, due to the fact that everyone will have an opinion on the news story, cause someone somewhere to choose to be offended by it. 

So the perfect joke cannot be topical, but it must be familiar. Rule 3, don’t exclude the audience.

The perfect joke must have the question, be surreal and yet have a punch line that will strike a cord with everyone. Something that you know everyone will know.

Who doesn't know what a chicken looks like? Or understands the idea of shouting through a door to find out who’s on the other side?

So the prefect joke is a non offensive, surreal scenario with an all too familiar outcome that everyone can understand and relate too. And I think I've found it.

Ladies and Gentleman, for your consideration, I give you:

The Perfect Joke

Q: What did the inflatable teacher, of the inflatable school say to the inflatable pupil?
A: You've let me down, you've let the school down and worst of all, you've let yourself down.

And if the description of why this is funny came after the joke it would be the post-mortem of a Clown, which just isn't funny at all. 


Ashley R Lister said...

Your joke reminded me of an excellent short story by Joe Hill (Stephen King's son). The story is called 'Pop Art' and is in his collection Twentieth Century Ghosts. If you've not read the anthology yet I think you'd get a kick out of that one.


Colin Davies said...

What a cracking story. Thanks for that Ash. Oh and I just say, I love Kindle.