Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Comedy lessons from 2 monkeys

I was talking to my mother on Skype when she said this line:

"There are these two monkeys --"

I stopped her right there. I had to write it down. Looking back at it last night, I got to thinking about why I stopped her, why I wrote it down, and why it was hilarious without even hearing the rest of the sentence.


There's a formula to comedy. That's not to say it's "formulaic" in the predictable, boring sense. Rather, there's a formula in the sense that there are things that are tried and true and work better than others. It would have been simpler, and quicker to say, "Two monkeys.." and then follow with the verb. But this particular type of phrasing instantly says telling a story, or better yet, a joke.

Certain characters are inherently funny. Certain situations immediately make you want to burst into laughter. Once again, you don't want to fall back on the predictable, but there's nothing wrong with using what works.


One way of being funny is to be absolutely ridiculous. No offence to monkeys, but they're inherently ridiculous. If the sentence had started with dogs or kittens or birds, it wouldn't have triggered my laugh reflex.

This guy claims he can go "Super Saiyan" (it's the term for powering up to the next level in Dragon Ball Z) and runs around in public places trying to acheive it. It's funny (and sad) because it's absolutely ridiculous.

"Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you fall into an open sewer and die." Mel Brooks

The actual story my mother told was about two monkeys that have convinced themselves they own our back yard. She went on to tell me about a woman who'd just come out of the shower, only to have a monkey chase her around the house while she was wearing only a towel. Finally, she ran into a room and managed to shut the door. She was trapped in there, while the monkey sat outside the door and laughed at her, until her husband came home.

I expect that this experience must have been absolutely terrifying, but the entire time my mother was relating it, I just wanted to laugh. I mean wearing only a towel and being chased around by a monkey? Charlie Chaplin couldn't do better.


My mother, the Queen of non-sequitors went from politics to two monkeys. Humour can come from any juxtapositions that you wouldn't expect. A while back, I drew a reference to Mrs. Bucket in Keeping Up Appearances. Mrs. Bucket is squarely middle-class, but she's convinced that she's high up all the social ladders. And even though she's hoity-toity, she's got a very working class background and her family has absolutely no behaviour at all. Much of the hilarity of the show comes from these two odd couplings. Either people act like she's middle class while she tries to act like she's in the upper class, or she causes some mess while trying to pretend that her blue-collar family isn't related to her.

I'm looking forward to tryin to implement these in my work. Let's hope I can get them to work. If not, there are always those two monkeys.

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