Thursday, January 08, 2009

Jokes that are funny because of a concrete detail

I am putting together a short lesson for my students on the importance of concrete detail in their writing. I want to illustrate this with a series of jokes that revolve around a concrete detail to the point that if you took the detail away, it would lose all the humor.

I know there are lots of jokes like this but the only one I can think of is a TERRIBLE joke on a Rita Rocks commercial, where the mom says "remember the last time we let her go to the mall? Visa sent us a gift basket?" That barely qualifies as a joke but you see the idea -- if the second sentence was "she ran up a huge bill" this is no longer even an attempt at humor. I am looking for jokes along these lines, but, you know, funny.


david said...

I think most of the cut-away jokes on Family Guy, 30 Rock, and Arrested Development maybe? They say Tracey Jordan is crazy, then show him running down the middle of a highway in his underwear yelling "I am a Jedi!"

Ultimate Matt said...

I'm thinking of a lot of Mitch Hedburg jokes: "I ordered a chicken sandwich, but I don't think the lady heard me, because she asked me how I wanted my eggs. But I tried to answer her anyway, so I said 'incubated'".

scott91777 said...

David does bring up an interesting point in that, as animation and the single camera comedy replaces the traditional sit-com, the 'cut away' is replacing this type of joke. And, while that's good for illustrating 'showing/not telling' it's probably not very helpful for Geoff here (students can't cut away in their essays).

I know there were some good examples from the Simpsons... I think in the very first season there's a joke where they're trying to find a babysitter and Marge makes some remark about the previous sitters being in therapy or something like that...

I know when I teach a similar point I use Jerry Seinfeld's 'Halloween' (its a comedy bit of his that was turned into childrens book that includes a CD of him performing the bit live... I'm sure it can be found online somewhere). While the details don't 'make' the joke so to speak they do add to the humor as he describes how his superman costume looked more like 'Superman's Pajamas' or the feeling of the condesation on the inside of the cheap plastic mask.

Scott91777 said...

Here's a link to that Seinfeld thing, complete with a slidshow of the story book:

Jason said...

Newsradio had a lot of this type of humor:

DAVE: Bill, correct me if I'm wrong but the the last time Mr. James tried to cut the fat around here, you said, and I quote, "I will drink water from the toilet like a dog before I pay for my own sodas."

Bill: ""I'm a little busy right now... I'm helping the Captain find his way back to the good ship Crunchy goose or whatever the hell his stupid boat is called..."

Dave:"Bill, these people are insane."
Bill:"Oh really?Then why did they elect me Prime Minister of Ward 15 this morning?"

Bill: ""Let me say to you what I told my brother last Thanksgiving, 'Give me my money back!'"

Bill: "In the sixth grade, my three dearest friends and I made a lifelong pact that we would be best buddies forever. But then they hit puberty before I did and they kicked me out of the group and they pulled down my pants in front of a bunch of girls and beat me up." (I love the gratuitous "and beat me up" at the end of that one.)

Dave: Lisa has decided that she wants to have a baby but that she doesn't want to get married. Now I know that if you were awake you'd probably say something like, "Well son, why milk the cow when you've got a fridge full of steaks." And I would probably say, "That makes absolutely no sense, sir." And then I'm sure you would say... "Well it sure sounded like it made sense when that guy Chuck Connors said it in that movie China Town." And I of course would say, "Well sir, Chuck Connors wasn't in the movie China Town." And I'm sure you would come back with, "Well Dave, if I wanted to have this conversation I'd have hired that guy Siskel Ebert to do your job." And I would say, "Sir, Siskel and Ebert are two guys." And I'm sure you would then come back with, "Dave just 'cause the man is fat is no reason to make fun of him."

Mr. James: "Nooo, that's the same technique that 60 Minutes uses to get that guy to admit he's selling heroin to pre-schoolers..."

BILL: "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish..."
JIMMY: "And he spends all his time in the basement tying flies and neglecting his personal hygiene."

Mr. James: "I've got so many lawyers lined up to see me, you'd think I had tobacco leaking out of my breat implants"

scott91777 said...

The 'so' joke is a great way to illustrate this point as well.

I often tell students that if they say 'it was SO cold' outside that I'm always going to ask 'How cold was it?'

Lame, I know, but it illustrates the point.

I'm also now considering buying that complete series of NewsRadio I saw at Best Buy last week...

Damn You, Powell!

Jason said...

Hey, *I* wanted to buy that complete Newsradio set, even though I already own the individual seasons!

Freakin' love that show!

The above quotes are maybe not the *best* example of what Geoff was talking about, but they were what I could find on the web ....

Christian said...

What about Fry's non-seguitur from Futurama? At one point, even Leela asks him something about ending his speeches one sentence earlier.

Paul said...

I still think that the greatest joke ever is:

Why did the monkey fall out of the tree?

Because it was dead.

But that's more of an example of the most obvious answer being the funniest, and not quite whay Geoff is looking for.

The only jokes that keep coming to mind are more embellishment jokes (humor is in the details and not the punchline), like the classic (and usually disgusting) Aristocrats joke, and not necessarily single detail ones.

kim wells said...

Comedy central has a listing (RSS feed) of jokes: Some of them are better than others. :)

kim wells said...

And then, speaking of Family Guy, there's a whole "Star Wars" clip episode on the Blue Harvest DVD. It shows how many ref to SW they have in the series (and is pretty funny). But many of them you don't get unless you have the details.

Kyle said...

A joke from the A Prairie Home Companion joke show, told poorly by me:

There was a Polynesian island which operated under a monarchy. Each year, the king's chair was thrown into the volcano and a new one was carved. When the old king died, his heir decided to start keeping these works of art. He built a second story in which to store them atop his tropical dwelling. Decades later, the weight caused the building to collapse, killing all the island's rulers.

The moral of the story: Those who live in grass houses should never stow thrones.

[I don't know if this is what you're looking for, it's my favorite bad joke. My favorite long joke is called something like 'Jimmy and the Clowns,' I'll find the youtube of my drunken, interrupted rendition and post it.]

Kyle said...