Comedy Tactic: The Bait and Switch

Since I have started watching more comedy- and even writing some myself- my systemic brain has been coming up with categories for jokes and filing them away. I think that the only category of  joke that already has a set name is the  Pun, defined as: the usually humorous use of a word in such a way as to suggest two or more of its meanings or the meaning of another word similar in sound (thanks, http://www.merriam-webster.com).

But there are all these other jokes that just float about being jokes without any rules or accountability.

One reoccurring type of joke I’ve noticed is one where the listener assumes an impending punchline which the joke teller doesn’t deliver. The assumed line can either be conspicuously avoided or simply ignored and replaced by a totally random statement.  I’ve begun calling these Bait-and-Switch jokes (silently in my head to myself).

Television writer Jane Espenson discusses these humor tactic in her blog:

“It’s not often that a joke becomes an instant classic. But let us now discuss the joke from Glee that goes like this:

SUE
I will go to the animal shelter and get you a kitty cat. I will let you fall in love with that kitty cat; and then on some dark cold night, I will steal away into your home, and punch you in the face.

The beauty of the joke is that this one WANTS you to get ahead of it, and then subverts your expectation.”

The boy and I recently encountered our own version of the Bait and Switch when some playful taunting resulted in the line: “I just walked in on your mom shaving, and man is she fat.” This line may be uncouth, but it wins you the argument.

I’m realizing that there is another type of joke which is very similar. It’s like the bait and switch but the set-up is more cunning- you don’t even know that a joke is about to happen(!). In this version, “misdirecting”, the set-up line sounds completely appropriate for one element of the scene.  Then, a follow up line adjusts the subject of the first line. Hilarity ensues. Example (I can’t remember where I read this….):

[Two friends are eating at the dinner table after one of their girlfriends has angrily broken up with one of them and walked out. The man is flustered and embarrassed.]

Friend A: This stinks.

Friend B: Just hold your nose while you chew.

Is there a mom-joke version of this? you bet! Again an example a taunt session with the boy: We are standing in a burrito place watching a telenovela on a suspended television. On screen an aggressive man is passionately beating a dramatically, screaming Latin woman…

Me: Oh look, it’s your mom in that telenovela she used to do when she was younger.

The Boy: (trying to win the joke by going along with it…) Yep, she just loved doing telenovelas.

Me: Is she still friends with that actress? (FTW)

Thank you. thank you.

…and Sex

Fitness model Luke Guldan

Fitness model Luke Guldan

This year I am actually paying for a gym membership in hopes of putting on some weight and looking good.  And then there are people like Luke Guldan. This guy is so stacked…it’s stupid, really. He may act or dance or something. Whatever he does, I’m sure it entertains.

We saw this post coming…

I hesitated in posting this.  If I’m going to blog about songs and music as a gay man then mentioning Dreamgirls is neither daring nor original.  All  the same, this recording does have TWO incredible singers in an almost laughable duet.  So there.  Laughter and Singing! Stay tuned for Sex next week!

Do yourself a favor, if you aren’t interested in watching the whole thing,  Skip ahead to 5:14.  I cannot stop smiling at the polite silence between Hudson’s riff and Holiday’s riff.  (Holiday’s riff alone- my god!) This may be the most soul I’ve ever scene in one place.  In the future I’ll be more original.

Victor Borge is TWO of my Heroes

After having The Assasssination of Jessie James by the Coward Robert Ford for over 5 months The boy and I realized that we are the reason Netflix is profitable.  Since this wake-up call we have actually been pretty good about keeping the films moving and attempting to get our money’s worth.

At this point in our relationship (with each other and with Netflix) everyone is so new that we end up watching things that one of us has already seen- fallout from conversations like “OMG you’ve never seen XYZ? Put it on the list. the top. The TOP!”

The most recent gem from my past that I was able to share with him is a live recording of Pianist-Comedian Victor Borge  (his humble fansite here, and wikipedia here).   I love this dude.  I have very fond memories at my grandma’s house watching him on video and TV.  Yeah… he’s totally someone your grandma likes, but when grandmas like something that you like it means the comedian is doing something right.  I’m not a fan of humor that is crude, meanspirited, or just existing by means of shock value.  Dane Cook? No thanks.

Victor treats language playfully. His two most famous routines are Phonetic Punctuation – in which punctuation that would exist written are inserted to speech verbally as a cascade of clicks and whistles-  and, my favorite, Inflationary Language.

In this routine he inflates the hidden numbers in speech, SO…  “wonderful” becomes “twoderful”, “forehead” becomes “fivehead”, clocks strike “thirteen”, “I ate a tenderloin with my fork” becomes “‘I nined an elevenderloin with my five’k. And so on and so fifth”

But what consistently wins me over is his undeniable skill on the piano. In the following clip he and a friend share the play the every challenging Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2.  This is four-hand piano at it’s best.  Simultaneously playful and and amazing.

La Cage vs. MJ vs. Gaga

Eventually I was going to have to mention that I work at Samuel French. SF is a play publisher and licensing house.  This means that theaters, churches or schools apply to us for performance rights for any of the titles in our catalogue.  Recently we were astonished when a public school in New York City (less than a mile from Broadway) was approved to perform La Cage Aux Folles.

We were suprised not only someone so near would be approved, not only that a school with kids aged 7-12 was doing La Cage,  But also …because it was school for children with special needs.  All of my office mates wanted to go, but I was really torn from the beginning. I wanted to absolutely make sure that we weren’t attending in a mean spirited way.  I went.

Before the curtain the director made a very impassioned speech at the beginning explaining to the roomful of parents WHY she had chosen to do La Cage aux Folles with Middle-School kids. She spoke out against gay slurs and general intolerance of difference. After a short scene inwhich young kids simulated calling each other fags on the playground the director resumed her talk, and explained that her greatest gift to these children would be to teach them that EVERYONE operates differently, but that doesn’t mean that ANYONE is less.

I was really moved by how she pulled everything together and later on I was really effected by the 12 year old boy from a special needs school singing I am what I am…but I did laugh. a lot.  Not at the kids, but at the show itself.  This school and changed, rearranged, added and cut and insane amount of material.  To give you a slight idea…here is the songlist from the evening:

We Are Family*
Speechless**
The Way you Make Me Feel**
With You on my Arm***
Human Nature**
I Am What I am***

Intermission

Bad**
Look Over There***
ABC****
Best of Times is Now***
Papparazzi*****
We Are Family (Reprise)*
I Am What I Am (Reprise)***
Human Nature (Reprise)**

KEY for Song credit:
*Pointer Sisters
**Michael Jackson
***Jerry Herman (the creator of La Cage Aux Folles)
****The Jackson 5
*****Lady Gaga

This show was hysterical. Aside from the fact that the whole show ended with the a reprise of Michael Jackson’s Human Nature, I most enjoyed “ABC” which was actually sung outside the story arc of La Cage by a student who was was discontent with the casting of “spring play twenty-ten” and wanted a solo although cast in the ensemble.  this was all explained in the preceding monologue.  How Meta!

Maria Bamford @ Comix

This past Thursday night I went with my friend Erin and The Boy to watch Comedian Maria Bamford at Comix Comedy Club in Chelsea. She was certainly Funny.

For a long time I have claimed that I do not really like stand-up comedy.  I’ve repeatedly told people that I would much prefer a funny character than a person standing up there making jokes. The style of comedy that Maria Bamford employed at Comix seemed to have my preference in mind.  This woman is nothing but a barrel of characters. Not only her family members (as we have seen Margaret Cho do) or impersonations of celebs, but countless, humorous characters from Mexican Americans to oblivious white couples.

My friend Erin ( an enormous fan) explained that  her thing is “a thousand voices.”

The one aspect of Maria’s comedy that was slightly off-putting to me is that she basic character was Extreme.  I would say more extreme than many of her other characters.  she held the mic very close and would sniff audibly between her soft spoken words.  Her physicality was odd, and her face hovered between fearful and dazed.  I was surprised- and curious to know if she was putting those traits on as well.

Erin explained that that’s “just how she is” and said she’d seen her interview.  The Boy said she seemed to be acting, but was impressed that she committed to creating this odd personality. and I was unsure.  For the first time I found myself wishing she would just stand there and tell jokes- I was being offered an amazing character, but was more interested in the stand-up…

The clip I’d like to share with you is her doing an impersonation of “stand up comics.” ( How meta, right?)  I’m still not sure what to think of her zoinked-out baseline.

On her personal website Maria lists the following credits among others:

• Comedy Central’s “The Comedians of Comedy Tour”
• Variety’s Top Ten Comics to Watch
• Late Night with Conan O’Brien
• The Tonight Show with Jay Leno
• Comedy Central Presents…Maria Bamford
• Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor on PRI
• Best in the Festival Melbourne Comedy Festival Winner

The one that got me the most excited from this list was definitely the Prairie Home Companion appearance. ;)

Joe and the blog…

After living in NYC for a year and a half I decided that I would sign up for a library card at the NY Public Library. I mostly did this because I needed to kill an hour after work today before meeting some friends at Boxer’s a new gay sports bar in Chelsea. However, while signing up for my card I made a silent vow that I would check out and read something every 2 months. I already know the first book I will check out. Color Purple. somewhere in there is a quote that god gave us unbelievable gifts. the best of which are laughter singing and sex….