Archive for November 20th, 2023

Service of Laughter, a Salve for the Soul

Monday, November 20th, 2023

Image by Eva Michálková from Pixabay

I saved sharing highlights of this October interview on Scott Simon’s NPR show, “Weekend Edition Saturday,” to enhance moods for Thanksgiving week.

Simon interviewed the Keegans—Michael and Elle—about their book, “The History of Sketch Comedy.” Michael defined comedy as “salve for the soul” and “this thing is so silly it could be called ‘I can’t believe you went there.’”

How far is “there?” Could Mel Brooks have made “Blazing Saddles” today? No. Brooks told the authors that he couldn’t have made it in 1974 either but according to his contract he got final cut. Had cuts been up to the studio, it would have been a very different movie.

Comedy must be funny and uplift. Elle asked is it coming from joy or do you laugh because you are uncomfortable?

I learned what is meant by a blackout gag. According to the Keegans, “The blackout is a 30 second joke to keep an audience on their toes.” And Google defined “the gag [as] a kind of joke in broad, rapid-fire slapstick comedy. The term is derived from burlesque and vaudeville, when the lights were quickly turned off after the punchline of a joke to accentuate it and encourage audience laughter.”

Some examples:

Jack Benny’s iconic response to “Your money or your life” was “I’m thinking it over.” The authors said that the gag was a product of a made-up feud between Jack and his friend comedian Fred Allen.

A similar faux feud today is between Jimmy Kimmel who has made a “thing” of repeating apologies at the end of his shows saying that he’s run out of time so Matt Damon will be on another night.

Here’s a blackout gag by George Burns and Gracie Allen:

George: How do you like kissing?

Gracie: I don’t

George: Hugging?

Gracie: Nope

George: What do you like?

Gracie: Lamb chops

George: Do you like eating them alone?

Gracie: “No”

George: What do you like with them?

Gracie: Mashed potatoes.

What makes a bit fall flat? “Lack of commitment. If a person stays at the same level and they don’t explore the concept they are talking about–it doesn’t go anywhere–you don’t get more laughs.” And if the setup is too long, the gag better be good. Also, the authors said, “comedy jail is different from pun jail.”

Who are your favorite comedians? What are some of your favorite blackout gags made by friends or professionals?

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