I was watching Ghostbusters the other day and ran into a really funny joke that spurred the idea of this post. First off, Ghostbusters 1 isn’t really that great of a movie. It’s a novel concept which is why I believe people believe it’s a classic but it certainly wasn’t that entertaining. On to the joke which I embedded.
I’m pointing this joke out because this is a type of joke I think is funny compared to one I heard on Halloween that wasn’t. I’m just going to explain this joke just so we’re all on the same page even though it’s pretty self explanatory. After frying the cart, the idea of splitting up is usually an idea to cover more ground quickly. The line “good idea, we’ll do more damage that way” is a great response, initiated with sarcasm, considering the practicality of that idea. This makes me laugh. Now this joke on Halloween I heard, I actually didn’t hear the start of the joke but still didn’t think it was funny once I got it. Why don’t witches have babies? Because warlocks have hollow-weenies. I just can’t laugh at this. Using the word Halloween for a play on words of hollow-weenie just isn’t funny. I actually saved this joke by not getting it.
So let’s just take the Ghostbusters joke and elaborate this to comedy. This type of joke can be used under hundreds of different scenarios. This got me thinking that if I used a spin off of this joke from 1984, am I stealing from Ghostbusters? Don’t all comedians steal from each other? Being original at this point in time has to be difficult because so much material has been covered. I remember from the Steve Martin biography that he tried to be funny by not being funny.
“A skillful comedian could coax a laugh with tiny indicators such as a vocal tic (Bob Hope’s “But I wanna tell ya”) or even a slight body shift. Jack E. Leonard used to punctuate jokes by slapping his stomach with his hand. One night, watching him on “The Tonight Show,” I noticed that several of his punch lines had been unintelligible, and the audience had actually laughed at nothing but the cue of his hand slap.
These notions stayed with me until they formed an idea that revolutionized my comic direction: What if there were no punch lines? What if there were no indicators? What if I created tension and never released it? What if I headed for a climax, but all I delivered was an anticlimax? What would the audience do with all that tension? Theoretically, it would have to come out sometime. But if I kept denying them the formality of a punch line, the audience would eventually pick their own place to laugh, essentially out of desperation. This type of laugh seemed stronger to me, as they would be laughing at something they chose, rather than being told exactly when to laugh.
Most people just laugh because they are supposed to. Laughing when you really think something is funny is a better approach.