Lesson Four – Cream Pie Fiasco and the Pregnant Guy spy. (Dodging and ducking the POW’s) Part 1.

In this lesson I just want to clear up a little bit of confusion.

No, I’m not pregnant!

Good now that I’ve got that off my abdomen let’s kick off this lesson with a rebirth. Firstly, if you haven’t yet figured it out. This lesson is about slapstick comedy and situational comedy.

There’s a difference, you ask?

(Well, I’m asking since I can’t hear any of you over the internet J. )

Yes, there is. Again. Let me ask the experts.

Noun Slapstick ‘slap `stik>
1. A boisterous comedy with chases and collisions and practical jokes
2. Acoustic device consisting of two paddles hinged together; used by an actor to make a loud noise without inflicting injury when striking someone.
1. Characterized by horseplay and physical action.

Noun Situation Comedy `sichoo’eyshun ‘kómidee
1. A humorous drama based on situations that might arise in day-to-day life

Miriam Webster – Online
Main Entry: slap·stick Pronunciation: \ˈslap-ˌstik\
Function: noun Date: 1896
1: a device made of two flat pieces of wood fastened at one end so as to make a loud noise when used by an actor to strike a person
2: comedy stressing farce and horseplay; also : activity resembling slapstick
Main Entry: situation comedy
Function: noun Date:1946
: a radio or television comedy series that involves a continuing cast of characters in a succession of episodes

S.J. Willing’s Fictionary of Words
Noun Slapstick ‘slap `stik
The series of physical events that occur when a male romance author dressed in slinky pink negligee and fairy wings attempts to balance on a rickety pile of logs while trying to sing “I Feel Pretty”.

Noun Situation Comedy `sichoo’eyshun ‘kómidee
The series of life events, people’s votes and uncontrollable acts of God that led to the situation described above.

Slapstick comedy is very much physical in nature, it is mainly a visual humor/audible humor. By this definition it is very hard to put it into a novel and make it work. Compare the alternate pieces below.

A. Jonah, finding himself rather deplete of a plate of haddock, decided to get out his fishing rod and fish for a few. He pulled out his bamboo fishing rod, and flicked it backwards, stretching his arms so that the rod bounced against the side of the castle deck, then realized his error in standing too close to the castle deck. The first mate, startled by the noise turned his head to investigate and was unfortunate enough to catch the end of the rod in his left nostril. Instead of grabbing the pole and pushing it away he stumbled backwards. Eyes watering from pain obstructed his view and he bellowed as he tripped over a coil of aft stay—landing heavily on the helmsman. This event, in turn, left the wheel unattended and The Unfathomable twisted on the water at the mercy of the winds and waves until it faced the wind, where a large, unexpected wave hit it midships and turned it turtle, scuttling all the crew and merchandise alike. And all of this before Jonah had even made the first cast.

B. Jonah, finding himself rather deplete of a plate of haddock, decided to get out his fishing rod and fish for a few. Alas, he cast a little too close to the castle deck, catching the tip of the rod in the first mate’s left nostril as the sailor stood at the railing above. With his sinuses thus invaded the first mate wheeled backwards, squealing, and tripped over the aft stay before landing with a whump and toppled against the helmsman, disabling him. Unpiloted The Unfathomable bucked into the wind where a contrary wave, at just that moment, decided to hit the ship at midships and turned it turtle, scuttling all and sundry. All this before Jonah could make his first cast.

Timing in slapstick humor is vital, and with written humor it is even more so, as you have to try and keep the reader’s imagination working to keep up with the ludicrous series of events. With this in mind you have to write the prose with just enough clues to let the reader’s imagination fill in the details of the events. (Trust me, they will, everyone love’s to fill in the worse case scenario LOL.) To me the second version works best for slapstick because the lesser detail kicks up the pace. And fast pace is part of the essential timing in slapstick humor.

One of the best slapstick scenes I’ve ever seen is in Henry N. Beard and Douglas C. Kennedy’s, Bored of the Rings. Towards the end Frito and Spam are in the swamps of the badlands on their way to destroy the ring, but they don’t want to go all the way to the volcano. Goddamn is, of course, with them to try and get his ring back. The slapstick went a little like this…

Frito: “Long way to the volcano?’
Spam : “Yeah.”
Goddamn : “Goddamn.”
Frito : “Nice tar pit, there. Could lose a ring in it.”
Blurp! went the tar pit.
Spam : “Would need some weight on it though.”
Goddamn : “Goddamn.”
Frito : “Yeah. Hey, Goddamn, here’s your ring.”
Goddamn : “Urp!”
Spam : “Nice.”
Wheeeeee went Goddamn
BLURRRRP went the tar pit.

This has been terribly paraphrased (cos I haven’t been able to find my copy of the book and the local libraries couldn’t get it in time *sigh*) but the mix of farce and slapstick—the tossing of Goddamn into the tar pit, and the look of shock/horror on his face is left completely to the reader’s imagination. This is what brings out the best in the joke.

Summary. Slapstick humor is purely physical, but unlike most other types of writing the descriptions of the sequel of movements should be hinted at, not clearly defined. Stripping the text to the bones is essential for all good humor, but for slapstick the bones aren’t just bare, they are sandblasted.