By Way of an Explanation: The Best Joke

I’m a big fan of the craft of comedy – while I like a joke that catches me by surprise and really makes laugh (who doesn’t?), I especially love it when I can see the thought that’s been put into making a joke work; the craftsmanship.

You can’t dissect something without killing it.

This post is a list of my favourite examples of the craft of comedy. Not necessarily the things that make me laugh the most – for one thing, I’ve overanalysed them to the point that I barely even find them funny anymore, and for another, intellectual appreciation is all well and good, but the jokes that actually make laugh the hardest always seem to involve poo (I am 37 years old).

Let’s start with 3rd Rock From the Sun. I was never a big fan of the show, but in the episode “Romeo and Juliet and Dick”, wedged between John Lithgow’s gurning and French Stewart’s squinting, we find this gem:

Harry: Hey, how’d the audition go?
Tommy: I lost the part. The Di-rec-tor didn’t think I was good enough!
Dick: You were good; you had delivery, presence, timing, you just didn’t have that indefinable something extra.
Tommy: I was just trying to score some points with my girlfriend, is that too much to ask?
Dick: Romeo and Juliet is a Shakespearian tragedy, it has nothing to do with a horny teenager and his girlfriend!

I’m honestly not sure just how many layers of irony are present in that last sentence. Not as many as there are in this one, though (obviously, The Simpsons had to be in here somewhere):

Homer proves that he doesn’t know what a rhetorical question is by using a rhetorical question without knowing it; that actually hurts my brain a little. The next one’s slighter, but it has special appeal to me:

More irony, with a bit of Linguistics humour thrown in. As much of a fan of comedy as I am, I’m a bigger fan of language, which gives this one an extra special place in my comedy heart.

And finally, this one from Futurama (again, a show I like, but not one I’m a massive fan of). Bender needs to make room for more loot, and this is what happens:

A fishbowl, then a toaster, then another fishbowl, then another fishbowl. (And now you get the reference.) Intro, setup, shaggy dog, punchline. The more I think about exactly why those four items were chosen, the more I think this is the cleverest, most elegant joke I’ve ever seen – it makes a haiku look florid and overwrought. Essays could be written about how this 3-second gag is structured – they could have just picked four different random items* – but I’m not going to. You can’t dissect something without killing it (see “overanalysed them to the point that I barely even find them funny anymore” above); best if this stays alive, at least for the rest of you. It’s too late for me.

Of course, the thing about humour is that it’s brimming with dirty, dirty subjectivity, so chances are you’re reading this thinking “What the hell is he on about? Those are barely funny at all!” In which case, how about you tell me what your favourite moments of comedy are, smart guy? (OhpleasegodleaveacommentformeIgetsolonely.)

*Probably thrown out in increasing order of wackiness. I can imagine a lesser version of that shot, with the last item being a screeching cat – the cat screech being the comedy equivalent of the Wilhelm scream, along with the sound of a needle scratching across a record.

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6 thoughts on “By Way of an Explanation: The Best Joke

  1. So there is the old stand up convention that your last joke should link up to your first. Once you are away of this is becomed pretty easy to see the set up for this in a 10 min routine. I like the people who can manage this after a 2 hr set so you have forgotten the first joke completely and they smack you with it again at the end and its a new joke again

  2. The German guy in that clip plays a character named Ruxin in The League. A comedy that’s just hit it’s 4th season. If you haven’t heard of it its a bunch of guys who are obsessed with winning the fantasy American football league, which sounds shit if you aren’t into sport (which you aren’t) but it’s pretty funny because they’re all such fuckwits who are always getting into crazy shit. Gets better and better with each season. A few of the characters are way outta left field.

    for example… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zuVsLR_2GX0

  3. apathyjack

    In the ‘Behind the Laughter’ episode of The Simpsons Homer says something to the effect of “No one told me how hard it would be to raise three kids.. Then I realised I could park them in front of the tv. That’s how I was raised, and I turned out tv.”

    That has the triple threat of being 1) unexpected, 2) slightly clever, and 3 relating exactly to my life at the time, where I was unemployed, doing nothing all day except listening to the Manic Street Preachers and watching American sitcoms, and living with someone who did exactly the same. As my flatmate at the time out it when watching that episode: “Oh my god _I_ turned out tv…”

  4. Robert

    As a (normally) quiet enjoyer of humour, one thing stands out in my memory as a joke that made me laugh out loud, hysterically, and for an extended period of time: the final line of the “New Zealand Town” episode of Flight of the Conchords.

    The sudden realisation that the *entire episode* was simply a setup for that one short line, and the fact that it would be completely meaningless if you didn’t know the movie it referenced, was a moment of the purest comedy gold I can imagine.

    PS Plus, obviously, any reasonably accomplished retelling of The Aristocrats.

  5. Pingback: There’s a Potty in My Mouth and Everyone’s Invited | Fishbowl Toaster Fishbowl Fishbowl

  6. Cooper

    I’m actually writing an essay on the fishbowl toaster fishbowl fishbowl gag and stumbled upon this site after googling it. I was glad to see someone else appreciate it like I do. I do however disagree that over analysis kills what you’re dissecting. It simply holds a magnifying glass over it. If it lacks sufficient merit, the magic of the joke would be dead, but I think the fishbowl toaster gag can withstand any amount of examination and scrutiny.

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