Monday, April 13, 2009

Lesson Five: Surprise Repetition

Watching the above scene you'll see the set up is the standard scene we've seen dozens of times: Calm down someone who is hysterical by slapping them. ("The Producers" may have the greatest of all of these -- "I'm in pain. And I'm wet. And I'm still hysterical.")

So the set up (expectation) is the person will be calmed down by a slap. ZAZ (writers/directors of AIRPLANE! -- the team of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker) took the situation further and through repetition got the laugh.

Other examples of this include the stateroom scene from the Marx Brothers in "A Night at the Opera." The well-known gag there is person after person piling into a small room -- comedy from surprise repetition.

Another classic is from "Your Show of Shows" entitled "Vacant Holsters" (a pre-"Blazing Saddles" western spoof scripted at least in part by Mel Brooks). In that sketch the opening shows the hero tossing down a cigarette and putting it out. Then another. And another. Ashtray full of them. Set up then repetition for laugh.

The AIRPLANE! example shown demonstrates how ZAZ took that basic structure and realized you could get incrementally more absurd with the repetition. Instead of simply repeating the same object or action you could get crazier as the gag grew. A new twist on the old gag structure from a comedy classic.

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