Comedy is all about recognition. Michael McIntyre points out one of life's foibles. You recognise said foible, then chuckle lightly and die a little on the inside. But there is a thin, unfunny line between highlighting some hilarious, unearthed observation and lazily trotting out a creaky comedy cliché that was hackneyed when first used on Round the Horne. Here are a few clunkers that have been clogging up sitcoms over the past year, which I'd rather not experience again...
"He's right behind me, isn't he?"
Or she, obviously. A Terry and June aged stand-by. Blasting away happily about the downside of someone's personality or looks, usually a figure of authority, despite the anxious glances of your wacky comedy cohorts. Then they appear at your shoulder, usually glowering and twitching their moustache. If you are going to use this one, at least have your character make Lou Costello type noises when they realise their error.
Timely continuity announcements
I'd probably stretch this to coincidences in general. Coincidences are a dramatic staple of course. ("You mean you're my father? Here? On this rollercoaster?") But a decent writer can disguise the fact that something completely unlikely has just occurred to nudge the story along (just as I did there with the rollercoaster bit). Comedy abuses this more frequently, with two former partners going on separate dates to the same restaurant and miraculously sitting next to each other.
If you've got the cojones to do that - fine. But try not to have TV continuity announcers providing either the feed or the punchline when your characters are on the sofa. "Oh no, how can this date get any worse?" "And now on BBC 1, a sexy Swedish movie" "Boh!"
Making up fake names based on things nearby
"My name? Why it's Mr (looks around furtively) Lamp...window. Yes, that's it. Gerry Lamp-window." I still see that gag being used! Frequently!
"I get that a lot..."
Usually uttered when the person is described adversely or derogatorily and so answers in this particularly ironic fashion. "You destroyed my car? You're worse than George Michael on acid. As well as all the pot he just smoked. And on tranquilisers." "I get that a lot." Yes, we get that lazy line a lot as well.
Someone's sister being mistaken for someone's girlfriend
I swear I saw this somewhere this year. THIS YEAR. Can't remember what it was in, must have had a mild stroke after heaving a heavy object at the set. Geoffrey Chaucer would have ummed and ahhed over this particular plot device. "It's all over. I saw him with this other girl. They were hugging and looked really similar and had the same last name and we're conjoined at the neck. When will I find a decent guy?"
By which I mean voiceovers or inner monologues which break the fourth wall and start to comment on the show as it's taking place. Or drift off and start to comment on random things that have nothing to do with anything. "God, I like Helen so much. But then I like Sarah too. But what I really, really like is hazelnuts. Ummm, they look delicious..."
"I just threw up in my mouth a little bit"
This line tends to follow either an expression of extreme affection or graphic sexual acts. Usually by the cynical neighbour/friend/brother-in-law. "Tony from the loading bay fancies you. Isn't that nice?" "Yeah! Great! I just threw up in my mouth a little bit." As did I when I heard this for the millionth time.
"It's just... wrong"
The lesser version of "I just threw up in my mouth". I don't really know why it's funny, but it provides the perfect button in those situations. "I can't believe she's going out with him. It's just... wrong."
I don't remember such a parade of flaming homosexual clichéd characters on British television since John Inman died in that brothel fire. I mean, what writer, in good conscience, can approach their keyboard and write "Lance appears in a pink neckerchief and minces across the pub holding a small dog, waving with a limp wrist and saying 'coooeee'". Yet I consistently see this, not in turgid new traditional sit-coms, but also in turgid new 'cutting edge' sitcoms. What year is it? Which leads me to...
White people acting street/urban
Which runs the gamut from funky grandpas trying to rap, to middle aged business types flashing gang signs and saying 'wha' 'appen'. I'd expand it to text speak and TOWIE talk from unlikely sources also. ("Here comes the vicar!" "Wagwaan bretheren!") It's just wrong. See! See how much fun it is!
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