Elements: Unlikely Combinations 7/10

Posted on 20 July 2009

Back in my article about Comedy Dance Steps I spoke of the three-step. That particular comedy formula goes: introduction, validation, violation. For instance—“You must make sure you get plenty of the three major food groups
every day: fruit, vegetables, and chocolate cake.” The third item may not be impossible, but it will always be unlikely. The humour comes from the audience’s surprise at the subversion of their expectations.

Other unlikely combinations will also cause humour. Many comedy duos like to present a couple of characters who are distinct in ways that makes it improbable they would team up. The most common duo is the “Odd Couple”, where one character is clean and meticulous and the other is slobby and lackadaisical. This was made famous by Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple, but we also see it in Lano and Woodley, Lister and Rimmer in Red Dwarf, and a number of sitcoms dealing with married life.

These combinations are not automatically people who are “opposites”, but rather people who have characteristics that are likely to cause differences to arise. A ballet dancer is not the “opposite” of a police officer, neither is a hippy, a
conspiracy theorist, nor a grandmotherly community activist, but you can easily imagine humorous scenarios arising from a clash in world outlooks between these combinations. In fact by not being “opposites” the audience is likely to be intrigued and perhaps touched by those times where the gap between these people is bridged, and they find they can cooperate, even if for only a few moments.

Other unlikely combinations may be a threat and what is required to overcome it: zombies succumb to plastic forks. Or the password to a gangsters lair: teddy bears. Or what pleases a potential partner: a particularly dainty young woman who swoons at being given power tools, or a butch young man joyfully accepting the latest issue of Tea Cosies and You. The list goes on. Most of these examples are playing around with cultural expectations and stereotypes. This is why they seem unlikely. More and more women are getting into DIY home renovation, so the humour in a woman happily receiving an electric drill is almost gone.  However, give that same woman a jack hammer and you will probably still get a laugh.

As a late Friday exercise (sorry, I’m moving house :)) write:

  1. an unlikely duo
  2. facing an unlikely threat
  3. with an unlikely weapon.

For example: a barmaid and a pixie are forced to rid their land of a dragon and all they have is a brightly coloured ostrich feather.

Peace and kindness,


Elements of Comedy Introduction

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