Ten Great Moments in Comedy Writing

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1. “The Kugelmass Episode” by Woody Allen
Source: The New Yorker 1977.

Synopsis: Sidney Kugelmass, married to the oaf Daphne Kugelmass, is desperate for romance and excitement. He gets more than he bargains for when The Great Persky, inventor and schmuck, propels him into the novel “Madame Bovary” as one of the characters. But when Emma Bovary returns to New York with Sidney…

The whole week went by like that. On Friday night, Kugelmass told Daphne there was another symposium he had to catch, this one in Syracuse. He hurried back to the Plaza, but the second weekend there was nothing like the first. “Get me back into the novel or marry me,” Emma told Kugelmass. “Meanwhile, I want to get a job or go to class, because watching TV all day is the pits.”

“Fine. We can use the money,” Kugelmass said. “You consume twice your weight in room service.”

“I met an Off Broadway producer in Central Park yesterday, and he said I might be right for a project he’s doing,” Emma said.

“Who is this clown?” Kugelmass asked.

“He’s not a clown. He’s sensitive and kind and cute. His name’s Jeff Something-Or-Other, and he’s up for a Tony.”

Later that afternoon, Kugelmass showed up at Persky’s drunk.

“Relax,” Persky told him. “You’ll get a coronary.”

“Relax. The man says relax. I’ve got a fictional character stashed in a hotel room, and I think my wife is having me tailed by a private shamus.”

“O.K., O.K. We know there’s a problem.” Persky crawled under the cabinet and started banging on something with a large wrench.

“I’m like a wild animal,” Kugelmass went on. “I’m sneaking around town, and Emma and I have had it up to here with each other. Not to mention a hotel tab that reads like the defense budget.”

“So what should I do? This is the world of magic,” Persky said. “It’s a nuance.”

“Nuance, my foot. I’m pouring Dom Perignon and black eggs into this little mouse, plus her wardrobe, plus she’s enrolled at the Neighborhood Playhouse and suddenly needs professional photos. Also, Persky, Professor Fivish identified me as the sporadically appearing character in the Flaubert book. He’s threatened to go to Daphne. I see ruin and alimony; jail. For adultery with Madame Bovary, my wife will reduce me to beggary.”

“What do you want me to say?” I’m working on it night and day. As far as your personal anxiety goes, that I can’t help you with. I’m a magician, not an analyst.”

By Sunday afternnon, Emma had locked herself in the bathroom and refused to respond to Kugelmass’s entreaties. Kugelmass stared out the window at the Wollman Rink and contemplated suicide. Too bad this is a low floor, he thought, or I’d do it right now. Maybe if I ran away to Europe and started life over…Maybe I could sell the International Herald Tribune, like those young girls used to.”

2. “A Who’s Who Whodunit” by Joe Queenan
Source: The New Republic 1989.

Synopsis: Joe Queenan submits a real application to “Who’s Who” on behalf of the non-existent and fabulously credentialed “R.C. Webster”, and Who’s Who duly publish the man’s bio in the 1987 edition…
“A few years ago, when I started editing American Business, R. C. Webster had been a fixture on the masthead for some time. Though he may have started out as somebody’s nom de plume, by the time I got there he was turning up as managing editor, staff writer, and general office help – wherever we needed to fill a space on the masthead. Mostly “R. C. Webster” was a handy name people at the magazine used to get rid of persistent salesmen, dunners, or flacks. “Send it to R. C. Webster,” our receptionist would say, or “I’ll have to ask Mr. Webster to get back to you on that one.” In about 500 years.

“In any case, R. C. Webster, like half the other people on the planet, eventually turned up on Who’s Who‘s mailing list, and was duly sent an application form inviting him to become a biographee. So was Joe Queenan. This in itself was a trifle unusual . But heck, these things happen. In any case, Joe Queenan sent in a reasonably legitimate application, though it is not true that he has published a book called Only the Good Stay Dead. Then Joe Queenan sent in a bogus application for Mr. Webster, just to see how rigorous the screening process is at Who’s Who.

“Not so rigorous. The people there didn’t blink when they received a biography from a man who had supposedly been born on September 1, 1939, in Arcis-sur-l’Abattoir; whose wife’s name is Trish Abigail Boogen; whose children include Cassette, Lothar, Skippy, and Boo-Boo; and who holds a Master of Fine Arts degree from F&M T&A University. They didn’t think it odd that Mr. Webster should hold a bachelor’s degree from Holy Indigents High School, doctorates from the University of Ron (Ron, France) and Quaker State University, and claim to be the author of such books as Mars and MenialsJake and Pete, and Mr. Sleazy in Zion.”

3. “The Lost Ann Landers Letters” by Colin McEnroe
Source: excerpt from Lose weight through great sex with celebrities 1989.

Synopsis: Colin McEnroe imagines some of the letters to Ann Landers that SHOULD have been published…
“Dear Ann Landers:
A few years ago, you published an inspirational poem, and it touched me so that I clipped it out and carried it around in my wallet until it became all wore out and frayed and yellow, and eventually I picked up some kinda infection from it so that nobody would shake hands with me for about four and a half years, not to mention the smell. Boy, it was a good poem though.

Anyway, recently my wallet fell into a nuclear breeder reactor, but I fished it out so as not to lose the poem, but it was pretty much illegible by then and some of the e’s had a tendency to leap off the page and scurry around the room, and anyway, “Dan” (my second marriage, his first) says we can’t afford reading glasses for me, even though I notice nothing is too good for those exotic pigeons (their third marriage) he keeps on the roof.

Anyway, I took the clipping of the poem to this research lab in Dubuque where they have been analyzing the Shroud of Murray, an ancient fabric which, it is believed, St. Peter was planning to use for new slipcovers. Even the institute scientists’ (their first marriage) most advanced carbon treatments, however, were not able to bring out the poem and the only word they were able to reconstruct was “earwax,” which I don’t remember from the first time around.

Any chance you could reprint the poem? Boy, I have half a mind to go up there with some Ginsu cutlery and turn those pigeons into moussaka. What do you think the deal is with “Dan” and those pigeons anyway? And what kind of jerk goes around with quotation marks hanging over his name? I am…

Pooped in Paducah”

4. A great moment in movie comedy writing…

Constitutional Peasants” by Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, and Terry Jones.
Source: Scene 3, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Synopsis: King Arthur, dedicated to his quest for the Holy Grail, encounters some long-winded and very annoying Marxist peasants…
WOMAN: Well, how did you become King, then?
ARTHUR: The Lady of the Lake,…[angels sing]…her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite, held aloft Excalibur from the bosom of the water signifying by Divine Providence that I, Arthur, was to carry Excalibur. [singing stops]That is why I am your king!
DENNIS: Listen. Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government. Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
ARTHUR: Be quiet!
DENNIS: Well, but you can’t expect to wield supreme executive power just ’cause some watery tart threw a sword at you!
ARTHUR: Shut up!
DENNIS: I mean, if I went ’round saying I was an emperor just because some moistened bint had lobbed a scimitar at me, they’d put me away!
ARTHUR: Shut up, will you? Shut up!
DENNIS: Ah, now we see the violence inherent in the system.
ARTHUR: Shut up!
DENNIS: Oh! Come and see the violence inherent in the system! Help! Help! I’m being repressed!
ARTHUR: Bloody peasant!
DENNIS: Oh, what a give-away. Did you hear that? Did you hear that, eh? That’s what I’m on about. Did you see him repressing me? You saw it, didn’t you?

5. And another…

The Big Lebowski by the Coen Brothers

Synopsis: The Dude, the Lesser Lebowski, explains his former claim to fame to the daughter of the Big Lebowski…
The Dude: Did you ever hear of “The Seattle Seven”?
Maude Lebowski: Mmm.
The Dude: That was me… and six other guys.

6. Young Frankenstein by Mel Brooks

Synopsis: Igor, sidekick and moron, has secured a fresh brain for Dr Frankenstein (“that’s FRONKenstein!”), but it may be slightly defective…
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Igor, would you mind telling me whose brain I did put in?
Igor: And you won’t be angry?
Dr. Frankenstein: I will NOT be angry.
Igor: Abby someone.
Dr. Frankenstein: Abby someone. Abby who?
Igor: Abby Normal.
Dr. Frankenstein: Abby Normal?
Igor: I’m almost sure that was the name.
Dr. Frankenstein: Are you saying that I put an abnormal brain into a seven and a half foot long, fifty-four inch wide GORILLA? IS THAT WHAT YOU’RE TELLING ME?

7. A great live performance

Frog and Peach” by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore
Source: live at the Plymouth Theater, 1973 (on the lp Good evening)

Synopsis: Sir Arthur Strebe-Greebling (er… Sir Arthur Grebe-Streebling) has opened a rather unique restaurant in the middle of a bog, in the heart of the Yorkshire moors. Only 2 dishes are on the menu: frog a la peche, and even worse…peche a la frog.
Interviewer: “I’m speaking tonight to Sir Arthur Strebe-Greebling…”
Sir Arthur: “Oh no you’re not.”
Interviewer: “Pardon?”
Sir Arthur: “You’re not at all. You’re speaking to Sir Arthur Grebe-Streebling. You’re confusing me with Sir Arthur Strebe-Greebling. My name is Grebe-Streebling. The ‘t’ is silent, as in ‘fox’…”
Interviewer: I’m terribly sorry. I would like to ask Sir Arthur about his rather unique restaurant, the “Frog and Peach.”
Sir Arthur: “Well this seems like an ideal opportunity really, what with me being here and you being there. Marvellous opportunity. Seize it!”
Interviewer: “Yes I certainly shall…”

8. A second great live performance

“The 2000 Year Old Man” by Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner
Source: live in 1960 (on the lp 2000 Years with Carl Reiner & Mel Brooks)

Synopsis: Mel plays the role of an ancient Jewish man who has seen a lot in his 2000 years as a mensch…
Carl: “By the way, sir, are you still married?”
Mel: “I’ve been married several hundred times.”
Carl: “Several hundred times! Do you remember all your wives?”
Mel: “One I remember well.”
Carl: “Which one was that?”
Mel: “The third one, Shirley, I remember her, a redhead.”
Carl: “I’m afraid to ask the next question. You’ve had many hundreds of wives.”
Mel: “Hundreds and hundreds of wives.”
Carl: “How many children do you have?”
Mel: “I have over forty-two thousand children. And not one comes to visit!”

9. A great parody

Bored of the Rings by Henry Beard and Doug Kenney

Synopsis: In the lands of Lower Middle Earth, the Boggies of the Sty rank somewhere along the evolutionary line that leads from rats to wolverines. Somehow they acquired a Ring of great power, possibly from a pig’s nose or a gumball machine; accompanied by the magician Goodgulf and stalked by various Narcs, they attempt to destroy the infernal power of Sorhed of Fordor.

The Wizard paused a moment before speaking to focus his eyes, which had recently developed a tendency to cross, and looked gravely at Dildo.
“It is time to talk of the Ring,” he said.
“Ring? What ring?” said Dildo.
“Thee knows only too well what Ring,” said Goodgulf. “The one in thy pocket, Master Bugger.”
“Oooooh, that Ring,” said Dildo with a show of innocence, “I thought you meant the ring you leave in my tub after your seances with your rubber duck.”
“This is not the time for the making of jests,” said Goodgulf, “for Evil Ones are afoot in the land, and danger is abroad.”
“But-” began Dildo.
“Strange things are stirring in the East…”
“But-”
“Doom is walking the High Road…”
“But-”
“There is a dog in the manger…”
“But-”
“…a fly in the ointment…”
Dildo clapped his hands frantically over the working mouth of the Wizard. “You mean … you mean,” he whispered, “there’s a Balrog in the woodpile?”
“Mmummffleflug!” affirmed the gagged magician.
Dildo’s worst fears had come to pass. After the party, he thought, there would be much to be decided.

10. Another great parody…

Deteriorata by Tony Hendra
Source: National Lampoon, 1972.

Synopsis: a “version” of the much-maligned “Desiderata”, which decorated countless college dorms in the ’70s, and can still be found for sale at the 5th St Public Market…
“Go placidly amid the noise & waste, & remember what comfort there may be in owning a piece thereof. Avoid quiet & passive persons unless you are in need of sleep. Rotate your tires. Speak glowingly of those greater than yourself and heed well their advice even though they be turkeys; know what to kiss and when. Consider that two wrongs never make a right but that three do. Wherever possible, put people on hold. Be comforted that in the face of all aridity & disillusionment and despite the changing fortunes of time, there will always be a big future in computer maintenance…”

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