distance and comedy

edited February 2009 in Story Games
This is picking up on something mentioned elsethread, the idea that comedic content benefits (or is at least tolerant of) distance from the character in some way. I'm interested in unpacking that a bit.

I'll kick off with a personal perspective. My improv group performed our first show together in this incarnation on Sunday. There are a lot of gifted people within it, with natural comic timing, quick minds, and a sense of the gag. We had a good show, the audience was entertained, we laughed.

We debriefed yesterday, in what was an intense and pretty wonderful peer feedback session (perhaps interesting to think about in an rpg context? But, another thread.). We found a lot of dissatisfaction with what we had been producing, and traved it back to (ok, our tutor shone a torch at) the tendency to step away from the human situation and sit at the meta-level, fiddling around for perceived comedic effect. We were distancing ourselves; we were taking pawn stance. We were getting the laughs, but the laughs were coming from high up, in the throat or head.

After talking for near 2 hours, we ran through some scenes, taking the various feedback to heart (frinstance I entered scenes with more physicality and pronounced characterisation). The final scene included James, a natural hoot who rustles up bug-eyed hysterics and grubby imbeciles without effort. Only this time, he stayed with the scene, in his character, finding that story and exploring it.

It was a wonderful scene, quite moving, surreal and playful. Pertinent to this topic, it ended on a comedic beat. A beat that had the room in shuddering, convulsive laughter for several minutes, looking back and forth at each other with smiles. The final ten minutes of notes had to be abandoned twice, on each occasion that scene was returned to; by the end I was crying. Just thinking about it now, I've done it again.

What was the joke? Out of context it's not worth a damn. But coming out of affiliation, connection to character and emergence from the true obvious within the scene - rather than "what we need here is" - made it a moment I don't believe I will ever forget.

So, that's improv, and this is gaming. Also, this is my story, I want to hear yours. Where have your best laughs come from in gaming? Do different approaches (stances) yield different kinds of funny? And other questions...

Comments

  • Hmmm. I can't remember where huge laughs come from (like, a specific funny moment that happened at the game). But for all the funny things that happen "in game" (and there are a few), most of the funny moments is the "what we need here is..." style "making jokes out of character, about stuff that is happening at the table right then and there".

    It happens just enough to keep things lively, but not enough for distraction.

    There used to be some distraction, but we fixed it with an hourglass egg timer thingy.
  • Andy, agreed. For me, the frequency of 'banter' comedy outstrips fictional comedy when gaming. I think that's because for me gaming is an activity with my friends, whose company I enjoy and make me laugh. What's more, it's an informal activity - we have no obligation to an audience to sustain the fictional content; just entertaining ourselves is fine.

    Oh, you're really making me think here!

    If the (not THE, but yours, or theirs, or my) purpose of gaming is sharing with your friends, then banter and distanced comedy is a rapid, sweet way of connecting intellectually. Distanced comedy is often commentary, and commentary is putting your own spin on things: showing what you know, what you (pretend you) don't know, reinforcing the fact that you are Sardonic Gal, or Wacky Guy. It's a nice way to reinforce your social roles and relationships within a group.

    However, I see it as a less effective way of connecting emotionally. Commentary and banter is fleeting, it doesn't take centre stage. When banter does contain truth, it seals it off and prevents it actually being addressed.

    e.g.
    Theodore (unlucky in love player) totally flubs attack roll for Gunther (hideous troll warrior PC) on the medusa. "Hmph, well there's a surprise. A death machine, but try to hit on a woman? No joy..."

    It's funny, and there may be a kernel of truth we all recognise, but unless we call halt to the game to discuss this (what is this, therapy central?) it is hard to emotionally endorse, contradict or otherwise engage with that contribution.

    whereas

    Theodore (unlucky in love player) totally flubs attack roll for Gunther (hideous troll warrior PC) on the medusa. "Oh, screw it. Gunther looks at his axe in disgust, and tosses it to the floor. 'Look lady, I fed up of fighting. Gunther not such a bad guy, huh? You like Gunther's hobbitskin coat?'"
    could turn out to be a deeply funny, and deeply connective situation. It addresses the floating issue around being unlucky in love and will take it somewhere.

    This is how I'm thinking of it:

    Comedy outside of the fiction can reaffirm relationships intellectually by pointing to social roles
    Comedy inside of the fiction can explore relationships emotionally by digging in to social roles
  • Alex, I like the distinction. I'm wary of it, though, because you seem to be identifying "good" and "bad" laughter.

    For example, when we play Dogs, lots of our comedy comes from banter. The game events are often so tense that laughter is a form of release. We make fun of the game: there'll be comments like "Hello, we're from the King of Life. Sorry about killing all those people. Bit ironic if you think about it."

    But I don't see that's particularly bad laughter. In a way, we're deliberately distancing ourselves from the nastiness in the game with the laughter. In any case, it's rather pleasant and funny.

    By contrast, one of the funniest moments in retrospect came from Apocalypse World, last week. A robot with absurb weaponry killed a child (who was, to be fair, aiming an AK-47 at him). Having repair skills, he then analysed the bloody pulp that remained, asking the question the game gives you to do this: "What is wrong with this and how can I fix it?". It came completely from the character. At the time, it wasn't funny, and provoked no laughter. Looking back, it seems much funnier, and it's the quote I use most from the game.

    So, overall, I don't know, Alex. I like the distinction, but not the good/bad.

    Actually, this touches on a problem I had with improv (interestingly, in the same group that you're now part of, more or less), and one I have with roleplaying. Mentally, I call it the Clown-That-Wants-To-Play-Hamlet syndrome.

    It goes like this. You do something that's funny (or touching or fun or whatever). But then you think: wait! We weren't involved with our characters! Maybe that was bad fun! And you do it again, being involved with your character, and it's funny. And then you think: that was good fun! It's harder, but it's better than the bad fun!

    And you get to an extreme version, where you really try to identify with your character, and have good fun, and deal with issues and...somewhere...all the magic gets lost.

    (Last comment is highly personal and perhaps not universally true.)

    Graham
  • edited February 2009
    Posted By: Alex FTheodore (unlucky in love player) totally flubs attack roll for Gunther (hideous troll warrior PC) on the medusa. "Hmph, well there's a surprise. A death machine, but try to hit on a woman? No joy...

    It's funny, and there may be a kernel of truth we all recognise, but unless we call halt to the game to discuss this (what is this, therapy central?) it is hard to emotionally endorse, contradict or otherwise engage with that contribution.
    Is Theodore's banter merely intellectual? Or more likely, may we share in Theodore's feelings regarding his being unlucky in love? Just because I could ignore the emotional function of his banter doesn't mean it isn't there. I might emotionally endorse his contribution by laughing a certain way (for him rather than for myself), giving him a half-hug, or whatever. Such behaviors need not interfere with engaging the whole game, to whatever extent we choose to make those emotions part of the game.

    Edit: Forgot to talk about my own funny moments. In general, it seems many or most of them involved extending causal connections beyond what we thought was a tale's end. E.g., 1) Every time we blow a whistle, we get attacked by wild animals. 2) An infuriated owlbear swallows the whistle, so that's the end of the whistle. 3) We sell a dead owlbear to taxidermist. 4) One of us chuckles and suggests the taxidermist probably finds the whistle. 5) So the following day, a town mob goes after the taxidermist for practicing necromancy. 6) Long pause, then big laughs. (Plus, an instant adventure: save the taxidermist!)
  • This is such a great thread, and it points at exactly some things that have been bothering me about some recent games of It's Complicated. Because everything is so driven by the characters' relationships and personalities, the entire point of the in-game comedy is to reinforce the bonds between the characters and bring out human, dysfunctional moments. When that works, it's created some of my all-time favorite roleplaying moments-- there was this game of assassins on strike where my character was certain that another character's strange behavior meant that he was trying to kill her, but honestly, he was her father and just being really awkward about telling her. It lead to some really black humor set against a backdrop of alcoholism and paranoia that was really satisfying.

    It's really easy for a playgroup to kind of bypass that in favor of some really gonzo fun, though, and I've left games with the same feeling Alex describes from the improv group-- the laughs were coming from the throat.

    I'm going to have to update my PDF notes.
  • My group yuks it up all the time and part of it is distance, but what I've discovered is that when we do actual "comedy games", i.e. games where I intend for us to be funny and to do funny things as the central element of the story, it goes a lot better when I as GM play it completely straight. All the goofy situations and strange characters should be as real and serious as possible, so that the wackiness of the player characters have something to play off of.
  • edited February 2009
    Some cool points all.

    Graham, I agree that the good and bad thing is a value judgment that goes over and above the observation. I hope I'm not seeming disparaging of distanced comedy; I do think it is a cement to bind people, and plus it is funny, gives our quick wits a work-out etc. That said, I think the non-distanced stuff is the part I'm excited by, and would like to pursue more. That said, I like your counterexamples and will mull on them awhile.

    Taking the Clown who plays Hamlet, am I right in thinking that in each case it's (more or less) the same kind of content being produced, with the difference being how we feel as we produce it? In gaming parlance, something around degree of immersion/direct identification? If so, that's interesting, and I think a jump beyond what I'm trying to say. I think I'm saying

    A) Distance/commentary comedy can be good, given the right game, and comes quite naturally
    B) Less obvious is being committed to the fiction to produce funny. But it works, and can reward in different ways
    the further level would be
    C) Doing B) but grounding everything in an absolute identification with the character, with no bigger-picture sense of the apposite step interfering with things. Seeing yourself purely as a follower of where the character takes you, and denying any leading/shaping role

    I'm fond of A), currently all about B), and can see that C) may be a bridge too far.

    Hmm. Here's a suggested technique, stepping back to my previous example. If you want to try chasing more in-fictive comedy, whenever you have an urge to joke about an in-game event relating to your character, simply see if that translates into a character-led action. [and note: clearly this is in broach of C), as it is leading from idea outside the character and moulding it post-hoc. I'm totally down with that].
    So "shite, Gunthar would have better luck kissing the damn medusa" -> Gunthar deciding to kiss the damn medusa. Of course, if it totally breaks character integrity to do so, then we are in serious strife: the gagging has left the fleeting (but ultimately non-harmful) commentary level and burst in the fiction, possibly leaving an icky mess to clean up once we stop sniggering. Here's how I'd formulate it:

    In-fictive comedy can (often is) led by ideas, hunches and impulses that are not "character led", but are most valuable when they do not fundamentally contradict character integrity or, better yet, elaborate on it in an interesting fashion.

    Damn, that sounds like many people's textbook technique for narrativism now I put it like that...
  • Hey Jarod,

    You're right. I was exaggerating for my point, and all those lovely things can be done. I guess I see them more as a kind of 'love ya kiddo' reaffirmation of friendship - a quick touch-in to express that "you get it" and then out again. You can't really dwell on it, can you? The extent that you do is directly impacting the extent to which you're actually playing the game, since the original comment sits on top of/outside the game and so isn't something that you can play with and explore without taking a time out. There are plenty of sentiments that "unlucky in love" can be met with: truncated versions could include "but not forever!", "it fucking sucks", "maybe love isn't worth it", etc. I don't honestly see any of them getting traction in response to a throwaway line, mainly because each of them involves a conversation, when you're there to play a game. Conversely, when the sentiment comes out in the fiction then you do get a chance to play and explore, chew on it awhile.
  • Hey Elizabeth!

    That sounds very cool. I have to get hold of It's Complicated, I think it could be my kind of game!

    I'd love to hear more about the gonzo-ness that you've run up against before. Was it all about stuff happening in fiction that made you stop caring about the characters? (the gag-rupture I mentioned above.) Was there a high amount of commentary that was never intended to enter into the fiction, that distanced you from the actual fictive events?

    Hey JD! I'd love to hear about the straight GM vs wacky characters.

    How wacky are the characters? Do the players care about them? I know your group isn't deep into emo hair-tearing stuff, but I mean care in the sense of "if they met them in the street, would they want to talk with them, invite them home, give them directions, or would they stare at them kind of bug-eyed, as if they were Road Runner?"

    Tell me more about the stuff that you put up against the characters. When I first read your post, I thought you were presenting Alice's to their Wonderland - that is, you were playing dead straight for them to go nuts to. But you do mention the words goofy and weird, so I'm curious how it all stacks up.
  • Posted By: Alex FThere are plenty of sentiments that "unlucky in love" can be met with: truncated versions could include "but not forever!", "it fucking sucks", "maybe love isn't worth it", etc. I don't honestly see any of them getting traction in response to a throwaway line, mainly because each of them involves a conversation, when you're there to play a game. Conversely, when the sentiment comes out in the fiction then you do get a chance to play and explore, chew on it awhile.
    I guess I see it working as a conversation acknowledged but unspoken. But for laying it out in the open, yeah, doing it within the fiction could be the most flowable-blow-bubble-able. It works for Colbert.

    On another note, I can see making explicit what kinds of humor may be kneaded into the genre. It seems like comedy of manners would tend to sink into the fiction; whereas, even a subtle pun would tend to pop out of the fiction. But then, maybe both could be used to weave the real and fictional contexts in and out of each other.
  • Alex, it's usually characterization stuff that becomes deliberately distancing; in IC, scenes are short and punchy, so there's not a ton of downtime between scenes, and as a result, very little commentary except once the game is over. Basically, there are internal Oddities and external Dysfunctions for each character, which are connected in a meaningful way; when games mix comedy and drama, an example would be "Oddity: alcoholism," or "Dysfunction: intimacy issues," but in the last con game we had "Oddity: pizza killed my dog" and "Oddity: speaks to aliens." People had fun! I think the only dissatisfied person at the table was me, and I wasn't even playing, just facilitating. I think sometimes because IC is so focused on "Dramedy," the comedic elements are really easy to ratchet up until there's nothing grounding them-- and instead of getting, say, "The Royal Tennenbaums," you get "Eurotrip." Which isn't bad, it's certainly a kind of fun many people enjoy-- but as a designer, it sort of instills a fear in me that maybe people aren't getting the full range of what the system facilitates.

    Of course, this leads to a whole different can of worms being explored in a different thread-- how do you make it "safe" to play close instead of distantly?

    I may be overly sensitive here to my own vision; I mean, if people are playing and enjoying my game, who am I to complain?
  • Posted By: Alex FHey JD! I'd love to hear about the straight GM vs wacky characters.

    How wacky are the characters? Do the players care about them? I know your group isn't deep into emo hair-tearing stuff, but I mean care in the sense of "if they met them in the street, would they want to talk with them, invite them home, give them directions, or would they stare at them kind of bug-eyed, as if they were Road Runner?"
    They do care about them in the sense that when a favored character walks on the screen in a TV show, you sit up and take notice. Like my wife's character, I mean Gabrielle Anwar's character on Burn Notice. She walks on the screen and you know there's trouble brewing. You start to grin when she starts to lie to someone or use her "happy bouncy" voice because you know she's about to unleash nine million rounds of ammo and blow up something. You anticipate pleasure, and gain pleasure from anticipation because you think "oh yeah, here we go!"
    Tell me more about the stuff that you put up against the characters. When I first read your post, I thought you were presenting Alice's to their Wonderland - that is, you were playing dead straight for them to go nuts to. But you do mention the words goofy and weird, so I'm curious how it all stacks up.
    Well, for example, in one of my Cyberpunk Clerks games, I had a character's ex-girlfriend be a blogging serial killer who had developed a dedicated otaku following. As part of one plot I had the cult of fans find out where he lived/worked and start stalking him. Now this is a totally absurd and ridiculous plotline/obstacle. But I played it absolutely straight. The fans, goofily-motivated as they were, were absolutely serious about what they wanted. They were constantly feeding straight lines/setting up situations in which the player's character could be funny/do hilarious or ridiculous things/etc. The serial killer fans weren't laughing, at all, which gave room for the player character solutions to the problems/situations they posed to escalate in hilariousness.
  • edited February 2009
    JD, thanks for the clarification, that's very helpful. Playing funny straight is a simple technique that can add a ton. I always think of Gene Wilder, playing each of his ridiculous roles (Young Frankenstein? The Waco Kid? Leo Bloom?) with total commitment and utmost seriousness.

    Another thing I've become more interested in, and this possibly speaks to Elizabeth's post, is trying to forsake gonzo events in favour of small events met with large reactions. A knock-down fight for the future of the planet against zombie penguins? Play it for the thrill, enjoy the ridiculousness of it at the meta-level, all that stuff. But how about the increasingly heated argument between Destructo-Boy and the Grey Bunyip about which one of them the necrozoomancer was giving the eye? There's some hot stuff right there.
    I think we could benefit from thinking a bit more about how to zoom in and support the small stuff, because it's easy to bypass it entirely, leaving no space for it to develop. From an improv pov (and remember folks, this is given a going over in Play Unsafe) there need to be some offers to build on: an unspecified wink, a comment here or there to provide a base for a nice scene of comic resentment.

    When we paint in big brush strokes and gonzo events and Cool Shit, we run past the small stuff. What's more, we may become conditioned to see the small stuff as akin to video game cut-scenes, or useful only insofar as it contains clues to the big stuff. Actually, all the stuff is important. Every word, every feature gives you something to play with. If you meet a minor npc - say the mayor's assistant - and arbitrarily decide you were bullied by him at school, but can't reveal what you've achieved without blowing your secret identity, that's great stuff there. If you find out the villain is Albanian early on, you've always wanted to travel there. By the time you meet him, you're trying to chisel tips on where to find cheap hotels in amongst telling him to quit his evil ways. Etc.

    So rather than ratchet up, ratchet down. Which can often involve playing closer, but that needn't always be personally closer. Closer to a truth of a character, which can simply mean letting them be affected by the world outside. I think we too often risk the reverse, where events are considered funny - read this as incongruous, or incorporating taboo elements - and the characters kerrazy - because they're quite happy to eat their grandmother's ashes in soup form, hell, why not? - and we end up with a mouth full of ashes.

    I'm stumbling my way through this, am I making any sense to y'all (Elizabeth especially)? Jarod, thoughts on your post in a bit (may mean tomorrow!)
  • I can't believe I'm suggesting this, but compare sitcoms. Friends versus The Office. Both highly successful, but one is quite self-consciously funny (with recorded laughter and escalating hilarity), and the other is dead-pan funny (most of the characters absolutely have no clue that they are hilarious.)

    There are also times when you laugh because an action is so "right" that it's funny. I've told the story before of my wife's character in our Star Wars game. After a high-flying blasters-blazing commando raid on an Imperial spacedock, she and the rest of the heroes were fleeing in a stolen Imperial ship. I (GM) felt there was a small possibility of, in the confusion, being able to talk their way past the TIE fighters closing in on them. I said "The lead fighter opens a com channel..." and my wife blurted out, super-happy and energetic: "HI!!!" It fit her character (a glasses-wearing academic) so well, it fit the situation so perfectly (she was so happy to be alive and so hyped up on adrenaline) and it completely flubbed the whole challenge so thoroughly that everyone in the room fell apart laughing. It wasn't a joke, really, it was just the word "hi", but the delivery, the timing, and (most important) the previous characterization made it howlingly great.

    I actually have thought a lot about comedy since my group is extremely funny and likes being funny, not that I have come to any great insights about it, but I think there's a lot of stuff un-mined there.
  • Just to say 1000 times yes to all that, but it's bedtime in blighty, so more anon!
  • Alex, you're so spot on. I come from a theatrical background as well, and it's impossible to over-stress the idea that humor is based purely in truth. The whole reason wacky situations in TV and movies can be so hilarious is because the characters TRULY BELIEVE what is going on. Their investment is 100%. Playing closer to the truth-- playing closer to something you can believe, whether personal or not-- creates more of a platform for truly funny moments to happen.
  • For straight comedy, I think it often helps when the setting is a place where anything too human is bound to breach some notion of propriety. The work environment of The Office, the dystopia in Brazil, etc.. Burn Notice too, because the main character can't afford to be too human due to the danger of his job. Every human conflict that other fiction might produce can be turned into comedy when in such a setting.
  • edited February 2009
    Posted By: ElizabethAlex, you're so spot on. I come from a theatrical background as well, and it's impossible to over-stress the idea that humor is based purely intruth.
    I don't agree with this!

    This is an idea that's gained some traction in improv (there's a manual called Truth In Comedy). Now, of course, comic situations can occur because the characters believe what's going on.

    But a moment's reflection shows it's not always true: Buster Keaton's comedy wasn't based on "truth", nor was Morecambe and Wise, nor was Laurel and Hardy, nor was Fry and Laurie.

    It's a dangerous idea. Firstly, because it has such rhetorical power. Secondly, because it's obviously not universally true. Thirdly, because it leads to an idea that if you just play your character, you'll automatically be funny. I've seen some painfully unfunny improv shows as a result.

    Graham
  • Well, I think it's true in the sense of throat-laughs vs. deeper laughs; I mean, Laurel and Hardy-- slapstick is definitely hilarious. But-- to me at least-- it's a lighter, fluffier hilarity than say, the scene in The Jerk where Steve Martin is collecting all of his prized possessions and leaving his mansion to go back to a life of poverty without the woman he loves. He keeps picking up things and saying "That's all I need." It's sad and pathetic and hugely hysterical, I hurt from laughing every time I watch it. L&H-style comedy never did as much for me, and actually comes off as kind of dull after a while.

    So to each their own.
  • edited February 2009
    Ah, excellent. I don't agree with that either.

    Firstly, was Steve Martin really playing close to the truth? I didn't notice it. I certainly agree there's laughter in empathising with people, but it needn't involve the actor feeling the emotions. Perhaps it does, but it needn't. Buster Keaton's a case in point: you empathise with his situation, but he's famously stone-faced, and I don't believe he's feeling the emotions.

    Secondly, what's with all the moral judgements? First we were talking about truth. Now you're implying that one way of laughing is better than another, using words like "deeper laughs" and "lighter and fluffier".

    Really, this idea of "truth" will kill comedy stone dead. Really. Whichever form it comes in: whether it's "Real laughter comes from the character" or "Real laughter comes from genuine feelings". It's useful as an idea, but if we start thinking it's The Route To Comedy, there won't be any comedy left. (Actually, if we think anything is The Route To Comedy, there won't be any comedy left).

    Sorry, I'm pontificating.

    Graham
  • Slapstick isn't easier. Look how many shitty webcomics there were compared to really good ones.

    And how blessed are we in gaming to have gotten two great comedy games, very different, early on in the hobby: Toon and Ghostbusters! And then Paranoia, for a satire game!
  • No moral judgements! Check out my use of such phrases as "to me at least" and "never did as much for me." I'm talking about the kind of comedy I enjoy most, which is nuanced and based in believable human struggle. Everyone has the type of comedy that appeals to them most: my father hates stuff like The Office, but loves Laurel and Hardy meet The Wolfman.

    I don't know if Steve Martin relies on method or technique for his acting work, so who's to say if the end result was because he was personally believing his plight-- but I do think that, however he arrived at the performance, he is genuinely selling itby playing pretty close. I mean, compare that scene to the also-funny scene with the kung-fu fight by the pool, or the cat-juggling. I feel like you're being so sensitive to the idea that this is my preferred style of comedy that you're denying its existence at all.

    JD: I feel like good slapstick is all about "selling it" as well, but in a different, physically believable way. There's an old axiom that says you never play someone who falls down all the time-- you play someone desperately trying to stand up. Or something like that, anyway.
  • This is such a huge field I feel like we could talk about it for a thousand years and still have things to cover.

    Oh wait!! People have! :D
  • edited February 2009
    So, catching up:

    Here's an interesting story I heard about Morecambe and Wise. On of their most celebrated sketches involves the conductor Andre Previn, in which Eric Morecambe alternately plays deluded, manic, sulky and critical to an increasingly harried Previn. It goes that before filming, Morecambe plied Previn with one piece of advice: "They must never know that you find it funny."

    Similarly, the idea that the Olly character isn't reacting truthfully to Stan's cock-ups is personally astounding - I grew up on this stuff and hated Hardy for being such a mean person, rather than an arbitrary person or a winking spoof-meanie - but we could pick apart examples all day, no? I'd rather that this thread be used constructively.

    More broadly, I think things are getting muddied here due to a conflation of character truth and personal truth. I tried to head this one off here but we're digging into it again. So, to be clear:

    I would like to use this thread to explore what can fruitfully come from finding comedy within the fiction, through the ways characters interact and react to circumstance. If you do feel you're pontificating then take a breath and come back in on-topic.

    To keep the focus, I'm opening up another thread, here, in part to reply to one of Jarod's early posts on different styles.
  • Slapstick has been mentioned a few times. When it comes to truthful reactions enhancing comedy, I think slapstick is a perfect example.

    Let's take one of my favorite comedic scenes from the film Kingpin. In this, our hero Roy Munson, in bda books with his landlady, intervenes when she is attacked by a mugger to fling hot coffee into his face. We soon cut to Munson in his room at the stove, joined through the window by the 'mugger', evidently an accomplice in a scheme to sweeten the landlady.

    "Why the hell did you do that?"
    "Sorry, it was off the cuff. Besides, it wasn't that hot." Pours contents of pan into mug and takes the barest sip. "Yow! Now that's hot coffee!"
    At which point enter landlady, stage left...BEAT...then munson spins around to pal: "How did you get in?" and flings the scalding liquid into his eyes, as he mewling falls out of the window.

    Pure slapstick, and technically very smart, with the escalation, the game being played... but would it matter if the stooge wasn't really affected by it?
    In fact, now I think about it, he wasn't entirely. The first time. Which is why the undermining of the funny - the coffee wasn't even all that hot! - besides being a set-up for stage 2, is eminently forgivable, because we believe that this could be true. If after the second time, he appeared at the window again, saying "I'm really getting fed up with all of this coffee-flinging - I hope there won't be any more of that!" then we're settling in for a nice, comfortable sequence of silly - but for me it wouldn't be as eternally memorable. (We never see the stooge again, suggesting that he's really lost this acquaintance for good.)

    Now that said, there are often events that are impossible (and meant to be taken as such) in physical comedy. Someone getting blown up with a bomb and exiting covered with soot rather than in charred chunks of flesh. So that's interesting (although they can still react to what they've experienced in a truthful way, it's just the event hasn't been truthful). It seems to me a constraint - we want the tension and excitement of a bomb that might go off, but we don't want to kill anyone, so we will just humiliate them instead - but I appreciate it might be more complicated than that. And of course, there are cartoons. Which I think can drive rpg humour more than any other, a whole kettle of fish...
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