Slamming Into the Side of a Boat

I snorted during the Super Bowl.

Melissa McCarthy’s Kia spot was to blame. I haven’t snorted at an ad in a long while. (Now I just need to dislodge that bit of carrot lodged way up in my nasal passages.)

The snort happened when Melissa hit the side of the boat. It’s not just the outrageous and unreasonable violence that miraculously doesn’t end in injury – a comedy staple. It was that my assumptions were snapped into reverse.

Stand-up comedians get that a joke is a reversal of assumption. The audience things they know where things are going. They have a lot invested in that direction and when it’s reversed, they experience a sudden awakening.

In the 1.5 seconds she was flying through the air, my mind said, “Oh, she’s going to land on the ship.” She doesn’t. She slams into the side of the ship. Leaving a body-shaped mark. 

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Audience assumptions are so powerful in comedy. It’s like judo where practitioners use the their opponent’s power against them.

In comedy, we don’t have to work so hard. Just give them something simultaneously obvious and unexpected. This isn’t an argument for absurdity or non sequitur. In this world, Melissa would of course hit the boat. We just don't see it coming.

And then there’s the body-shaped mark. I love that, too. Of course, she’d leave a body-shaped mark. That's what happens when you slam into the side of an ocean trawler.