I’m thinking these days about a kind of comedy that relies less on what words do, as in jokework, and more on how they sound. Here are three major players in pronunciation humor:
Moira’s “dazzling peach cry-uhb-apple” and Chloe’s “toe-uhst” both play off class pretense—the understanding we have (and the British have even more) that upper-class people distinguish themselves through dialect. “Posh accents” and so on. The rich’s need to insert extra syllables most of us can’t afford, etc. etc. (Madonna’s a culprit.)
But then you have the Oh Hello guys. I get that it presents as a parody of Upper West Side Jewish guy, but the performance seems less systematic of an accent and more a commitment to strangify as many words as they can.
I’m not talking here about funny accents, or finding the funny in our U.S. accents, which Fred Armisen has lately made a parlor trick out of. And there is something funny about the quick-shifting uncanniness of hearing, say, a hyperaccurate dialect portrait of all the NYC boroughs, or of hearing Seattle and Portland captured via accents the rest of us don’t even hear:
But the folks I’m looking at deliberately move away from accuracy. They’re not capturing anything in their mispronunciations other than absurdist mispronunciation, which is what makes them so funny. Or at least what makes me love it.
I’m drawn to fictive comedy, comedy that makes new and often absurd things possible on stage, more than I am Carlinian/Seinfeldian nonfictive comedy that says what the rest of us are thinking, or observes what we’ve noticed but haven’t yet put into words. Which is why these are my favorite Catherine O’Hara, Drew Droege, and Kroll/Mulaney roles: they make the known and familiar less real.
But it’s baser than that. Using language itself as their material, they all seek this riskless and yet massively disruptive transgression on language, something I as a writer understand as so fixed and ruly. It’s unlike puns and wordplay. Puns and wordplay are mere clevernesses with language, whereas these feel more like rudenesses.
Such selfish disregard! The pleasures of watching someone daring to make words their own. The useless, dangerless gall of that. I’m always ready for it.