♫Lazy comedy slags. Lazy comedy slags. Tedious setups, predictable gags. Lazy boring comedy slags. Lazy boring comedy slags.♫
(Animated picture of my former employer
dances off screen)
Richard Herring: And on this weeks lazy comedy slags; "and then I got off the bus"-
Stewart Lee: Ah. Comedians will never fail to amaze us with their inventive way of doing the same pull back and reveal joke again and again and so I will now demonstrate the "and then I got off the bus joke".
The other day I was I was really drunk, I was naked I had sick all over me had a traffic cone stuck up my bum I was in a state of priapic excitement – then I got off the bus ah-
RH: Whaa? You were on a bus all along?
SL: That’s right!
RH: I assumed you must have been at home on your own
SL: No – I was on a bus!
RH: My expectations were confounded and from thence the humour arose.
The above is not only a damning indictment of Paraprosdokian oration but it is certainly the clearest description of it. In fact the final line is almost a direct translation of the Greek. “Para” meaning “contrary to” and “prosdokia” meaning “expectation”.
Stewart Lee picked up on one of the laziest ways of getting a titter and in his usual outsider-comedian style has lambasted it. Rightfully so. By overusing this ages-old method the early 90’s stand-up comedian has ruined the paraprosdokia’s impact. To do this when the "reveal" is nothing more than the speaker’s embarrassment is particularly galling.
However when used inventively the Paraprosdokian method is a very powerful construction and has been used by the greats of comedy and oration to re-frame the start of a statement with a qualifying comment at the end to turn it into a joke or profound statement.
For example it was easy to presume that Winston Churchill was being complimentary to Clement Atlee when he began his one line description of him with: "A modest man," only to have that presumption dismissed by the ending "who has much to be modest about." Similarly he related his opinions of the American late entry to The Second World War with this statement: "You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they've exhausted every other option."
Groucho Marx produced this brilliant line which my father likes to trot out around once a year at parties: "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it." Groucho is also responsible for this, one of the most surrealistic uses of paraprosdokia: "Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."
Finally just to prove that in the hands of a good scriptwriter this method hasn’t completely died out despite the lazy boring comedy slags efforts', Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the biggest cultural icon of our time; Homer Simpson: "If I could say a few words, I would be a better public speaker."
This Morning With Richard Not Judy: Season 2 Episode 3