We here at One Downflaw Plaza like funny things. In fact, we strive to be as funny as possible, though the effectiveness of our efforts is debatable at best. So when I stumbled upon the following comedy routine I was completely floored. Someone had done it: they had made the funniest thing in history.
Whatever you do, do not skip over the video below. Watch it in its entirety. If you miss even a second of it you will be costing yourself the opportunity to understand what true hilarity is.
EDITOR’S NOTE: If, like Andy, you think a joke gets exponentially funnier the more you explain it, please read on. If, like pretty much the entire rest of the world, you think that’s stupid, feel free to stop reading here.
I was introduced to this masterwork by Radiolab, easily the best radio show out there. Their most recent episode, about loops, starts off with a short piece about a sketch Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler do during their shows. And I nearly wrecked my car when I heard it because I was laughing so hard. I’m pretty sure I popped a blood vessel in my eye, because everything has a weird pinkish hue it. I laughed so hard I coughed up my right lung and most of my diaphragm. I lost fifteen pounds. Seriously, I laughed.
So I did what any good information-era nerd would do in such a circumstance: I immediately hit the YouTubes to find video. I had heard the catchy tune, but I needed to see Schaal’s horse dance. Friends, I was not disappointed. I say this with complete sincerity: I have watched this video about fifteen times now, and it only gets funnier each time I see it.
Why? What demonic alchemy makes something seemingly so bland pants-shittingly funny? Repetition, friends. Sheer, relentless repetition. When I was younger, my closest group of friends (which includes many in the Fatal Downflaw family) had a lot of theories about comedy, but one golden rule stood above the rest: a repetition joke is funny three times. On the fourth time through, it starts to become irritating. The next five or six times through the audience just wants it to end. But then something magical happens: right around the tenth time you repeat a joke it suddenly becomes hilarious. Each subsequent retelling after that only makes the joke funnier and funnier. Schaal and Braunohler have proven our theorem handily. Well played, Doctors.
On the Radiolab episode (which I cannot recommend highly enough that you listen to) radio host Jesse Thorn (of the show The Sound of Young America) has a pretty good, more or less scientific explanation of this phenomenon:
…your brain is trying to make it into what you want it to be, which is a joke. But there is no joke happening. What these two people are doing is creating the expectation that the expectation is going to be broken, but then breaking that expectation that the expectation is going to broken by just delivering the thing that they’ve been delivering for the last ten minutes.
To wit: at first, you think “oh, they’re just doing this stupid routine over and over again” and it’s kinda funny. But then your brain starts to get confused – this is supposed to be a comedy routine, but there’s no joke. Which means that at some point they’re going to switch it up and there will be a hilarious punchline. So you wait for that sudden break from expectation that is what defines comedy. But that’s the genius: the expectation they are defying is the expectation that they’re going to defy expectation. Take that, definition of comedy!
So now the gauntlet has been thrown down: who can top this Nobel Prize-worthy piece of comedy? I for one look forward to the sketch comedy arms race that looms in our future.