Monday, March 10, 2008

Comedy writers beware!

Comedy staff writers have shorthand expressions for types of jokes. Example: a “Bono”. A Bono is a joke that changes everyday. It comes from an Italian restaurant in West Hollywood once owned by Sonny Bono (hence the modest moniker). The restaurant failed and two months later it was a sushi place. Six months later that joint folded and another Italian eatery went in. Every time you turned around it changed. Actual definition of a Bono: Nothing works in this location.

In every episode there is always at least one “Bono”, a joke that bombs the first day and is replaced with another that also flames out, and so on throughout the week. I think the batting average for finally getting a joke that works is about 50%.

Another expression writers use is “Nakamora”. First a little backstory.

One of the classic comic devices is a “call back”. You make reference to something in a scene then later make another reference to it. Call backs are often used to get out of scenes. Generally if the first reference gets a laugh the call back will get a bigger laugh. And if you reprise the reference later in the show it often gets a bigger laugh still.

One night on TAXI they were filming an episode that made reference to some Japanese product made by Nakamora (a fictional company). It didn’t get a laugh. Then there was a call back to it to wrap up the scene. That too died a horrible death. The producers looked at each in horror. The reason: they had another six Nakamora references lined up and ready to go in the episode. And sure enough, one after another – bomb, thud, crash, burn.

So now when we pitch the third or fourth call back one of us will invariably caution, “This could be a Nakamora.” More often than not we’ll heed the warning and go in another direction.

And, as the ultimate call back, whenever comedy writers now need a name for a Japanese product they will usually call it Nakamora in tribute. And it finally gets a laugh, albeit with only a hundred comedy writers and maybe now, you.

Back home from Florida. AMERICAN IDOL recap and trip travelogue later this week.


gwangung said...

Whew. Glad one of my sketch comedy co-producers is NakamUra.

Anonymous said...

And the complexity of Heroes' story finally makes sense! Hiro 'Nakamura'.
It all makes sense now!


Anonymous said...

So then, I guess we should have known, Sonny's last words might have been something like, "I can't believe this is the same tree that was here yesterday?"

Hey, as we say in radio, if you can’t say it, sing it:
♪ ♫ How are things in Nakamora? Does this joke still have a prayer… ♫ ♫ ♪♪♫ ♪

One of the biggest eggs I ever laid was a karaoke sketch featuring Sonny and Cher singing I got you babe -- with Tourette's Syndrome.

Anonymous said...

Oh, wait. That was one of the Nakamora callbacks that didn't work...wasn't it?

Unknown said...

I didn't think this was funny at all...


Anonymous said...

This was very enlightening! Seems like Two and a Half Men is just a string of callbacks sometime.

I've been using this device in my teaching without knowing what to call it. I also try to incorporate a "hook" for each class. Is there anywhere I can read about these comedy devices so that I can incorporate more in my classroom?

Great Stuff!

Anonymous said...

Cool.Good post.I like this blog.

Richard Cooper said...

Vavoom! Did you see the Nakamoras on that waitress at Bono's last night?

Anonymous said...

Did you see the bono on that guy eyeballing the nakamoras?

Yes, I am deeply ashamed (and perhaps developmentally arrested).

Anonymous said...

So then, I guess we should have known, Sonny's last words might have been something like, "Where did this tree come from? I ate at a sushi bar here just last week."



PS: sorry... couldn't resist.

Bitter Animator said...

Prepare for some new readers, Mr.L. Bioshock 2, which you're not busy working on, has been announced.

Anonymous said...

What's this?

Anonymous said...

Oh, my bad. I forgot Ken Levine is a totally different person. XD

The Ken Levine we've come to know isn't anything special compared to his superior clone who works on Bioshock.


Anonymous said...

I worked in comedy rooms for years and I've always heard the Nakamura story came from The Bob Newhart Show!

Who knew!