Click "Sleep" for a dark background.
Click "sleep" again if text isn't dark.


Main | The Spirit of the Game »

First Itsa Frogger: Comments on Comedy and Culture

I'm about to do the thing that comedy experts advise against. I'm about to explain why something is funny. The reason why this concept is so forbidden is if one is a good comedian, one would never have to explain why a joke is funny. You talk. The audience listens. And all laugh. It's a pretty simple relationship. While there is good sense behind avoiding this taboo, I argue that there is greater sense in presenting a clear explanation after a joke has been told. After all, explanation and analysis helps foster understanding, which always enriches our potential enjoyment. Keep a look out in this article for theories and examples that resonate with what I've written on game design. This should be a great warmup. 

Let's start by brainstorming why explaining a joke is so detrimental to its comedy punch. That's precisely where we'll begin; the "punch." Getting a laugh out of a audience typically requires some kind of swift realization. Like the popular notion of coming to an Eureka moment, "getting a joke" is like ridding a wave of thoughts and crashing up against a solid rock of understanding. It's a menal rush that is propelled by this idea of internal energy. Like elementary physics lessons, the faster you get a joke (most likely due to your mental acuity and overall deductive abilities) the funnier it is.

Now we can extrapolate a theory; Distributing the wave of internal energy over a longer period of time tends to kill the comedic impact of the punch line. This explains why explaining a joke to a person who doesn't get it at first never seems to be as well received as delivering a joke to those who do get it. I've often witnessed the unenthused faces of my audience as they nod in understanding saying "oh, I get it now." The experience of the joke is not whether they get it. It's getting it swiftly. Naturally, explanations of jokes add verbage to the equation. Adding words can only interfere with the rush of internal energy and other aspects of comedia delievery like timing. So far, explaining a joke doesn't seem like such a good idea. 

Another reason why it can be bad to explain a joke is because of the spoiler effect. From books, movies, to puzzles in video games there are all kinds of experiences that can be effectively ruined if key pieces of information are revealed before the critical time. We generally call such pieces of info spoilers. The spoiler effect exists with many jokes as well. The first time a joke is told is often the only time that joke can be genuinely experienced by the audience. If you knew the end of a joke beforehand, your knowledge and expectations would create a very different experience for you. Probably an experience with less punch. Because of the spoiler effect we generally don't walk around repeating the punch lines of jokes or explaing jokes openly in public. 

There are many ways to get a laugh out of an audience with a joke. Slapstick humor revolves around evoking surprise through absurd, ridiculous situations. From wikipedia: Slapstick is a type of comedy involving exaggerated violence and activities which may exceed the boundaries of common sense. In other words, a scenario is presented, and the punch line is an action or an event that "would never happen in real life." Take any action, turn it up to extreme, and you have the formula for joke where the core realization is the simple recognition that "this would never happen."

As slapstick comedians race to the bottom trying to one up each other by presenting increasingly crazy juxtapositions, one may opt for a more complex web of unexpected or unconventional events to craft a much richer comedic experience. Such comedy has much more breath because it can create a punch with any combination of details taken to any level along the "extreme spectrum." This design allows for very funny jokes to be created out of very banal or subtle scenarios. Since knowledge and attention are required to recognize subtlety, comedy creators run up against a problem that's analogus to a skill barrier. The bottom line is, for non-slapstick comedy, how do we ensure that the audience has the required knowledge to rapidly piece together the punch in order to achieve laughter?

In the same way that video games are designed to be intuitive with recognizable actions and forms, jokes are often heavily coded within a cultural context. Instead of teaching the audience a wealth of new details from scratch, comedians use our deeply ingrained cultural knowledge to create hilarious scenarios. Sometimes this is done without exaggerating common cultural occurances at all, but by merely framing life just so. This is why it is very difficult for comedy entertainment to be successful cross countries. With so many different world views, customs, and observations from everyday life to draw from if the audience isn't instantly familiar with the scenario you're setting up in your joke, they may never experience the swift punch line experience. Kinda "getting it" doesn't really cut it with comedy. 

Watch the video below before continuing. 


Now I can explain why I laughed so hard at this video. Now I can explain just how deep this joke is by highlighting its cultural context. The core comedy of this "Extreme Interview" is created from a subtle ridiculousness. Nobody throws a punch. Nobody yells or removes their clothing. But as I watch the video play out, I can't help but think that fully grasping its extreme and unique awkwardness requires understanding the culture of gamers and the adolescent state of the video game industry. Perhaps it's only in a place like Gamescom where an ordinary guy who works for a small website can get the opportunity to interview a developer of a video game. In this case, the interviewer lacks experience and the interviewee takes advantage by making a joke of the interview and himself.

In this video I see an interviewer who, in a burst of journalistic "creativity," asks Tak Fujii, the developer of Frogger 3D, what he thinks is a insightful question. No, not question, a challenge that will surely ilicit an equally insightful response: "What are 5 unique features of Frogger 3D?" And what we get in response is that Frogger 3D is essentially a Frogger game. We don't get this information once, but four times. Does Mr Fujii not respect the interview? I can see why not. The long wait at the start of the video and the dodgy mic control doesn't reflect an experienced interviewer. But I don't think this is a respect issue. I think Tak Fujii is the kind of person who will crack a joke or two or five if given the chance. First itsa Frogger. Second itsa Frogger. Third... Fujii messes up his own joke. He was trying to be clever with his pattern based mixup of sorts. But instead of saying "third is a Forgger" as you might expect, the intended line is "third is a 3D Frogger." Get it? The thrid feature is that Frogger 3D is build to utilize stereoscopic 3D technology! In all honesty, the joke so far is pretty funny. But Fujii doesn't deliver. Catching himself, he corrects the joke. But his delievery is broken. You can clearly see him laughing at his mistake, the seriousness of his humorous response lost. 


Maybe I find the whole thing so funny because Frogger 3DS looks like an incredibly unpolished game. And that's putting it nicely. I can't help but translate "First itsa Frogger..." as "Well, what do you think is unique about this game? It's Frogger; the same game you've played since the 80's. Nothing is unique about it. It's Frogger. It's Frogger. It's Frogger in 3D. It's classic Frogger gameplay. And it's Frogger."  I can't help but think that the guys behind the video interview tried their hardest to take the interview seriously. They have the mic, the camera, the clever question/challenge, and the developer of the game. The only thing they didn't count on was that Tak Fujii wouldn't take any part of this scenario very seriously. This is the kind of situation that is the result of the perfect storm of the growing games industry.  Yes, the explanation is long. But if you can imagine what it's like to think all of these things silently and instantly upon first watching the interview, you'll certainly understand why I laughed so hard.


Or maybe Tak Fujii is a bit "extreme" no matter what the context. I'll leave you with "one million troops."

"one million troops."

"one millions troops!"

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>