What is the deal with jokes?
Many jokes are about the surprise that comes from incongruity, the connecting of two ideas that don’t normally go together. And, many innovations are about connecting two ideas that haven’t previously gone together.
Can we use the idea generating technique SCAMPER to come up with jokes? Let’s look at the hilarious comedy series Seinfeld and see. Brace yourself – nothing is funnier than having jokes explained!
R is the final letter in SCAMPER and it stands for Reverse. I include a couple of bonus reversals at the end of this post.
S is for Substitute: Festivus
Rejecting the commercialization of Christmas, George’s father Frank substitutes his own holiday in its place, calling it Festivus – “for the rest of us”. It substitutes an aluminum pole for a Christmas tree, and features traditions like the airing of grievances.
Frank described the moment he thought up Festivus in a conversation with Kramer.
Many Christmases ago, I went to buy a doll for my son. I reached for the last one they had, but so did another man. As I rained blows upon him, I realized there had to be another way.Frank Costanza
Fun fact – this is the entire plot to the classic Schwarzenegger movie Jingle All The Way.
C is for Combine: Magic Loogie
Kramer and Newman claim that they were spit on by professional baseball player Keith Hernandez. Seinfeld questions their account, concluding that there had to be a “second spitter”.
Seinfeld breaks down the impossibility of a single loogie accounting for the number of times they were struck. His delivery combines the absurd story of Kramer and Newman with a parody of the magic bullet reconstruction featured in the Oliver Stone movie JFK.
A is for Adapt: The Mansier
Frank Costanza is back at it in this bit when he comes up with an undergarment for men he calls the “mansier”, adapting the design of women’s bras to the needs of men, much to the embarrassment of his son George and the horror of his wife.
M is for Maximize: Man Hands
With Jerry, there’s always something. He dates a woman who is lovely in every way except for her large, manly hands. To exaggerate, they maximize her hands, showing tearing apart a lobster with brute strength, putting Jerry off his meal and any thoughts of romance.
P is for Put To Another Use: The Golf Ball
The callback is a common comedic technique where something from a previous scene reemerges to be put to another use as the punchline in another. The episode Marine Biologist has a classic callback. Kramer collects hundreds of Titelist golf balls from a driving range and goes to the beach to hit them into the ocean.
Later, as George walks with his girlfriend along the same beach, George’s claims to be a marine biologist backfire when he is singled out to care for a distressed whale.
Later in the deli, with the exaggerated delivery of a good sea story, George describes the scene to Jerry and Kramer. Reaching into his pocket, he pulls out the object that was obstructing the whale’s blowhole – a Titleist golf ball!
E is for Eliminate: George’s fiancée.
George Costanza was played on Seinfeld by Jason Alexander. The story goes that Jason found the acting style of the woman who was cast to play his fiancée hard to play against, so her character wound up being written out of the show.
What was shocking was how they eliminated her character. George chooses the cheapest possible envelopes for their wedding invitations. She dies from licking the envelopes!
R is for Reverse: The Opposite
I always have tuna on toast. Nothing’s ever worked out for me with tuna on toast. I want the complete opposite of tuna on toast. Chicken salad, on rye, untoasted… and a cup of tea.George Costanza
George complains about his life to Jerry and Elaine and decides to do “the opposite”. As a gesture, he orders a different meal than usual. An attractive woman notices that his order is the same as hers and they strike up a conversation. This decision reverses his fortunes.
R is for Reverse: The Gymnast
This is a bonus reversal. Jerry is convinced by Kramer to continue dating a gymnast because her flexibility will offer “a magical world of sensual delights”. Jerry later says that his night with the gymnast was underwhelming, but Elaine convinces him to continue dating her to avoid being rude.
In a reversal, it is the gymnast who breaks up with Jerry. She says that in her home country of Romania, they talk of a man so virile that he can give a woman sensual delights that she could not dare dream of. They call this man “the comedian”.
This sets up one of my absolute favourite lines from the show:
You may tell jokes, Mr. Jerry Seinfeld, but you are no Comedian.Katya
R is for Reverse: The Opposite, New York Times
In an interview with the New York Times, Jerry says that he devotes a lot of time to writing jokes. He says that he wastes time on something that he will later use to waste other people’s time. This he says the opposite of the Times which spends “an appropriate amount of time on deserving subjects.”