Anatomy of a punchline

Viral videos are unpredictable creatures. Who knew, back in my school days, that Rick Astley would have a cult status around the world as the ‘go to’ for merking friends and message board regulars alike? How did putting mints into bottles of cola develop from High School science trick to YouTube ratings winner?

The viral video we’re all waking up to this morning is a delicious slice of British humour – it’s deadpan, plays on class (an ever present ingredient in British humour), and is frankly absurd (and from the earliest Goon shows to The IT Crowd, there is always room for the bizarre in comedy here.)

It is simple, short, effective – a lesson for sketch show writers everywhere who don’t know when to stop. A man has lost control of his dog, and the dog is having a right old time chasing deer through Richmond Park. It could be The Fast Show and plays out like an alternative comedy show from a lost age. Helping the joke along is the accent – the heavy rounded vowels, deep in panic, undeniably middle-class. Who calls their dog “Benton”? People with a sense of comedy, that’s who. “Jesus Christ!” is never more funny than when shouted by a well-to-do country gent legging it through fields. This is Downton Abbey with a laughter track.

Danny Baker is always quick to criticise those who analyse jokes – to investigate the beauty of a  flower, one must rip it up by the roots and thereby kill it. Jokes are fragile and honest creatures, they don’t always need insults and swear-words and sarcasm. Sometimes they just need the beauty of human life, the ridiculousness of ordinariness.  “It’s all in the tag!” Kenneth Williams used to say, and this is exactly what “The Benton Incident” has in under 50 seconds.

You couldn’t – quite literally – write this stuff.