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Building To The Punchline June 13, 2015

Posted by nrhatch in Humor, Joke, Word Play, Writing & Writers.
28 comments

Andrew Stanton begins his TED talk with a joke about three men in a bar in the Scottish Highlands ~ a backpacking tourist, a bartender, and an old man.

He uses the joke as a tool to convey compelling storytelling:

* The old man engages the audience, drawing us into his world and revealing his character as he shares his tale with a strong Scottish brogue.

* He makes us care as he explains how he built the bar, constructed the stone wall out front, and installed planks on the pier . . . “with me bare hands.”

* The old man claims center stage with the sole speaking role, yet all three characters are necessary.  None is extraneous.  The tourist provides the reason for the telling of the tale.  The bartender’s presence establishes that the old man is not exaggerating.

* In the same way he crafted the bar, the stone wall, and the pier, the old man builds his story on a firm foundation, one piece at a time.  He keeps the finish line in mind.  He never veers off course.  He steers the story to its predetermined end.

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* He creates drama (“anticipation mingled with uncertainty”) as he decries the fact that he’s not called “MacGregor the Bar Builder” or”MacGregor the Stone Wall Builder” or “MacGregor the Pier Builder.”

Now he’s got us!

We’re curious.  We want to hear the end of the story.  We want to know what he IS called.  We are ready for the reveal . . .

* When he delivers the punch line, he doesn’t complete the sentence. He allows the thought to hang mid-air.  He doesn’t spell it out.  He doesn’t beat us over the head.  He doesn’t insult our intelligence.  He doesn’t reveal his actual nickname.

He allows us to follow the breadcrumbs and connect the dots.

He’s given us 2 + 2 and leaves it to the born problem solver in each of us to fill in the blanks and come up with the solution.

And we do.

Mickey-OKSince he constructed his tale with the same precision he used when building the bar, the stone wall, and the pier, we lay the last piece with confidence.

There’s no wiggle room.  We cannot misplace his meaning.

“Och, mon . . . ye must be MacGregor the Story Teller!”

Aah . . . that’s better!

First published: L. Marie’s Blog ~ The Stanton Effect: Building To The Punchline