There’s a nice sketch in the underrated show “ManStrokeWoman” of a few years ago. Daisy Haggard accosts slobby boyfriend Nick Frost to tell him she’s leaving. It’s all been going wrong. Rather than acting with shock or pain, he tries to reassure her, mumbling “No, it’s been fine.” When she starts to get a bit het up, his mood changes to lust: “I know that look. Time for a bit of hanky panky!” The madder she gets, the more he treats it as a game.
It’s funny because an expected reaction is being subverted. In every situation, there’s an accepted way of behaving. Or, if not accepted, one that we can expect, whether in a formal situation like a job interview or an emotional trauma like being dumped by your partner. If you think that comedy comes from the unexpected, as I do about half the time, then by making someone behave in a way which breaks either the formal protocol, the polite way of going about the business in hand, or an emotional rule, you give yourself a load of comic possibilities.
Pick a situation, any situation, and ask “How are they expected to behave?” Make the response subtly different from the accepted one, wildly askew, or even an exaggerated version of it. When you go to the dentist, you’re supposed to be slightly nervous. There may be pain. Someone is going to delve about in a very intimate part of your body, your mouth. But instead of fear, what if this actually turns you on? Everything about sitting in that chair, the plastic bib, the drill, the injection, gives you an ineffable thrill…. You bet the dentist won’t be used to this. It’s creepy. There are various ways he or she could react, but whatever way you take it, you’re giving yourself comedy possibilities.