Writing for Vaudeville eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 421 pages of information about Writing for Vaudeville.

The line, “Who wants to flirt with a handkerchief?  I want to flirt with a woman,” helps in the blending of the point division we have just examined.

The straight-man’s line following the big laugh line in that point division, “No, you take out your handkerchief,” (biz. [1]) is another example of the blend-line.  And it is the very first introduction of the peculiar style of business that makes of “The Art of Flirtation” so funny an act.

[1] Biz. is often used in vaudeville material for bus., the correct contraction of business.

3.  The Use of Business

Let us continue in the examination of this example.

COMEDIAN

  Suppose you ain’t got a handkerchief?

STRAIGHT

  Every flirter must have a handkerchief.  It says it in the book. 
  Now you shake the handkerchief three times like this. (Biz) Do
  you know what that means?

COMEDIAN

  (Biz. of shaking head.)

STRAIGHT

  That means you want her to give you—­

COMEDIAN

  Ten cents.

The reason why these two words come with such humorous effect, lies in two causes.  First, “ten cents” has been used before with good laugh results—­as a “gag line,” you recall—­and this is the comedian’s magical “third time” use of it.  It is a good example of the “three-sequence mystery” which Weber and Fields mentioned, and which has been used to advantage on the stage for many, many years.

Second, the comedian had refused to answer the straight-man’s question.  He simply stood there and shook his head.  It was the very simple business of shaking his head that made his interruption come as a surprise and gave perfect setting for the “gag-line.”

Read the speeches that follow and you will see how business is used.  Note particularly how the business makes this point stand out as a great big laugh: 

STRAIGHT

  . . .Den you hold your handkerchief by the comer like dis.

COMEDIAN

  Vat does that mean?

STRAIGHT

  Meet me on the corner.

COMEDIAN

  Och, dat’s fine. (Takes handkerchief). . .  Den if you hold it
  dis way, dat means (biz.):  “Are you on the square?”

This line reads even funnier than many laughs in the act that are bigger, but its business cannot be explained in words.  It seems funnier to you because you can picture it.  You actually see it, precisely as it is done.

Then the next line blends it into the next point, which is clearly introduced with a grin—­is developed into a laugh, a bigger laugh by effective business, and then into a roar.

Point after point follows—­each point topping the preceding point—­until the end of the two-act is reached in the biggest laugh of all.

III.  HOW AND WHERE TO END

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Writing for Vaudeville from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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