So a few weeks ago I did a list of my favorite one-word punchlines, and the good-hearted members of the Cracked community seemed to enjoy it. We all had fun in the comments reflecting on the great times we've had laughing at single-word jokes, and I think we all learned something.
Specifically, that "Danger Zone," while hilarious, is two words.
In any event, one of my friends challenged me to come up with a list of no-word punchlines and even offered the very top entry on this list. That got me thinking. How exactly do you define a "no-word punchline"? I mean, all silent film comedies and slapstick and sight gags are wordless. How exactly should I frame the list? After much debate, I was no closer to the answer. (Mostly because no one is lame enough to discuss such things with me, so my debate consisted mostly of me shouting "How!" in my closet until the downstairs neighbor banged on the ceiling with a broom.) But then I got it:
The punchline not only must not contain any words, but should be a response. A wordless, comedic response. But "5 Wordless Comedic Responses" is a crappy title, so here's "The 5 Best No-Word Punchlines in Comedy."
#5. Trading Places -- The Break-the-Fourth-Wall Response to Condescension
I feel bad for the youth of today who weren't alive when Eddie Murphy exploded into comedy like a force of nature. He generated comedy from every gesture and inflection, and the fact that he could also write some solid standup and actually do characters only heightened the experience. But ultimately, he was just funny. His essence. And that's why he's a great way to start this list -- because with one silent expression, he generates the perfect response for a smart young black man suffering under the weight of rich, patronizing, old-boy condescension.
Eddie breaks the fourth wall, and it's perfect. He's not going to say anything to the Duke brothers; they're giving him access to a whole new world. But he's pissed. With that look to the camera, he shows us he's no dummy, but he does something more. I was a little suburban white boy when I saw that movie, and Eddie's look said to me, "I hate these white people, but not all white people. You're all right." He confided in us with just a look.
#4. The Simpsons -- The Response to "What's the Sound of One Hand Clapping?"
No, not "Don't have a cow, man," because that's five words. No, not "Eat my shorts," because that's three words, but you're getting closer! We're looking here for a punchline that has no words. Now, I must admit that Alli Reed, who sometimes writes for Cracked and Man Cave (and always writes for Terrible Person Weekly), suggested that I use the Simpsons clip where Grandpa Simpson enters and leaves the burlesque club in one fluid action when he sees that Bart is working the door, but I decided to shoot that down. I did so for two reasons: 1) It's not really a clean response and 2) it's important to make other writers feel stupid.
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Sure, Michael Chabon may have won the Pulitzer Prize, but to this day he still weeps at the mere mention of the terrible things I said to him in Hebrew school.
Anyway, my Simpsons pick involves the episode where Lisa becomes Bart's Karate Kid-esque trainer. In an attempt to free Bart's mind, Lisa asks the ancient riddle and shortcut to meditation: "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" Bart has a reply:
OK, fine, Bart says "piece of cake" first, but there's nothing funny about that, and I really wish he didn't say it. The joke is still the non-word response, so I'm including it. No, I don't think that means I should have listened to Alli, but if you think so, fine, just click the link to the other clip and I still have a valid Simpsons entry.
#3. Animal House -- The Appropriate Response to Folk Music
Now we come to a response that actually could have gone in the one-word column, because there is a very funny one-word punchline here, but that comes when we're already laughing at the no-word response that precedes it. So I think this one is a totally accurate entry, it just works for both lists, so there. Stop judging me! Are you going to be like this for the whole list?
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"We don't hate you, Gladstone. We're just disappointed. . . but, of course, we'll still buy your book.
If you've never seen Animal House, well then I'm guessing your life consists of being brought to orgasm nonstop by supermodels because that's one of the few things more enjoyable than Animal House. On the small chance, however, that there have been two free hours in your life where you weren't having hot sex with beautiful people, then I'd humbly suggest that you failed to make good use of your time.
Animal House is the '70s classic about the least "fratty" fraternity ever, Delta House. Now supposedly, Harold Ramis, who co-wrote the film, based some of it on his old ZBT frat, which in my limited experience was one of the frattiest frats, but hey, movies are a wonderful place for imagination! Anyway, the scene I'm referencing is John "Bluto" Belushi's response to a beatnik playing folk music to score with some ladies at a party. For the kids, this was the early '60s equivalent of playing some John Mayer. Wait, no. That's like the early 2000s equivalent. Um, uh, it's like, hmm, not sure. Does music still exist?
I would also like to note that all of Belushi's facial expressions leading up to the outburst get me laughing too. Each eyebrow twitch is a joke in itself.