#2. "Ovaltine?" from Young Frankenstein
Two entries from the same movie? YES! Sam Raimi has inspired me, and now there are no rules! Not only is this one of my all-time favorite one-word punchlines, but this scene has some of the greatest comedic timing in the history of cinema. Well, I mean, I haven't seen Bad Grandpa yet, but I'm assuming.
Here Frau Blucher is being overly familiar with her new guest, extending her stay and offering just too many things before bed.
I should also point out that this scene comes after the "Blucher!" scene in the movie, so the audience is almost primed for one-word punchlines. Maybe you don't think the scene's funny. Maybe you can't see it in isolation, or maybe you hate Mel Brooks movies, I don't know. I've never met you. But for those who do think this is funny, imagine how not funny this is on the page:
Blucher: Would the doctor care for a brandy before retiring?
Frankenstein: No. Thank you.
Blucher: Some warm milk, perhaps?
Frankenstein: No. Thank you very much. No thanks.
It's all in the delivery. For me, aside from the perfect timing and tension, it's the look on Blucher's face, as if the problem is that she's just not suggesting the proper beverage. Her look of "This'll do the trick" when she says "Ovaltine?" kills me.
Oh, by the way, to the dude who's gonna comment "da fuq is ovaltine," just don't. It's a chocolate drink. Google it.
Or don't. Here. This is Ovaltine. Yeah, yeah, you're welcome.
#1. "Narp?" from Hot Fuzz
And now we're at #1. I've met a bunch of people who love Shaun of the Dead (as they should) but hate Hot Fuzz. Hot Fuzz is different. It's a bit more obscure and cerebral. Simon Pegg is playing supercop extraordinaire Sgt. Angel, as opposed to the likable everyman fuckup he usually plays. I like Hot Fuzz almost as much as Shaun of the Dead, but even if I hated it, I'd still watch it over and over for this one scene.
Angel is reassigned from London to a small village seemingly devoid of crime. After a while, he uncovers a conspiracy, and when he starts poking around, he's attacked by the villain's henchman, Michael. We met Michael earlier: He is a large, simple-minded man who says only one word: "yarp" -- his word for "yes." When Angel is able to incapacitate Michael, he tries to assume his identity on a walkie-talkie to gather some clues.
So that's it. Five great one-word punchline moments, but I feel I owe you something more than just a collection of stuff. What links these moments together? What do they have in common that sets them above the pack? How do you get so much comedy from just one word? Well, one thing is apparent: They all have extensive setups.
In Young Frankenstein, "Frau Blucher" is said several times before Marty Feldman's "Blucher!" line; "Her?" is a running joke in the entire Arrested Development series that just keeps getting funnier; in Evil Dead II, we have basically the entire adrenaline rush of the whole film before we get to that moment of release; the punchline of "Ovaltine?" comes after a drawn out list of choices; and Michael's "yarp" is used all through the film leading up to that scene. It's the buildup that delivers the funny in the terse one-word finale.
Barring Arrested Development, all these moments have something else in common: funny faces. Look at these geniuses. (Not that every actor in Arrested Development isn't sensational, it's just hard to fit 10 actors into this montage below.)
Sell that one-word punchline, you big, beautiful bastards. Sell it!
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