The 5 Best One-Word Punchlines in Comedic History
I love comedy in all its shapes and sizes: slapstick, puns, amusing anecdotes, wry criticism, absurdity, satire, parody, and more. Each form of humor carries its own appeal, but I have a special fondness for one-word jokes.
Oh man, that's a good one.
What is a one-word joke? Well, I don't really know. I guess I mean a one-word punchline, ideally. But typically, in order for that one word to work, a lot of preparation has to happen first.
Except for shouting "POOP!" That's just gold every time.
I've been trying to write this column for months, but it was hard to pick my top five one-word comedy punchlines. I wanted to keep this a movie-based list, but as I asked various people their opinions, one entry from television kept coming up. Finally, I had to relent. Also, a tip for you, the reader: Don't try to have this discussion with dudes you don't know at public urinals. They don't like it.
"Blucher!" from Young Frankenstein
Young Frankenstein, written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks and starring Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Cloris Leachman, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, Kenneth Mars, and Teri Garr, is one of the funniest comedies of all time. Don't believe me? Ask someone who believes me! Convinced? Thought so.
Anyway, Young Frankenstein tells the story of the famous monster maker's grandson -- a respected American medical doctor who has distanced himself from his grandfather's mad scientist roots. Nevertheless, when he lives in his now deceased grandfather's house and inherits his grandfather's staff, he too becomes obsessed with reanimating corpses.
The mansion is headed by Frau Blucher, a very stern and frightening woman that even horses seem afraid of. Every time her name is said, the horses freak out, which is a running gag in the movie. If you've never seen it, just download/rent/buy/whatever it, because this clip I found is really just a best of and it ruins the whole timing for the moment when Marty Feldman (as humble servant "Eye-Gore") just screams her last name deliberately to mess with the horses:
Note: I'll let you in on a little secret. Very often, what I would personally rank as the "best" or #1 entry on a list I'll stick in the last spot. Why? Well, I have what doctors refer to as "a terrible personality." Actually, I do it when that entry is the best at explaining the overall concept of the list so we're all on the same page at the get-go.
"Her?" from Arrested Development
This is the only entry on the list that's not from a movie, and it's the response I got most often when quizzing people for their choices. Like all lovely people with exceptionally nice genitalia, I'm a huge Arrested Development fan. If you're not familiar with the show, read some of my columns about it. That won't really help you, but I always enjoy the page views. Thanks!
Anyway, "Her?" is a running gag on the show. George-Michael (portrayed by Michael Cera) has a girlfriend, Ann, whom no one seems to approve of. And even though George-Michael is seemingly no catch, the whole family is sure he can do better than Ann. Accordingly, everyone has the same one-word reaction when they learn who George-Michael is dating. You can jump to about three minutes in for a montage.
Season 4 might have had the best "Her?" joke of all, as Ann's father is a minister at the church of the Holy Eternal Rapture. The church name is abbreviated above her head on her wedding:
God bless Mitchell Hurwitz.
"Groovy" from Evil Dead II
This suggestion came from Cracked's own Brendan McGinley! I know. It didn't really occur to me, because in my mind, Evil Dead II sits in the horror genre, but I have to say, it's a damn fine pick, because as anyone who's seen Evil Dead II knows, it's funny.
Evil Dead II follows the adventures of Ash (Bruce Campbell) as he battles evil forces in a cabin in the woods. Younger readers probably don't appreciate how important this movie is precisely because it was so influential. Just about every comically dark horror film of the last 20 years owes a debt to Evil Dead II. Now, when we see a trailer for the new Machete movie, we understand what kind of film we're in for. We're expecting tongue-in-cheek, ridiculously overdone absurdity and thrills. But when my friends and I watched Evil Dead II as kids, we couldn't fully believe what we were seeing. We watched it almost confused, wondering how the film was "allowed" to get made. Then we wondered why, if such awesomeness was possible, people didn't do it all the time.
The great one-word punchline of Evil Dead II is Ash's oft-quoted "groovy" once he transforms himself into a full-blown zombie killer, complete with sawed-off shotgun and chainsaw hand. But, y'know what, to really appreciate the buildup and release of the one-word gag, you need the horror that precedes it, so watch this first:
Yeah, he cut off his possessed hand. And now he means business:
"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.
"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!