There only two ways to get a laugh, my old improv teacher said to us.
One is status drop*.
Imagine the scene. Jeeves (a valet) and Wooster (his boss) are in a room. Jeeves acts deferentially (verbally and non-verbally), tidying up after Wooster, hanging on his every word.
Wooster acts regally. Fluid, deliberate movements. He doesn’t even make eye-contact with Jeeves, to signal how in control of his own space he is, as he holds forth on some Society enemy.
Jeeves (respectfully, in an effort to please) breaks into Wooster’s monologue and offers some valuable information about Wooster’s enemy, and hints there is more.
Wooster now changes his physical behaviour. His movements and speech patterns are less fluid, he makes eye contact, maybe deigns to touch Jeeves on the arm. His confidence is gone. Wooster has something he wants.
I was taught this is called “status”. We were taught to think of the two players in the scene as being on a see-saw. One’s up, the other’s down.
When the arrangement is reversed, and the see-saw tips, there’s a laugh to be had. The high-status person has dropped and the low-status person is elevated.
Famous people are high-status. If they make themselves humble or contribute in way people like, it’s harder to drop their status.
If they bang on about “eco-mentalists”, or suggest we should shoot striking public-sector workers in front of their families, or put nuclear waste on the Rainbow Warrior, some people are going to enjoy a laugh at their expense.
This might be why people are enjoying the occasional Jeremy Clarkson joke today.
*I’ll talk about the other one tomorrow
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