To laugh is to live your life with a pinch of insanity in a mundane world.
There is a lot of theories how and what we find funny. We have the classic of slapstick but something that isn’t as appreciated as it once was years ago. It’s childish for sure, but it’s still in existence. The pleasure in the pain and misfortune of others.
There’s that theory you probably encountered in your own self-study of the writing arts — what is a comedy but tragedy plus time.
I love comedy. I love humour. I have my own limitations and I have my own set weapons I tend to lean on a daily basis. But there’s nothing as powerful as the prepared mind to be unprepared and loose and ruthless in the search for the perfect full circle.
There’s nothing like the completed circle. The sense of a closed loop that brings the whole conversation or story altogether in a neat little bow. And to do that requires the technique called the callback. And for me, the ability to generate a laugh through this method is the greatest satisfaction.
In my humble opinion, this is the true essence of completing a circle. Especially when you’re working on the fly and creating an organic joke at the workplace or in your social circle of friends. It’s great and I tend to get a kick with the element of surprise at how well I can knock one out of the park or how their eyes light up with the connection.
Recently, we were having dinner with friends and at the same time, I naturally drew up a reference to an old story that a friend told about her father who chopped her ex-boyfriend’s sandal out of frustration and disapproval. It was the perfect placement and not forced because we were making a reference to her new boyfriend and how he was going to visit her mother. I mentioned, better than visiting her father or he’ll get his sandals chopped up.
There was a beat and then — an “OMG” moment of those at the table who got the joke.
That was long callback — at least over seven months in the making.
But before we go any further, let’s define what a callback is.
“The main principle behind the callback is to make the audience feel a sense of familiarity with the subject matter, as well as with the comedian. It helps to create audience rapport. When the second joke is told, it induces a feeling similar to that of being told a personal or in-joke.”
Basically, you’re making a reference to a previous or earlier joke, perhaps at the beginning of the set or even from some time ago. A forgotten one-hit wonder that is given a chance to become deeper in meaning and new in perspective. But overall, it only works because you’re dealing with the same audience or group of people and they get the reference and therefore it works.
For real-life purposes, this is the moment of trying to creating that rapport with your close-knit group of friends at work. Trying to make it feel like you have a shared history.
For the creative writer, you can only have this type of rapport developed for die-hard fans and the those with a watchful eye for these kinds of things.
It truly does help to be a better listener if you want to use these kinds of things in your daily life. But, I wouldn’t be forceful with the jokes or referencing to things. A joke can die really fast when it’s recalled too many times — in the video I linked below, this could be pushing into the running gag territory. However, I think a joke in everyday usage does quickly if it’s just referred to without being integrated into a new/related context seamlessly.
Basically, you should just go, “Remember that joke I did from yesterday? Remember how hilarious that was?”
After that, the rest seems to be based on timing instincts. For me, it’s a like a whisper that coos in my ear and offers an opportunity. Sometimes, it’s a mere second before a chance to execute. Sometimes it’s given a few minutes earlier. And in rare circumstances, you have another person of the group who is on the same wavelength and you’ll see them connect on the joke if you’re not willing to do it yourself.The callback works wonders for me and continues to for my daily conversations and hopefully for the things I try to share.
I’m going to leave you with this video that summaries the ideas of the callback but with some explanations on running gags and easter eggs. It uses Broad City for examples of how important it is for some comedy series to utilize some of these things to help create a deeper relationship between creator and viewer/reader. Creating a rapport is all about trying to create a conversation between a one-way channel of communication. You sometimes wish you can speak to every single viewer who catches a glimpse of your creation but it’s not possible. But by doing these kinds of things in your series, it sort of winks at the viewer and rewards them if they stay for the entire ride.