The best comedies don’t leave loose threads, everything comes back around- whether we realize it or not. So this might be why, every now and then, a joke that goes nowhere in comedy can be so jarring in a very good way. It makes us aware of the closure we expect in comedy, to see everything come full circle, and that just like in real life we don’t always get that closure- so we might as well laugh at it.
There are a few moments like this where it’s done so blatantly that these scenes have become in jokes just for myself. I quote them here and there in moments where I find the futile expectation for closure or explanation or any sort to be unwarranted. Here we go:
The Simpsons – “So then I says to Mabel, I says-“
Anytime I get into a conversation about my favorite Simpsons quote, this one is always first out the gate for me. It’s from a transition scene where, in the kitchen, Bart is talking to Lisa as Homer enters. Bart says the line, Homer interrupts to ask where Marge is, Lisa answers, Bart repeats the line, end scene.
It’s already pretty funny that Bart knows someone named Mabel, or that he’s talking in this completely unnatural cockney dictum, but when Homer leaves, he repeats the line with no additional context or continuation. We have no idea what he says to Mabel, or who Mabel even is. In all the years of Simpsons characters, we’ve never met a Mabel. I honestly hope we don’t. It’s a running joke that every side character has had “an episode” at this point, but 20+ years later, we’ve never met the Mabel Bart was talking to.
For a show that runs off on grand misadventures thanks to its characters foibles and ignorance, a loose thread not leading to some kind of crazy plot twist stands out like a sycamore in the desert, especially because this joke came at the “height” of The Simpsons’ prowess. It’s no wonder, in an age of such tight joke writing, they could turn a loose thread into something poignant and hilarious that stays with the viewer for years to come.
Wedding Crashers – Hey, Franklin!
I’ll say right out the gate, Wedding Crashers has not aged well. Two men attending weddings under false pretenses to have sex with women should never have been a good look, but I’ll admit I thought the jokes and patter between Wilson and Vaughn was hilarious at the time the movie came out. What has aged surprisingly well, is the final act of the film: Wilson visits the master Wedding Crasher played by a man child Will Ferrell (is there any other Ferrell?) and it draws into stark reality just how vapid and futile the lifestyle from the first act is, even if it didn’t go far enough thanks to Ferrell being a successful funeral crasher.
However, much earlier in the film, we’re at “the big wedding” the duo are crashing. Wilson is talking with Walken when Rachel McAdams comes to get her father telling him someone named William is looking for him. Walken acknowledges this fact, and steps away, loudly calling out, “HEY, FRANKLIN!”
He was just told to go speak to William, but for some reason this Franklin guy was more interesting. It’s not just the oddity of how easily Walken’s character is distracted, it’s that his voice is left in at the same audio level as if he were still a primary part of the scene, so this interjection feels crucial, but it isn’t at ALL. Wilson laughs it off saying “what a great guy,” and we never see a Franklin. I wish I could find the clip for this one, but instead, here’s a gif of Will Ferrell demanding Meatloaf:
Men in Black – Honey, this one’s eating my popcorn
In contrast to Wedding Crashers, Men in Black has aged incredibly well. It’s a tight, fun, funny adventure. On top of that, it manages to slip in some gems of insight amid all the Hitchhiker’s Guide like cleverness and imagination. Between Will Smith’s charm at its late 90s peak, and Tommy Lee Jones’ playing a perfect foil that isn’t all gloom and glower (remember when he played Elvis while driving upside down?), if you haven’t seen the original in a while, give it a replay, I guarantee it’ll impress.
One of this movie’s key virtues is not having a single excessive second despite telling a great story and revealing a robust world that I wish they’d done better with in subsequent outings. One mystery of the Men in Black world beyond any question of alien species, or time travel is this: what the hell is the complete anecdote Jones was telling Smith in that restaurant?
It comes after the fade in from Jones having neuralyzed Smith, we’re coming in right where Smith’s own memory is resuming- in media res of being told the punchline to an adorable story by Jones that involves him doing the following adorable voice:
I’ve said it plenty to friends, and I say it here for all to see: this story is the greatest mystery that haunts me from Men in Black, and if someone can find Jones to get him on camera telling the whole story, I’d be forever grateful.
Game of Thrones – I once walked into a brothel with a jackass and a honeycomb
This one is unique for a couple reasons: first off, it’s repeated twice in the show’s run. Second, the show isn’t done yet so it’s entirely possible I’ll get to hear the ending to this parable next year when Tyrion uses his dying breaths to tell it in the final season. I absolutely do not, at all, want Tyrion to die, but if he did? Him using his final moments to tell an off color joke would be tremendous.
We hear it first when Tyrion is being held on trial in the Aerie by Lysa Arynn, and then again in Mereen when he’s drinking and trying to conversate with Greyworm and Misandei. In both cases we get only the setup: I once walked into a brothel with a honeycomb and a jackass. The second time, we get a little more, that the madame running the brothel was coming into play. This may be a famous joke in Westeros given Lysa’s immediate fury at the opening, or maybe at this point it’s a subtle reminder that not every statement gets finished. Some have their throats cut before they can reach the punchline in the game of thrones.