The Rules of the Funny

Posted in Side Topics at 9:14 am by Stephen

Last week we had a discussion about what makes funny stuff funny. In a similar spirit, I thought I’d present the golden rules of comedy, as dictated by Preston Sturges, one of the funniest writer/directors who ever lived (I’ve mentioned it on the show, but I’m not convinced there’s a funnier movie than The Lady Eve).

Sturges’ Rules:

  1. A pretty girl is better than a plain one.
  2. A leg is better than an arm.
  3. A bedroom is better than a living room.
  4. An arrival is better that a departure.
  5. A birth is better than a death.
  6. A chase is better than a chat.
  7. A dog is better than a landscape.
  8. A kitten is better than a dog.
  9. A baby is better than a kitten.
  10. A kiss is better than a baby.
  11. A pratfall is better than anything.

So what do you guys think? True or not?


  1. Sam (405) said,

    November 30, 2006 at 11:35 am

    That reminds me of a short monologue one of the characters of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys, a retired vaudeville comedian, has about what’s funny and what’s not:

    “Words with a ‘k’ in it are funny. Alkaseltzer is funny. Chicken is funny. Pickle is funny. All with a ‘k’. ‘L’s are not funny. ‘M’s are not funny. Cupcake is funny. Tomatoes is not funny. Lettuce is not funny. Cucumber’s funny. Cab is funny. Cockroach is funny — not if you get ‘em, only if you say ‘em.”

    Personally, I think the secret is not what the rules are but simply that you have rules. The Road Runner may not leave the road. Bugs Bunny may not initiate the hostilities. Daffy Duck may never receive applause.

    Without rules, comedy is just chaos.

  2. Darien (88) said,

    November 30, 2006 at 5:46 pm

    Normal speed is not funny. To be funny, things either have to be very fast or very slow. Look at Abbot and Costello’s classic “Who’s on First?” routine for an example - if you just read through the script or see some guys perform it at normal conversation speed, it’s the dumbest thing on earth. But done quickly it gets really funny. In order for slow things to be funny, they really need to be physical routines with achingly obvious payoffs, in which case they become funny because of the audacity of drawing this thing out.

  3. Eric (44) said,

    December 1, 2006 at 1:23 am

    I don’t think that list is true at all. There’s no entry for “two hairy naked men wrestling in a hotel conference room”.

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