Over the years, David Zucker and his cohorts have developed a glossary of comic terms. Here are some entries, followed by his 15 rules for funny.
1. Shoe Leather: The physical traveling or action of a character in a scene. If not in direct service of a joke, it’s superfluous.
2. Drive-By: A joke that appears briefly and then out, as opposed to filling up an entire page or two.
3. Bric-A-Brac: Jokes not intrinsic to a plot or scene that only serve to detract from the point the scene is trying to make.
4. Gilding the Lily: Taking a joke so far that it’s no longer funny.
5. Hair Under the Wings: A joke that compromises the integrity of the plot. A joke proposed for Airplane! involved a shot of Ted Striker’s plane taking off with hair under its wings. Funny, but not good for the audience’s investment in the reality of the story.
6. Ya-ta-ta-ta-ta-da: A joke so hokey it needs washboard and kazoo music.
7. Knocking Down the Posts: It’s not enough to set up a parody, you have to do the jokes. In Airplane!, mere recognition that the girl chasing the airplane was a spoof of a particular movie was not in itself funny. The laughs came only when she began Knocking Down the Posts.
8. Floocher Dialogue: Filler lines recited by foreground characters to enable the audience to focus on a background joke.
9. But, I Wanna Tell Ya: An extra beat of Floocher Dialogue added to a punchline to make it less of a swing, or to help the audience hear the next line.
10. Ba Dum Bump: Obvious sitcom-style punchline.
11. Transplant and Whack: The joke is the organ we save. Transplant it to a scene that can live and whack the rest.
12. Blow: A joke funny enough to end a scene.
13. EAT: A setup so obvious that it might as well have one of those restaurant neon signs with the blinking arrow pointing right at it.
14. Cumulative Effect: Too much of one thing is never a good thing. One sex joke may be funny, but too many and it’s diminishing returns.
15. Manic Dumb Show: Slapstick for the sake of slapstick, but without character/plot motivation or wit.
16. People Talking in Rooms: The concept that witty dialogue in confined spaces can oftentimes be as effective as huge comedy action scenes.
17. Turn the Play Inside: Use existing characters in all possible instances instead of creating new parts and endless residuals.
18. Off Message: A line or scene that steers the movie off its main plotline.
19. W.P.A.: Scenes so extraneous to plot that they merely serve to fill up pages. Like those old FDR New Deal programs, they’re strictly ”make-work.”
20. Eating Your Young: On second draft and beyond, cutting one’s own jokes or scenes that only seem unfunny because of repetition.
21. Dynamite Plunger: At the end of the movie, you can get away with things that you couldn’t in the body of the movie. With only moments until credits roll, it’s often okay to blow the bridge, getting broader and sillier with characters previously grounded in a lot more reality.
22. Schmuck Bait: A twist ending that makes the audience feel cheated, such as the old ”It was all a dream.”
23. Bridge Too Far: Taking a joke to its illogical conclusion.