This week on Troperiffic Tuesday, we take a look at a very old trope, used as a comic element long before our modern obsession with tropes. So what’s so funny about Arson, Murder, … and Jaywalking?
There is a certain structure and rhythm to comedy. I am not remotely educated in the craft of comedy which you will discover as you read the rest of this sketchily researched article but I will attempt to give some foundation here. There are as many different structures for jokes as there are genres and it’s not just for sitcoms and stand up comedians. Action movies and dramas need humor too in order to release the tension.
A very basic structure is premise, setup, and punchline. And Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking is one of thousands of jokes that follow this structure. Premise: (implied) This is a bad dude. Setup: Arson, Murder… (yep, really bad dude). Punchline: and Jaywalking (what?! jaywalking isn’t that bad… Hahahahaha!!) This trope has many, many forms and inversions like Arson Murder and Lifesaving or Arson Murder and Admiration, both often used with a reformed character. It can also be used in the reverse like the dramatic revealing the criminal’s identity; Jaywalking, Loitering, and Murder! The bottom line is that there is a list of one type of item but then the last item doesn’t fit that type. The final item can be completely different or just somewhat different but it’s often emphasized as if it’s the most important item on the list.
Examples include Death Becomes Her: “She was a homewreaker. She was a man-eater. And she was a bad actress!”
Romancing the Stone: “That was the end of Grogan… the man who killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog, and stole my Bible!”
Psych has tons of this trope: “Some people are just born evil – the kid from The Omen, The Children of the Corn, Chad Michael Murray.”
Taglines often use this formula like Fight Club; “Mischief, Mayhem, Soap.”
And it’s not limited to a list of charges.
Like Air Force One, “When you talk to the President, you might remind him that I am holding his wife, his daughter, his chief of staff, his national security adviser, his classified papers – and his baseball glove!“
Remember the King’s foul-mouth tirade in The King’s Speech that ends with the quiet little “tits”. Same pattern.
And of course, it wouldn’t be a Chick 1 article without an example from Doctor Who: “I’m going to need a SWAT team ready to mobilize, street maps covering all of Florida, a pot of coffee, 12 Jammy Dodgers and a fez.”
Alright, readers, perk up your ears. What jaywalking is making you laugh?
Ah, Looney Tunes, you know how to work my troperiffic heart!