Two and a Half Jokes

November 24, 2009
Posted by Jay Livingston

I finally watched an episode of Two and Half Men. The show’s been around for five or six years, and it’s still in the top ten – even in a week when there’s a really good football game in prime time (Colts-Patriots). So it was on my to-do list. As Everett Hughes said, the worst sin for a sociologist is snobbery.

Ideally this post would analyze Two and a Half Men in its social context – its relation to aspects of US society and culture. Maybe another time. For the moment all I could think of was this:

Basically, it’s the “in bed” fortune cookie thing. You know, you read the fortune, pause, then add meaningfully, “in bed.” Funny, right? It’s been around for years (maybe since around the same time that 2.5 Men started), but it still works. I heard Jon Stewart do it just a few days ago on the Daily show.

Sex makes it funny. If something’s already funny, sex makes it funnier. And basically, that’s 2.5 Men. Why is sex funny? Probably because it’s still something we don’t talk about openly. Any laughter a joke might evoke gets the add-on of the tension that comes from touching on a taboo topic. So we hear the essentially the same joke again and again and again. . . . in bed.

The central plot of last night’s episode was that Chelsea wasn’t having an orgasm when she and Charlie had sex. Charlie’s self-centered insensitivity is, I gathered, a regular comic element of the show. But add sex, and it becomes even funnier. Same with Berta. She’s caustic and earthy; she can say sardonic things about her husband and her marriage. But if it’s about sex (like who got to be on top) it’s like adding “in bed” to the Chinese fortune.

Yes, there was a subplot only tangentially related to sex – Alan trying to get a date by using spray-on hair to cover his bald spot. (It took me a few moments to remember where I’d seen this before. Beau Bridges in The Fabulous Baker Boys twenty years ago.). Then Alan goes on J-date and pretends to be Jewish – also not exactly a new idea in comedy.

But mostly, if last night’s episode is typical, 2.5 Men makes its living by taking standard sitcom jokes and adding “in bed.” And it works.

OTOH, or is it really the same hand, there’s XKCD’s take.

1 comment:

trrish said...

Maybe you could do this with a number of other shows that I and you have never watched. It works great for me, because I now know for sure I never have to put "Two and a Half Men" on my list. Adding "in bed" to fortune cookies, or whatever, just makes me roll my eyes :-)

I'll have to look for something else while waiting for the Season 2 'In Treatment' discs.