Friday, April 25, 2014



A visual gag or sight gag is anything which conveys its humor visually, often without words being used at all. The gag may involve a physical impossibility or an unexpected occurrence. The humor is caused by alternative interpretations of the goings-on. Visual gags are used in plays, acting on television and movies and in magic.

I love visual gags and a certain amount of slap-stick. The comedian, Soupy Sales was very popular in the United States, back in the 50s, because of his slap-stick, but I found it tedious, because it was so repetitious. Only in certain cases, and certain comedians, does repetition truly work, in my opinion. Eddie Izzard is a master at it, because he drops his repetitious phrases in randomly and unexpectedly, but it is hard to pull off and should be avoided by all but the best, which, in my humble opinion, Eddie is. But, we're going to look at visual gags, because I don't have to type, type, type, and frankly, I had a hell of a time finding a “V” comedian that I was satisfied with; Jim Varney appealed to a few folks here back in the 90s, but tragically, he died young and his was a very “niche” type of comedy. Funny as he was, I decided to give him a pass. Rest in peace, Jim; you were terrific!

Jim Varney started his career selling ice cream on the Tee Vee. I first saw his ad, in about 1980, when I was still at school, where he is getting an ice cream cone filled, and the cone moves off-screen, then back on-screen each time, with one additional scoop, as he sings a goofy rendition of "Happy Birthday". At the conclusion of the song, he has about 4 scoops of ice-cream on a cone and they fall off. The camera fades to black, as he holds his empty cone, goofy grin in place, glancing down at his empty cone, then back at the camera. I howled.

I love pictures like this; a late friend of mine and I spent the weekend at Fort Knox, playing with the heavy artillery and helicopters. I took a picture of her in front of the suspended Huey, ducking, as if a giant mosquito was after her. Sadly, the picture did not survive my many moves and upheavals.

Visual gags can be of a solitary picture, or involve elaborate set-ups to get to the punchline. Both are satisfying, but some are so simple and work well with children. Others are of the WTF? variety and I ran into plenty of those as single-shots. I'm either having a major case of the stupids, or the humor is so full of arcana as to be truly indecipherable, except for say, archaeologists, or Buddhists, or whatever. 

 This sort of thing requires friends who care not one whit how you behave in public. "Walk Like An Egyptian" is apt, and at least you can get to the murals, which must surely be just painted on by starving Art Students. I've seen Egyptology displays, where you are not allowed anywhere near the displays, for fear of disturbing Im-ho-tep, or breaking a priceless cat-mummy toe, or something.

                                                                                                            courtesy: Thingesque
 I get that the dog is blind and the cat is leading the dog, but what's up with the duck? In any case, it would be a rather erratic arrangement, because once Fluffy gets a whiff of tuna, or smells a catnip patch, it's going to be a wild ride for the two blind passengers.

We are left then, with the elaborate set-up, or rather, a series of visual gags that in pacing and style, often resembles a boxing match, or the Finale of a symphonic work. In terms of tempo, and frequency of events, the gag may start out slow, seem pointless and build from there. We go to our old friend Charlie Chaplin for the Pawn Shop Fight Scene for some fun. Check out the way Charlie worms his way back into the owner's good graces and seemingly wins the fair maiden's heart!


Chaplin was a true master, and watching this again just made it all fresh and new! 


Samantha Geary Jones said...

Ya got me on the duck *maybe it's directing traffic* Love Chaplin--he'll always be a hoot! Lucille Ball was quite good at visual gags, too:)

Echoes of Olympus
A to Z #TeamDamyanti

Marci Koski said...

Tomorrow I'm posting about some of my favorite women comedians that have appeared on Saturday Night Live. Molly Shannon was the queen of visual gags on that show, never failing to show off her underpants as Mary Katherine Gallagher taking a stage-dive into a pile of folding chairs and what not. Loved your post! Cheers, marci (

Crystal Collier said...

Hah! The duck. Not sure what that's about. I loved Jim, although I really knew him as Earnest. I didn't realize he died so young, but I did remember hearing about it. Crazy.

True Heroes from A to Z

Kathe W. said...

Duck? Because something is coming? Not sure! Now Chaplin was fabulous!