Comedy Genre (Middle Years)

Writing comedy

Power play - set up and flip

Comedy characters often have their own weird way of seeing the world. When you partner them up with someone whose viewpoint is a little more ‘realistic’, you have a power play.

Here, the ‘sudden, unexpected direction’ we talk about in comedy comes from their inability to see sense. You think the ‘sensible’ person has won the argument, but the comedy character flips it back using their own logic.

Here’s an example. After you’ve read it, we’ll break it down.

Calvin and Hobbes comic

CALVIN and HOBBES are walking.

CALVIN: I’m a simple man, Hobbes.

HOBBES: You?? Yesterday you wanted a nuclear powered car that could turn into a jet with laser-guided heat-seeking missiles!

CALVIN: I’m a simple man with complex tastes.

The Days are Just PackedBill WattersonSource

So it’s a ‘set up and flip’ joke again but, with the power play, it makes it a kind of 'set up, flip, and boss flip' arrangement.

  1. Set up: Calvin presents something as ‘fact’. 
  2. Flip: Hobbes gives a funny example of why that’s clearly not true. That should be the end of the argument, but...
  3. Boss flip: Calvin dodges reason by rewording his ‘fact’ slightly to match his viewpoint. He’s learnt nothing from his friend. All Hobbes can do is roll his eyes. 

Double punchline!

It’s also fun because, while Calvin is small, his attitude gives him all the power. He breaks society’s rules by being completely self-absorbed and selfish but, because he’s a little kid, his behaviour is innocent.

A turtle slapping a fish.

TURTLE and FISH are swimming.

TURTLE: This way! I have an excellent sense of direction.

FISH: What? This morning you spent 30 minutes trying to find the way out of your own shell! And turtles can’t leave their shells!

TURTLE shoves past FISH.

TURTLE: My direction is excellent! It’s just that my friends are lousy...

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