A Comedian’s Ploy

Posted by on February 18th, 2011 at 9:56 AM

Steve Kelley, an editorial cartoonist for the Times-Picayune in New Orleans, writes the comic strip Dustin for Jeff Parker to illuminate so brilliantly. Kelley also moonlights sometimes as a stand-up comedian in reputable night spots. And he committed a delicious cross-over the last week in January.

While Dustin sometimes offers a thematic continuity for a week at a time—if its titular hero is shown working at the same job all week, for instance—in the case under our microscope this time, the continuity is more continuous: each day’s installment is a continuation of the action of the preceding day. It all started on Sunday:

Dustin’s father and mother, Ed and Helen, are shopping, and Ed, seeking to escape the “husband’s chair” in the women’s wear department, inadvertently blunders into the women’s lingerie department, where any male is understandably intimidated. I’m not sure why. Is it because men aren’t supposed to know women wear underwear?

On Monday, Ed explains: “Lingerie is like barbed wire for the husband chair,” he says, wishing that he’d never tried to escape the husband’s chair (a nice coinage, by the way).

Then on Tuesday, he resorts to a ploy that might reduce his embarrassment should anyone see him in the women’s lingerie department. (Do women feel uneasy if they ever wander amongst the racks of jockey shorts?)

After all this setup comes Kelley’s “keeper”:

Probably—although not definitely—this is a joke that could be written only by a stand-up comic. At least it seems to have come right off the platform from behind the mic.

The excellence of Kelley’s gag here–and its exquisite timing–can be more fully appreciated by considering another refugee from stand-up comedy in this lame gag:

Ed’s embarrassment among women’s undies does not end with the perfect gag we’ve now witnessed. The next day, his wife Helen catches him holding a large bra that has been handed to him by the attentive lingerie sales clerk. Ed squirms: “Helen, you’ve got to believe me: one minute I was counting ceiling tiles, and the next thing I know, the clerk is showing me a huge bra.”

Helen believes him, but to extricate himself from the dilemma, Ed has consented to her unexpressed wish to buy shoes. “It sounds suspicious to me,” Helen says of Ed’s explanation, nonetheless thinking to herself: “But I’m holding our for new shoes.”

“Suspicious”? Ed says he was counting ceiling tiles? Suspicious? Insane perhaps. And no longer stand-up comedy: now, it’s comic strip comedy.

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