by Tara Peak
How did the chicken cross the road?
Wait for it…..
…….. in a KFC bucket.
Cue applause now
…or maybe not.
Now, I’m no comedian. In fact, I tend to make people laugh through my own misfortune or unintentional broken English. So this is completely based on research, study and plain old interest. But what I found most interesting is how comedy timing can change a joke from being mediocre to amazing. And this is particularly important in cartoons. The pace can vary from one to the other, depending on the target audience and joke trends.
Old Simpsons or New Simpsons?
And why is there a difference? The argument is that, older episodes are character focused and the jokes are driven by story. Compared to the randomness of newer episodes where characters (such as Homer) put themselves in situations that are completely out of character for a single gag. Though I’m not favouring one over the other. We all have our preference to comedy, but what’s interesting is the pacing of gags which has changed so much people have noticed it.
Nothing’s better than a bit of tension
Why build up all that tension only to then slip out the punchline too quickly, leaving a room full of silent disappointment? Someone throw in a tumbleweed. It’s all in the (wait for it) pause… Anticipation is a form of tension that’ll enhance the punchline and blow away any nasty tumbleweed.
Perhaps this is what the older Simpsons had that the newer series lacks? Episodes are shorter, with newer ones lasting 22 minutes while its predecessors ran for 30 minutes each.
There’s less time for setting up a joke; instead it’s more quickfire in the latest series.
Check it out yourself here:
If we look at the intro, we see the Simpson’s world is more saturated with injokes and even the opening sofa gag, which is more of a mini episode in itself that eats into episode time.
The older version depicts a typical working class family compared to the already established, celebrity family.
I’m just not that into you anymore
Characters have to be relatable. Or at least have a personality that’s consistent. This is one of the top complaints not only within The Simpsons fandom but also with shows like Family Guy and South Park.
Of course, this could be nostalgia setting in but let’s pretend it isn’t. Let’s look at the intro to The Simpsons once more, comparing the two scenes where Maggie’s lost in the supermarket. Looking past animation, Marge’s reaction is noticeably subtle in the newer version while her lively response is in the forefront in the older version.
(caption image: topold, bottomnew)
As quoted by the animator who dealt with this scene:
‘About the Marge turn, I had originally done a version where she did a nice head turn but, again, they didn’t want it. “Just have a simple head turn because we want the joke to be Maggie and the unibrow baby…’
The Office has great examples of relatable characters, and while the series was short (12 episodes in all) we saw character arcs forming and obstacles resolved (e.g Tim and Dawn finally getting together). Although The Simpsons is a sitcom, the older series showed morals and closure between each episode. This makes them more human.
Time for the Curtain Call?
As we all know, times change and trends. Hell, even we change and our perceptions of the past are sometimes viewed through rose tinted glasses. So what if comedy in cartoons has changed?
If it makes today’s generation happy, so be it.
Seriously though, comedy timing is everything and any shift in a formula you’ve established will be picked up on by your audience, for good or bad.