Paraprosdokian: A figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase [or series = anticlimax] is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe the first part. . . . For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists. An especially clever paraprosdokian not only changes the meaning of an early phrase, but also plays on the double meaning of a particular word.(1)
“I went to Alabama with a bandaid on my knee. Oh bananas don’t you peel for me. I’m goin’ to Alabama with a bandaid on my knee.” I was no Henny Youngman. My one-liners were like air-liners falling from the sky. They weren’t funny. I had just turned 16 and I couldn’t get a laugh.
Every since I was a little kid I had been doing stand-up. My house’s falling down garage had a broken out window that I’d stand behind like it was a TV screen and unload my jokes. There was a swing next to the garage, so in summer I always had an audience. But, as soon as I started my routine everybody left, except for Ginger Topsham. She sat on the ground sucking on a Tootsie-Pop and laughing at everything I said, including “Why are you still here?” She would laugh and say “Because you are Johnny.” She had black eyes, black hair and a black cat named Ernest—after Ernest Hemingway the famous writer. I didn’t know where she lived. She just showed up one day and joined the gang. I was grateful for her willingness to listen to my drivel.
One late afternoon, after my show, Ginger told me she knew somebody who could make me funnier. She told me if we could meet at my garage at 11:00 pm she would introduce me. I didn’t hesitate to say “Yes,” thinking it was a ruse on Ginger’s part, to give her a chance to kiss me. I went home and had a bath, deodorized my armpits, loaded my hair with Brylcreem, brushed my teeth twice, hit my breath with Listerine, and patted some Canoe on my cheeks. I was ready for anything.
I got to the garage 15 minutes early. I paced around in a circle. Then, I felt a light breeze. It was Ginger! She was holding a lit candle. “What’s that you’re wearing?” I asked. “It’s a toga,” she answered and started walking toward me. Her toga was the most beautiful shade of purple that I had ever seen. All of a sudden a smiling face popped up behind Ginger’s shoulder. He stepped out from behind her and said “Good evening” in an accent that sounded vaguely like the Latin I had learned in church. He was wearing a white toga, he told me his name was Lucian, and that he came from far away and long ago, and Ginger was related to him. “There is nothing I will teach you here tonight. I know that’s not funny to hear, like ‘Bisquick!, your pants are on fire,’ a joke that no longer raises laughter. You must watch Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, to find a voice and direction for your humor. I went after the corrupt, lying, jerk Alexander and used my humor to tear him apart. You must take up that spirit, using comedy as a sword to slice corrupt politicians and their constricting social morays to bits.”
I became an unforgiving, unrelenting mocker, slashing my way through political injustices and social taboos with humor. I developed a local following and made my garage into a comedy club called “Funnies.” When we turned 18, Ginger and I got married. Now I could do wife jokes. Ha ha! Just kidding. In lieu of a groom’s speech, I did a take-down of George Wallace that got heavy laughs and long applause.
Then, the next night, “The Citizens for Decency” burned Funnies to the ground (I couldn’t prove it). That’s when we discovered how few friends we actually had. We decided to open our wedding gifts to find same solace. Ginger’s parents had given us a plane ticket to Rome, mine had given us matching flashlights. My big brother and his wife gave us a cast iron skillet. We were surprised to see a gift from Lucian. It was a metal detector, with a note in Latin (translated by Ginger) that said “sweep your yard.” I thought it was some kind of trick, or joke. But, the next day I bought some batteries for the metal detector and started plodding around the yard. Suddenly, it started beeping and going crazy. I dug into the ground under where it went off and saw what looked like a treasure chest. “What a cliche,” I thought as I tried to lift it. It must’ve weighed fifty pounds! When I got it out of the ground, I broke the old rusted lock and opened it. It was filled with US gold coins from the mid-1800s, all in mint condition. The next day we had them appraised. They are worth $11,000,000, and that’s no joke.
1. “Paraprosdokian.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 4 Jan 2008, 03:30 UTC. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 Jan 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraprosdokian>.
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