So a personal irritation of mine arises when comedy talk show hosts ask what I call joke-ended questions of their guests, thus leaving their conversation partners looking silly as there’s not much for them to say. If they answer the question seriously, they look dense as they seem to be missing the joke. But, if they try to add to the comedy of the question, they often look like they’re milking a line of humour that was complete at the question mark.
Consider, for instance, Jon Stewart’s recent interview with Harrison Ford (which was on my television last night). After spending his pre-interview comedy time pleading mockingly with his favourite whipping President, George W. Bush, to be a guest on his show (promising him a free McRib burger as a reward), Stewart asked Han Solo if he thought the entreatment would work.
What was Indiana Jones supposed to say to that? If he responded “No” he’s stating the McObvious, but if he went with “Yes” he would seem like he was trying to add to a joke that appeared to me to be pretty much done. Thus, it seemed that Jon Stewart was not really asking Harrison Ford a question, but instead was simply offering another punchline with a question-impersonating lilt on the end of it.
But, wait, let’s hear Harrison’s response:
“No,” he said with an assertive chuckle at the possibility of George Bush guest appearing on Jon’s show, “not a chance.”
Not bad. Somehow he delivered the straight line without sounding humourless.
“Do you think,” apparently delighted Stewart painfully followed up, “I need to throw in a McHappy Meal toy?”
Again, we were spending Bladerunner’s time on the pre-interview monologue, and I didn’t see where Harrison could go with it, and yet, amazingly, Dr. Jack Ryan didn’t look as phased as I would be.
“You have to just be a much nicer guy,” Harrison said with another chuckle (which left his host in hysterics). “So it’s not going to happen: no, it’s not in you.”
Both Jon Stewart and I loved this reply! Somehow, Harrison Ford had found a way out of the question-joke by not taking it on directly, and instead mocking the question right back for its ridiculousness. Mr. Stewart, are you really going to laugh at George Bush for not coming on a show that has made its career on mocking him and then ask Harrison Ford if he thinks the failed president will come on the show for a burger and toy? Fine, then the wily actor will join the joke by telling you why George Bush isn’t coming on your show.
But perhaps this was a fluke. Surely, Jon Stewart would get him with the next question-joke.
The McDonalds-based interview continued and Harrison Ford admitted that his 9-year-old son thinks the McHappy meal toys are dreadful.
Jon Stewart was intrigued because his 4 and 6 year-olds still love the toys.
“Between the age of 6 and 9,” he asked everyone’s favourite action hero, “when does that toy go from being the greatest thing that has occurred in life, that we must go through monsoons, over mountains by foot to get to, to ‘Ahh, it’s a piece of bleep: I’m not interested’?”
Perhaps this one wasn’t a pure question-joke, as it contained a reasonable inquiry for another parent, I supposed, but still it felt to me that there wasn’t too much room left for The Fugitive.
But, hold on.
“Well, I don’t know about your parenting skills,” Harrison said to another explosive laugh from J.S., “but I would suggest that somebody should have got to this maybe a little earlier. Have you ever bought ‘em a toy? Then they would see the difference…”
Wow! Don’t get these quotes wrong, Harrison seemed to like and appreciate Jon Stewart, but nevertheless, he brilliantly sidestepped the host’s standard attempts to make his guest the straight man to his continuing monologue. Instead, Harrison Ford absorbed the punchline-questions and punched them right back.
You go, Solo!