Extracting comedy from an excessively long take of a scene that features repetitive action or no action at all is dangerous business. For some people, the infamous scene from "The Simpsons" where Sideshow Bob continues to get hit in the face with a rake every time he takes a step goes on wayyyyyy to long. For others, it ends about 20 seconds too soon. The excessively long repetitive comedy scene is one of those rarely invoked staples of comedy that doesn't pop up often enough.
If the rake scene from "The Simpsons" is the ultimate successful interpretation of the excessively long repetitive comedy gag in TV history, then Andy Kaufman is the owner of the ultimate prize. The brilliantly surreal Kaufman experienced a surge of popularity as a result of his Latka Gravas character on the TV show "Taxi." Audiences for Kaufman increasingly were made up of those showing up to see his foreign man character and heckling him when he failed to deliver. At this point, Kaufman would retrieve a copy of "The Great Gatsby" and announce that he was going to abandon his comedy routine and read the novel to the audience instead. Cue laughter as audience laughs at the joke. Only it was no joke. Kaufman would continue to read F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel until the last member of the audience got fed up enough to leave.
It takes a certain type of sense of humor to appreciate the comic potential of the excessively long repetitive comedy scene. One filmmaker who most certainly possesses the requisite sense is Mel Brooks. His initial entry into challenging the expectations of joke timing in a movie audience occurs in "Blazing Saddles." Everybody seems to remember two scenes from that movie most strongly: Alex Karras punching out a horse and the scene of cowboys eating baked beans around a campfire. Everybody knows what happens when you dine on baked beans and everybody knows the food was a staple of the cattle drive, but you never saw a scene like this in "Red River." The scene of cowboys loudly passing gas only lasts about 30 seconds, making it one of the shortest examples, but since this particular bodily function had never been exhibited so explicitly in a movie before, it probably seemed to be extremely excessive at the time. Brooks' "Spaceballs" opens with a crawl that explains what's going on that leads to a shot of a spaceship traveling past the camera that together takes three minutes of screen time to complete.
The lack of confidence in the number of Americans who possess such a sense of humor can be illuminated by the existence of a deleted scene on the DVD for "Borat." The scene shows Borat's response to the truly embarrassing riches of food that Americans have access to through a truly excessively long and repetitive sequence that has the character walking down a row on which hang bags of cheese. He asks the worker what each bag is and gets the same response each time: cheese. After nearly a minute, Borat has reached the end of the cheese section and a less confident filmmaker would have ended things here, secure not only in the comedic potential of the scene, but its underlying dramatic satire as well. Instead, Borat goes all the way to the start of the cheese section and heads down the aisle by asking what each bag on the second row is and getting the same response: cheese. This scene is the cinematic equivalent of Andy Kaufman reading "The Great Gatsby" because it goes on 3 minutes and 15 seconds.
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