The Sight Gag
A sight gag is a joke without words. It does not mean wearing silly clothes or making a goofy grin. A sight gag is a well-planned joke that makes us laugh because of something we see, rather than something we hear.
Do You See What I See?
Can you find the 20 silly substitutions in this picture?
Just Four Laughs
Only four comedies have won the Academy Award for Best Movie since the Oscars were first handed out in 1929:
It Happened One Night (1934)
You Can't Take It With You (1938)
The Apartment (1960)
Annie Hall (1977)
A classic example takes place in Jacques Tati's Mr. Hulot's Holiday. At a summer hotel, a group of strangers is playing cards. There are two tables, each with their own game. The roomful of serious players stare at the cards in their hands, oblivious to their surroundings. Mr. Hulot comes onto the scene looking for a missing ping-pong ball. As he bumbles around searching for his ball, Mr. H. nudges Mr. Gonzales, one of the card players who is sitting in a swivel chair. The chair rotates smoothly just as Mr. Gonzales, his nose buried in his hand, lays down a card. The card lands on the table next to him instead of his own table. Then Mr. H. swivels the chair back into place. The wrongly played card provokes a riot at both tables.
The scene is just as hilarious if you watch it with the sound turned off.
Here's another sight gag: A boy and girl are sitting at a coffee shop. She is drinking coffee, he is chewing bubble gum. The couple stops talking, stare meaningfully at each other, and then kiss. When the long, romantic kiss is over, suddenly it's the girl who blows a bubble.
Movies that are not strictly comedies may also contain sight gags. Look for the lovebirds in Melanie Daniels's speeding sports car in Hitchcock's The Birds. The sight gag adds just the right touch of humor to an otherwise nerve-wracking film.
Hunting for more ideas to create your own sight gags? Watch the amazing Mr. Bean, Roadrunner cartoons, I Love Lucy reruns, silent movies, or Mel Brooks's modern Silent Movie. Ace Ventura, Pet Detective; Men in Black; Ghostbusters; Addams Family Values; and every episode of The Simpsons contain loads of sight gags.
Young Frankenstein is a sight gag encyclopedia:
The girl flying through the window
The corpse's arm on the broken wagon
Igor's head on the laboratory shelf
The hermit spilling hot soup
The light from the unlit candelabra
The revolving bookcase