Comedy and dialogue

Because I love language and dialogue and we just spent some time discussing some of the great linguistic ambiguity in DM, I thought it would be fun to look at a smattering of the best ambiguous dialogues in comedy over the last few decades. I know I won’t mention all the best ones, and I’m counting on the readers of this blog to come up with some from DM and anywhere they have come across good examples. I have previously reviewed some of my favorite comedic dialogues from DM, e.g. the fish monger’s monologue in S5E8; Mrs. T’s remarks to ME at the Castle and his comments to her there too; Louisa’s great commentary during their walk in the woods on the wedding night and many of the conversations during that episode. Most of these are not ambiguous, just excellently written and very amusing. A lot of the dialogue is sarcastic, with an edge. But what about those conversations that are ambiguous?
In addition to the scene we recently looked at where Martin tells Joan “It’s not my fault,” there are many others. Here are a few from early DM:
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Have you noticed an increased demand for diarrhea remedies lately?
Mrs. Tishell:-Yes – in fact you could say there’s been a *run* on them.

Joan: What’s going on Martin?
Martin: I needed to talk to Mark.
Joan: You needed to talk to him or needed to interrupt him?
Martin: I needed his help to section a man under 136 of the mental health act.
Joan: Then you saw him with Louisa, and you don’t need his help.
Martin: I’ll get a community psychiatric nurse in the morning.
Joan: Yes, Yes, she should make you feel much better.

Dr. Martin Ellingham: All right, Caroline, I’m going to give you an injection.
Danny Steel: [gets down on one knee, hands clasped together] I’m saying a prayer for you, Caroline.
Dr. Martin Ellingham: [eyeing Danny] Just a little prick.

Louisa Glasson:-Why do you have to upset everyone? When you are with patients, why can´t you make an effort? Just *smile*! Try some small talk! Have a laugh!
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Sick people don´t want a laugh. They want a doctor who knows what he’s doing.
Louisa Glasson:-They want a bedside mannner.
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-A bedside manner can´t cure you.
Louisa Glasson:-It makes them feel better.
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Can it diagnose an illness in a scanner? Write a prescription?
Louisa Glasson:-You know what I mean. Please, for once *just* agree with me. *You* know what I´m trying to say?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-Actually I find it hard to understand you in the best of times. Whatever you say or do makes no sense to me.
Louisa Glasson:-What are we talking about? Are we talking about…? What are we talking about?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-I’m not quite sure.

(A group of twitchers are walking next to Doc’s house. Martin is taking his bottle of daily milk.)
Twitcher 1:-Which way to the choughs?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-At the top of the hill. And turn right.
Twitcher 2:-Thanks.
(The group continues up the road while the man watches his map)
Twitcher 1:-Why on the right there is the cliff? You mean left. Don’t you?
Dr. Martin Ellingham:-(At the door) Right. (Slams the door)

The classic example is Abbott and Costello and “Who’s On First?” Could there be a better example of linguistic ambiguity and how funny it can get? (My grandsons love it and it’s from the 1950s!) Here’s a video of it.

The Three Stooges were famous for wacky dialogue much of it ambiguous. Here’s some from their “Dizzy Pilots” script”
MOE: Where’s your vice?
CURLY (angelically): Vice? I have no vice. I’m as pure as the driven snow. (Gestures with his two hands flat, then holds them in a praying position.)
MOE: (Nods sarcastically.) But you drifted. (Hits Curly on the head.)
MOE: Get outta here and get the vice.

MOE: Hey you nitwit! Don’t saw the wings, you saw the garage!
CURLY: I see the garage, but I don’t saw the garage. You are speaking incorrectly. You are moidering the King’s English. Et cetera. See? Saw? See? See?
MOE: Yagh! (Starts to strangle Curly.) Shut up! You saw one side and Larry will saw the other. (Moe points.)
CURLY: Oh, I see. I saw! (Curly grabs Moe’s left arm and begins to saw.)

Then there’s “Young Frankenstein:”
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: Igor, help me with the bags.
Igor: [Imitating Groucho Marx] Soitenly. You take the blonde, I’ll take the one in the toiben.
Dr. Frederick Frankenstein: I was talking about the luggage.

Inga: Hallo. Vould you like to have a roll in ze hay? [Dr. Frankenstein stutters] It’s fun. [She begins to roll in the hay] Roll, roll, roll in ze hay.

Just about all dialogue in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” or Monty Python’s “Life of Brian.” Look here AND here
“The Flying Circus” has a few choice examples too. Here’s an excerpt of their “Dead Parrot” sketch:
Mr. Praline: Now that’s what I call a dead parrot.
Owner: No, no…..No, ‘e’s stunned!
Mr. Praline: STUNNED?!?
Owner: Yeah! You stunned him, just as he was wakin’ up! Norwegian Blues stun easily, major.
Mr. Praline: Um…now look…now look, mate, I’ve definitely ‘ad enough of this. That parrot is definitely deceased, and when I purchased it not ‘alf an hour ago, you assured me that its total lack of movement was due to it bein’ tired and shagged out following a prolonged squawk.
Owner: Well, he’s…he’s, ah…probably pining for the fjords.
Mr. Praline: PININ’ for the FJORDS?!?!?!? What kind of talk is that?, look, why did he fall flat on his back the moment I got ‘im home?
Owner: The Norwegian Blue prefers keepin’ on it’s back! Remarkable bird, id’nit, squire? Lovely plumage!
Mr. Praline: Look, I took the liberty of examining that parrot when I got it home, and I discovered the only reason that it had been sitting on its perch in the first place was that it had been NAILED there.
Owner: Well, o’course it was nailed there! If I hadn’t nailed that bird down, it would have nuzzled up to those bars, bent ’em apart with its beak, and VOOM! Feeweeweewee!
Mr. Praline: “VOOM”?!? Mate, this bird wouldn’t “voom” if you put four million volts through it! ‘E’s bleedin’ demised!
Owner: No no! ‘E’s pining!
Mr. Praline: ‘E’s not pinin’! ‘E’s passed on! This parrot is no more! He has ceased to be! ‘E’s expired and gone to meet ‘is maker! ‘E’s a stiff! Bereft of life, ‘e rests in peace! If you hadn’t nailed ‘im to the perch ‘e’d be pushing up the daisies! ‘Is metabolic processes are now ‘istory! ‘E’s off the twig! ‘E’s kicked the bucket, ‘e’s shuffled off ‘is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible!! THIS IS AN EX-PARROT!!
Owner: Well, I’d better replace it, then. (he takes a quick peek behind the counter) Sorry squire, I’ve had a look ’round the back of the shop, and uh, we’re right out of parrots.

I enjoy Simon Pegg’s crazy films. The language can be very vulgar, but the films have their moments. Here’s one from “The World’s End:”
Steven Prince: We need to be able to differentiate between them, them and us.
Peter Page: Yeah, I think the pronouns are really confusing.
Gary King: I don’t even know what a pronoun is.
Oliver: Well, it’s a word that can function by itself as a noun which refers to something else in the discourse.
Gary King: I don’t get it.
Andrew Knightley: You just used one.
Gary King: Did I?
Andrew Knightley: “It” it’s a pronoun.
Gary King: What is?
Andrew Knightley: It!
Gary King: Is it?
Andrew Knightley: Christ!

I’d love to see some of your examples. I had a lot of fun putting these together. Enjoy!

Originally posted 2014-10-10 12:22:56.

15 thoughts on “Comedy and dialogue

  1. Linda

    Wracking my brains for an idea here! I tend to think of them in the middle of the night and then forget them by morning. When Martin saw Louisa at the Platt and she asked him how he was finding the people of Portwenn, he replied, “Irritating, apart from the primary school teacher who is a pirate it seems.” She was amused and was trying to tell him he wasn’t at all what she expected, just as he abruptly turned on his heal when he saw Colonel Spencer. Then, when he was onstage with Caroline Bosman, ready to announce the prizes, he spied the Spencers and the surfer heading up the hill and said, “Oh Shit! right into the microphone!

    I loved Martin’s interactions with Elaine too, especially the one where he said “Yeah, I love dogs.” “I love how they smell.” “I love how they bite you.” “Dogs are the best.”

    I loved the conversations between Louisa and Martin at the honeymoon location. He was busy checking for bedbugs but changed the subject when she asked what he was doing. When she asked if he remembered when they first met, he said yes and then proceeded to tell her possibly the first funny thing he has ever said about the parrot on the shoulder being a cure for glaucoma!

    Actually, his first funny thing was when he saw Louisa heading into the church for Elaine’s Dad’s wedding. He said “Louisa, you’re looking ….. straight through me …..!: Hilarious! Then he was talking to Roger Fenn when Louisa came up and beaked off at him for not seeing Roger in the hospital. He said, “I tried to but that woman shushed me.”

    I have to go but the ideas are beginning to flow ….. so I’ll be back!

  2. Santa Traugott

    Well, this motivated me to re-up with Acorn so I could look again at one of my favorite scenes, in S4E5, “The Departed.” Martin and Louisa are storming out of Theodore Wenn’s house and Martin chides Louisa for being too “emotional,’ which he puts down to her being “hormonal” Louisa remarks that maybe he can complain to his friend Edith, since she isn’t one to be annoyed by pesky things like emotions. Martin says: “What does Edith have to do with it?” Louisa responds that “I’d rather be hormonal than cold, prickly and intimidating. But if that’s what makes you happy, well that’s great. Good for you” — (to which Martin responds that noticing that her shoes don’t match, and off Louisa goes, swinging her purse. I love the reference to Martin telling her in the non-wedding episode, that she wouldn’t make him happy, which clearly continues to rankle her. (What a strange term, “rankle” — do we ever use it in any other context?) We have to doubt that any of this registers with Martin.

    I did catch, in this same episode, the lovely little set piece with the therapist. I have a lot of objections to the way Dr. Milligan proceeded, but he threw out something that is relevant to our discussion of the return of the blood phobia.

    Not remembering the exact words, but Milligan says something like, you’re a surgeon, and a surgeon is all about precise control. And this blood phobia comes about because you have a fear of losing control.

    Whether I agree with that or not, it’s interesting to think about this in the context of S6. Does the chaos in his house, the change in his living circumstances, his profound attachment to his new family, rise to circumstances that might cause him to fear losing control? Or, put another way, is that how we’re “meant” to think about it?

  3. Post author

    Wow, Santa, what a great observation in reference to Louisa’s comment about what makes Martin happy! The use of the term “happy” has so much baggage in this show. It’s also a humorous exchange that involves miscommunication. Pretty neat!

  4. Post author

    These are all examples of funny dialogue that are more along the lines of sarcasm. They all make us laugh and add to our enjoyment of the show. I’m looking for those conversations that are particularly ambiguous though. I’ll keep looking too. Thanks Linda!

  5. Mary F

    Oh my these made me crack up all over again, so many great moments….makes me want to go watch the series again for the 300th time the writing/actors are so brilliant. I also loved those odd shows you drummed up Karen, the (dead) parrot nailed to his perch with the outraged owner and unrepentant seller, what show was that again…Monty Python? Hysterical!

    What about the scene where Mark Mylow mentions “Lou and Dan” signing his get well card and Martin becomes visibly disturbed by the news having already set his sights on Louisa. A turning point with all sorts of possible scenarios…

  6. Post author

    I laugh every time I read these conversations. So much fun. Monty Python did The Flying Circus which had the parrot sketch along with so many others. They also did the other films I mentioned. Their dialogue is priceless, but not always ambiguous, just as so many other examples. I should have looked at “All in the Family” quotes. I’m sure we’d find some good ones there too.

    I hate to ask, but can you tell me what episode the Mark Mylow scene is in? I know it must be in S2.

  7. Joan

    I think this is a difficult topic. I wasn’t going to participate but this one conversation popped into my mind. Doc Martin walked into the surgery’s waiting room and asked Wallace where the receptionist was. Wallace shrugged and DM said she’s in her mid-twenties and cheap looking. Wallace pointed to the next room where DM found Pauline kissing Al on the kitchen table. DM told Pauline her behavior was unprofessional
    and embarrassing . Pauline said have a heart it was our first kiss. DM said get back to work. Pauline laughed and said you. DM misunderstood that as an offer from her to kiss him and said no.

  8. Post author

    I remember that exchange and think you found a good one. I guess this is harder than I realized. I’ve tried to check a few scenes out, thinking they would be good examples, only to discover they are not.

  9. Maria

    I wouldn’t characterize this scene (one of my favorites, from S5E8) as ambiguous, exactly, but it is an example of misunderstanding, based on Martin’s saying exactly what he thinks and consequently taking what other people say at face value. In my opinion, Pauline has been a little mean to Martin on occasion in the past, but she does like him, and the very last exchange here shows her affection for him. Martin has also grown; he has come to appreciate Pauline and can even express that appreciation. He is bemused when he realizes she’s teasing him but not angry. I love how the writers show all this in a humorous way. Martin’s growing horror still makes me laugh every time I see it.

    P: So. That was the last patient.
    M: Yes. Yes, it was. [pauses] Pauline. We’ve worked together here for a number of years and…I just want to say…um…good luck [extends hand].
    P: [shakes hand]. Are we done then, Doc?
    M: Mm. Yes. [opens mouth]
    P: You look like you want to say something else.
    M: Www…well…just that…um… [pauses]
    P: yeah..? [looks apprehensive]
    M: [pausing] I appreciate the help you’ve given me.
    P: [relieved] Oh, thank god, I thought you were going to say you were in love with me or something.
    M: What??
    P: Well, you know, bumbling around, getting all nervous…
    M: [eyes widening]. That’s absurd!!
    P: Not really. We’ve worked together for a long time. And um…I’ve seen those little glances you give me….
    M: [incredulous look]
    P: …always asking me to work late…accidentally brushing your hand against mine…
    M: [horrified] I DIDN’T!!
    P: starts laughing and gives him a ‘gotcha’ look.
    Are you sure you’ll be fine in London, doc? I mean with the whole blood thing? I won’t be around to do it for you when you’re hiding in the corner like a little girl.
    M: I’ll be fine. Thank you, Pauline. Goodbye. [looks mildly bewildered]

  10. Post author

    I like this exchange too and the one at the end of S4 when she asks him where his desk is and then where her desk is because she’s going to be making some changes for the new doctor. The dialogue you chose has some ambiguity to it in terms of how Pauline can put Martin in awkward places. Thanks!

    The thing we can definitely say is that the writing of the dialogue is often excellent.

  11. Maria

    And your example of the desk conversation is a great metaphor – literally putting Martin in an awkward place!

  12. Cathy R

    One of my favorite lines is in the very first episode when Martin asks Bert and Al what the expression “going Bodmin” means. Bert begins to answer but can’t get a complete sentence out. He starts and stops several times, prompting Martin to comment “Treat yourself to a noun.” Cracks me up every time.

    An American show called WonderFalls aired in 2004, the same year as Doc Martin series 1. Sadly it was cancelled after one season, but it had sharpest, funniest, and most intelligent dialogue I’ve ever heard

  13. Post author

    Thanks for that example Cathy! This series he tells Morwenna she’s using a simile and not a metaphor, which was also fun to include.

    I am not familiar with WonderFalls, but so many of my favorites get canceled too. Shame!!

  14. Amy

    This was so much fun to read—you captured some of my favorite scenes.

    I loved some of the exchanges between Martin and Elaine in S1. She was as sarcastic as he was. I can’t quote them off the top of my head, but there is the exchange when he is listing what he needs to refurbish the surgery and she seems to be writing them down, but then hands him a list of what she needs (milk and biscuits, I believe). There’s also the scene involving her messed-up mistaken notes on the call from Bobby Richard’s mother. And also the dialogue at the wedding when Martin rehires Elaine. I don’t think these have the same type of linguistic ambiguity as the ones you listed, Karen, but the give and take between Elaine and Martin was so biting and funny.

  15. Amy

    I thought of another—where Bert is talking to Martin about the Colonel’s wife and uses the expression “know in the biblical way” and Martin responds with something like, “what section of the bible is that?” and Bert launches into an explanation of the expression saying he loves Al, but not in the biblical way.

    What’s not clear to me is whether Martin really didn’t know the expression, as Bert assumes, or whether he was just being sarcastic to Bert.

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