In Crazy, Stupid, Love there’s a running joke where the characters keep mispronouncing Kevin Bacon’s character’s last name (Lindhagen). There’s a similar kind of joke in The Hangover where Zach Galifianakis’s character puts the emphasis on the wrong syllable of a naughty word. On film these jokes are extremely funny, but these seem like the kind of jokes that wouldn’t work as well on paper. So my question is two fold:

1. Do you think these types of jokes would be effective on the page? (aka “Should I even bother?”)

2. If so, any thoughts on how best to write something like this? Use accents and junk in dialogue, use a parenthetical, or cue in the reader in an action line?

– Nima
New York, NY

Pronunciation jokes have a tendency to feel cheap and hoary. But when they work, they work — and it’s easy enough to show them on the page.

MARY

(checking form)

Are you Mr. Donaldson?

MAN IN COAT

Doe. Nald. Sohn.

MARY

Excuse me?

MAN IN COAT

The o’s are long.

MARY

Oh.

MAN IN COAT

Yes. Not ‘uh.’ There is no schwa.

MARY

Doughnaldsone.

MAN IN COAT

Three syllables. Doe.

MARY

Doe. A deer.

MAN IN COAT

(unamused)

Nald.

MARY

Nald.

MAN IN COAT

Sohn.

MARY

Sohn. Doe-Nald-Sohn.

MAN IN COAT

Close enough.

Back to her form. A beat.

MARY

Mr. Doe-Nald-Sohn, I’m sorry to tell you your dog is dead.

Frankly, without more context my example feels like a clam — a joke that’s become musty through over-use.

But I can imagine scenarios in which its familiarity would actually work in its favor. Archer could probably weave in this kind of joke simply because of the heightened-deadpan nature of the show. And in the context of a dramedy, the setup is flat enough that it doesn’t really feel like a joke is coming, so the punchline is genuinely a surprise.