Woody Allen as Charlie Chaplin (photo by Irving Penn, 1972 (via)
“People have trouble with conceptual comic ideas. I come up with one like a giant breast (in Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask, a marauding 15-foot-tall breast terrorizes the population until Allen’s character lures it into a two-story-high bra) and they have trouble with it. They find it hard to say, ‘My God, what a funny concept that is, an enormous breast. It’s so ridiculous.’ They laugh joke by joke within it. So I feel discouraged in terms of presenting funny conceptual notions.
Actually, I have a conceptual notion that I get a machine that projects me into a work of fiction because I’m in love with Anna Karenina or something, and I have an affair with her there, and finally she comes to New York and I stash her in a hotel room in town and cheat on my wife with her. I’ve been toying with that idea in different forms - that my wife is involved with J. Alfred Prufrock and I go to find her, or this guy has a machine that will project me into Anna Karenina, for instance, or Madame Bovary because I’m in love with her and it goes wrong and projects me into a French grammar book by mistake and there are no humans but only verbs and other parts of speech.*
The problem with doing it is you say the concept in one line and it’s funny, but to show the concept you ultimately have to proceed joke by joke. You wind up still having to do a million jokes. It’s not that the audience says, ‘Oh, my God, how funny this idea is, to be in Anna Karenina.’ They say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re there. Now what? What’s the joke?’
-Woody Allen, 1974.
*The finished story, The Kugelmass Episode, can be read here.