Response to Gunning’s ideas of Gags and Narrative and it’s subversion in It’s Spagett! – Ethan Bowden

In Crazy Machines in the Garden of Forking Paths (Gunning, 1995) Gunning proposes the idea of a complex relationship between Gags and Pranks in screen comedy, “if one approaches the gag from the other end of film history, it is clear that gags such as those found in early mischief films provide one of the earliest forms of narrative structure in early cinema. As I have shown, they present an unfolding action in such a way that the audience has a special knowledge in relation to other characters (the spectator can see the disaster coming which the victim does not foresee)” I believe that this idea is taken to it’s extreme and then subverted in the “It’s Spagett!” Tim and Eric Sketch, where the absurdity of the “Victim and rascal relationship” is deconstructed in order to create a more nuanced meta comedy.

The sketch establishes Gunning’s Victim and rascal relationship as the sketch is presented as a hidden camera show in which the titular Spagett (Tim Heidecker in a ridiculous wig) sits behind a bush waiting to jump out and startle two office workers. However, as he does so the scene is more uncomfortable than it is comedic. The sketch then cuts to an interview with the office worker who states his confusion and lacks any sort of emotive response to the prank that may be expected. Heidecker subverts the audience’s expectation of how this scene should play out, as the gag fall entirely flat. However, on a metatextual level, a new joke emerges for the audience in which the absurdity of the attempted gag becomes a new gag in and of itself. Gunning describes narrative as the “propelling element” that allows a film to go from beginning to end, whilst gags are the “detours”. However, when classical ideas of what comedy is supposed to be or do are subverted the relationship between gag and narrative evolves. Suddenly the failure of the gag on a diegetic level has become the new narrative, which has then become a non-diegetic extended gag for the audience.



Tom Gunning, “Crazy Machines in the Garden of Forking Paths,” Classical Hollywood Comedy, ed. Karnick and Jenkins (Los Angeles: AFI/Routledge, 1995), 87-105, 360-363.


Clip: It’s Spagett! | Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!


One comment

  1. I really like this example and the idea that the gag in this sketch derives from the failed gag attempt. Its interesting that even though we as the viewer can recognise the parody structure of the sketch and the ways the narrative might comedically play out, its the unexpected detour of the flat gag that develops a new narrative and comedy element.

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