|A public domain photograph of the King which TSR could have used for Tabloid!|
Tabloid! has a four-page chapter on death called 'The Final Byline,' beginning with the phrase, “Dying Is Easy...” The following chapter, 'Anything for a Laugh,' begins with the conclusion of the aphorism, “Comedy is Hard.” In this two-and-a half-page chapter, designer Zeb Cook attempts to explain how to instill comedy into playing Tabloid!
This is not a game where the mighty, brave, or even the cynically mani-pulative profit. In this universe, success goes to those who are willing to risk their characters on the stupidest, most lame-brained, and ill-thought-out plans possible. It's kind of like real life in that way.Thereafter, Cook supplies “a few rules of comedy.”
1. Get Physical. This rule has two parts. First, “Comedy is action – it's called slapstick.” (Evidently, Cook did not want to address cerebral humor.) For inspiration, Cook recommends that the prospective Editor “watch some cartoons... and some Three Stooges.” (The TSR lawyers may have missed this. Given that they censored B*g B**d, I would have expected them to give the same treatment to the T***e S*****s as well as R**d R****r and W**e E. C****e.) The other part of this rule encourages the Editor to be active during the game. (e.g. “Pretend you're the airplane spinning into a dive.”)
2. Maintain a Manic Pace. Essentially, this means keep the action going and don't let up on the humor. Cook says not to give the players a break. “If they players have time to think,” he comments, “then they won't get themselves into stupid messes.”
3. Steal Shamelessly. These first five rules actually come Mike Pondsmith's Teenagers from Outer Space. We know this because Cook tells us he stole them from said game. Cook also explains that he “stole” the rules with Pondsmith's permission. Of course, having permission defies the notion of stealing, but I suppose Cook wanted to provide an example of incorporating – “stealing” – outside material. Anyway, Editors should take jokes “and give them a whole new spin” to keep players from anticipating the punch line.
4. Use Running Gags. According to Cook, “every adventure should have at least one or two set-ups that always seem to reoccur.” However, “An important part of a running gag is that it can't always be the same.” Again, this keeps the players on their toes.
5. Dare to be Stupid. “Your players aren't going to be stupid if you aren't.” I beg to differ.
6. The Innocent Must Suffer. “It's undeserved stuff happening to any character,” Cook tells us. “If they deserve it,” he continues, “it's a comeuppance” and therefore not funny.
7. More is Better. “There's no such thing as too much,” Cook says. He advises adding complications to any situation. This echos Rule 4 from Cook's Bullwinkle and Rocky Role Playing Party Game ; namely, “The Good, The Bad, and The Funny” or “Bad is Good, the Worse the Better.”
8. Plot? Cook tells us that plots “give the characters some motivation to do things,” but this should be secondary to fun. “Just throw out the encounter that's not working,” Cook writes, “laugh, and get the characters toward the goal by whatever means.” Cook uses the word “Improvise,” which ought to have been the name of this rule. Contrary to what is said at the beginning of the chapter, Cook reveals the “real secret” is that “Comedy is simple.”
After these rules, Cook provides a concluding section to the chapter, part of which reads:
Because this is a silly game, you've got a freedom referees don't get in other games. You don't even have to be consistent. You don't even have to make much sense. By their very nature, silly universes are illogical! That's part of their fun... Just don't worry.Cook presents four words in large, bold font and in capital letters, presumably to emphasize their importance:
MAKE IT ALL UP.
I might be inclined to add another rule, Embrace Absurdity. Regardless, humor is subjective and what might be funny to someone might be tasteless to someone else. Back in the nineties, one could still get some comedy mileage from disturbed people going on shooting sprees. Result #10 on the Work table for character generation begins, “Co-worker comes in and plays disgruntled postal worker.” Yet even twenty-five years ago, there were some things that just weren't funny. Result #16 on the Journalism School table for character generation reads in part:
Killing the neighbor sure livened up a slow news day. With good behavior, character gets out after five years.Yikes.