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There is a moment in Fargo (I’ll never stop talking about Fargo) that makes me die with laughter every single time I watch it. The movie is packed with black comedy and irony and brilliant deadpans (the license plate joke, holy shit) and some basic but perfect physical gags (Jean Lundegaard bursting out of the shower draped in its curtain like a kid in a homemade ghost costume), but I ain’t talking abaout all that stuff. I’m talking about the stills above. This moment seems to be more of an editorial in-joke than an actual written joke, but of course you never can tell with the Coen brothers. After Jean’s dad and Stan Grossman and Jerry discuss the plot’s central ransom over breakfast, Jerry is at the counter. The beaming cashier asks how Jerry’s meal was. After he answers rather shortly, he comes back with an affable “How you doin’” and when it cuts back to her, we see her cock her head to the side before it cuts again. All she does is cock her head to the side. No response, no change in expression, just a slight pitch. It’s hilarious. It’s insanely funny.
Jokes, almost inherently, aren’t funny. We all know scores of ‘classic’ jokes from the aristocrats to dead babies to chickens crossing roads. None of them are funny. But, in the right context, we’ll laugh at them, because the joke isn’t what’s funny—the idea of the joke being told is. It’s that extra layer, that prefix, that meta, that deeper meaning, which gives a joke life, and makes it funny, and makes you truly laugh. (Laughing simply because you’re ‘supposed to’ is why sitcoms are popular, despite their unfunniness.)