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I am wondering if there is any name, or well-known example, for a humoristic construct that I particularly enjoy. It is exemplified in this monolog from Pierre Desproges, directed at a woman he was interviewing for a radio off:

Lady, you're a beautiful flower — can I call you a flower? [...]
(later in the interview) You're a cute white cloud in blue summer sky — can I call you a white cloud?
(some more such lines throughout his monolog, you get the idea)
(and it ends with:) You're gorgeous as a cab — can I call you a cab?

I'm not even sure there is a specific term for this build-up and final twist. It's sort of related to a syllepsis (which would be can I call you beautiful and a cab?), but delayed in time. Is there a name for this construct? Do you know of famous examples in English?

(I do apologise because translation of humor is necessarily weak, and is not my forte. I do it because I don't know any good example in English.)

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From the title, I thought this question was going to be about the Orange you glad I didn't say "banana"? knock-knock joke. Your example is much funnier, and I'd say the two are barely related... –  Patrick M Sep 5 at 17:16

3 Answers 3

up vote 3 down vote accepted

is it a callback?

A callback is a reference a comedian makes to an earlier joke in a set. Callbacks are usually made in a different context and remind the audience of an earlier joke, creating multiple layers and building more than one laugh from a single joke. When used at the end of a set, callbacks can bring a comic's routine full circle and give closure to the set.

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Maybe… though each element is not a joke in itself, the joke is only created by the combination of all of it. –  F'x May 3 '11 at 11:41
    
@F'x or can think of it as a series of "weaker" jokes; the callback is set-up as a "stronger" or main joke :) –  Paul Amerigo Pajo May 3 '11 at 12:09
    
This question should not be marked correct, and @Robusto's should be. Even the definition provided here explains why what the questioner is asking about is not a callback - a callback is a reference to a previous joke, whereas all the examples in the question don't reference any other jokes and stand on their own. –  Questioner Jul 25 '12 at 8:38
    
I agree that this is related to a callback joke, in that they both rely on previous bits to be funny or even understood. But in the asker's example, the initial bits are just part of the set-up, and not jokes themselves. –  Patrick M Sep 5 at 17:20

Your illustrations could be examples of anacoluthon, "an abrupt change in a sentence from one construction to another which is grammatically inconsistent with the first"; or under the more general classification of metanoia, which is the breaking off of a sentence in the middle to correct oneself. In your examples, the speaker has apparently realized he may have exceeded the bounds of propriety by assuming too much in his flattery; he then backs off and requests permission to be so familiar. Calling this metanoia tests the boundaries of the definition a bit, but I don't see why breaking off to ask a question should be out of bounds.

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2  
The individual elements in it may be metanoia, but the OP is asking about the combined effect, culminating in the bathos at the end. –  Colin Fine May 3 '11 at 11:28

In comedy writing, the construction is known under the larger grouping of the “the rule of three” in that such jokes require three items, the third of which twists the meaning of the list in a humorous way (in this example, the double meaning of the word call is twisted). Other examples include sitcoms lines like:

Character: Can I get you something from the store? Advil, water, a new boyfriend?

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The examples in the question have nothing to do with threes. –  Questioner Jul 25 '12 at 8:39

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