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Apr 18

Secret Comedy Writing Technique – Colemanballs

The next entry in my mini series Secret Comedy Writing Techniques is the technique Colemanballs. This is a term coined by the British satirical magazine Private Eye. It describes verbal gaffes made by (usually British) sports commentators. As you will see they’re very similar to malapropisms, as I mention in a previous post.

The term is derived from the surname of a retired BBC broadcaster called David Coleman. The balls part of the term relates to the expression “balls up”, which is a British slang term for a mistake. A few examples of Colemanballs are as follows:


– “That’s the fastest time ever run – but it’s not as fast as the world record”.
– “Don’t tell those coming in the final result of that fantastic match, but let’s just have another look at Italy’s winning goal”.
– “For those of you watching who do not have television sets, live commentary is on Radio 2”.

Private Eye’s Colemanballs column has now expanded to include occasional quotes from sportsmen themselves, politicians, and the malapropisms from other public figures. Having not read Private Eye for a while I’m guessing this also probably now includes Bushisms (see below) as they are similar.

A most famous Colemanball seems to be attributed to cricket commentator Brian Johnston announcing the surname of the cricket batsman and the surname of the cricket bowler in the same sentence, which shouldn’t really pose a problem. But in this case on a BBC Radio 4 sports show you get:

“The batsman’s Holding, the bowler’s Willey”

Although this may actually be an urban legend.

I heard a great Colemanball at a Toastmasters event. There was a speaker by the name of Rachel who was encouraged to sit next to Dick Dixon the Division Governor by Freddie Daniels, Area 34 Governor. Freddie alluded to the fact that Rachel and Mr. Dixon would get on well. He was proved right when they began sharing a joke. Feeling pleased Freddie then informed everyone: “You see, Rachel likes Dick”. Priceless.

Bushisms

There are other comic linguistic forms which are similar to Colemanballs are the related form Goldwynisms and Bushisms which are attributed to Presidents George H.R. Bush and George W. Bush. Here’s some examples from George Dubya:

– “As yesterday’s positive report card shows, childrens do learn when standards are high and results are measured.”
– “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?”
– “If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.”
– “They misunderestimated me.”
– “I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family.”

Yogi Berra – Malapropisms of Baseball

There are similar utterances by former Major League baseball player and manager Lawrence Peter Berra often referred to by his nickname Yogi Berra after the similarly named cartoon character, who had a similar propensity for mangling the English language. Berra has a tendency towards Malapropisms and fractured English similar to David Coleman. Some of his malapropism examples are as follows:

As a general comment on baseball he apparently said:
“90% of the game is mental, the other half is physical.”
Another couple of his Yogiisms are as follows:
“Always go to other peoples’ funerals, otherwise they won’t come to yours.”
“It’s like déjà vu all over again.”

Like I always say you don’t have to use any of these techniques at all in you humorous writings. However, they could provide a little spice and variation to your comedic material. So see if there’s a place where you can appropriately quote one of these expressions or maybe create your own.

I would recommend that you create your speech by capturing your sense of humour and then using techniques like these to hone it. One of the best systems I’ve found for doing this is the Stand-up Comedy Fast Start Guide. Don’t be put off by the title. Creating comedy material for stand-up or for presentations is exactly the same process.

Note: There are affiliate links on this post. That means that if you make a purchase trhough that link I may get paid a commission. This is one of the ways I pay the bills.

3 comments

1 ping

  1. Nick R Thomas

    Hi Jason,

    Along with caption competitions, ‘found humour’ items such as Colemanballs were my way into writing comedy for many years before I started contributing to Week Ending, the News Huddlines, Newsrevue, etc.

    They are timeless, regardless of whether the figures referred to in them are still around. In 1982, I sent Private Eye the following overheard item from Sid Waddell’s commentary during the UK Darts Championships:

    ‘His face is sagging with tension’.

    They printed it, paid me the fiver and reproduced it later in a Colemanballs compilation book.

    Fast forward 20 years: I heard a contestant quoting that same item on Radio 4’s Quote Unquote to a very good audience reaction!

    They are useful for quotations, as you say, and when I teach comedy writing workshops, I always suggest them to students as a market because they are an excellent way to test whether what they think is funny is also amusing to others. The examples I give always get a laugh from them.

  2. Jason Peck

    Hey Nick,

    Thanks for dropping by. It’s interesting to know that that was part of your way in to comedy. I heard a great one recently featuring people I know. I need to see if I can get the clearance from them before I reprint it here. Suffice it to say it was a corker.

    And I like the fact that you suggest them as a market to your comedy writing students. Sounds like a great way for them to test out what they think is funny.

  3. Jeremy Jacobs

    “I heard a great Colemanball at a Toastmasters event. There was a speaker by the name of Rachel who was encouraged to sit next to Dick Dixon the Division Governor by Freddie Daniels, Area 34 Governor. Freddie alluded to the fact that Rachel and Mr. Dixon would get on well. He was proved right when they began sharing a joke. Feeling pleased Freddie then informed everyone: “You see, Rachel likes Dick”. Priceless.”

    Rachel Black I think.

  1. Malapropism Examples

    […] examples can also be found in baseball, check out Malapropisms in Baseball, courtesy of Yogi […]

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