Wordplay techniques to steal from ‘Kinky Boots’
“Ladies and gentlemen … and those who have yet to make up your minds.”
— Billy Porter as Lola in Harvey Fierstein’s ‘Kinky Boots’
Here’s a quick humor technique: Twist a list.
1) Start with a series of two or more items that go together. (“Ladies and gentlemen …”)
2) Then add a funny final item that’s not like the others. (“… and those who have yet to make up your minds.”)
That’s just one technique you can see in action in Harvey Fierstein’s “Kinky Boots.” This Tony Award-winning Broadway musical tells the story of Charlie Price, who tries to save his family’s shoe factory by producing footware for transvestites.
Balance uses parallel construction. The echo of one phrase in a similar phrase creates a passage that sounds satisfying and complete to the ear.
“Parallel constructions help authors and orators make meaning memorable,” writes The Poynter Institute’s Roy Peter Clark. “Think of equal terms to express equal ideas.”
Here’s how it works, in another Lola line:
“It’s a simple equation. A drag queen puts on a frock, looks like Kylie. A transvestite puts on a frock, looks like Boris Yeltsin in lipstick.”
And another, from Lola:
“Red is the colour of sex. Burgundy is the colour of hot water bottles.”
Balance also works in this comeback from Lola:
“How much do you weigh?” Charlie asks Lola.
“The right amount,” she replies. “How much do you drink?”
Charlie also uses balance in this line:
“I see this as a very positive step for a company that spent the last century making a range of shoes for men to start the next century making shoes for a range of men.”
2. Condense the mission statement.
When Charlie returns to the shoe factory after his father dies, employees gather ’round to hear what the new CEO has to say. With no speech in hand (nor plans to make a speech), he blurts out:
“So let’s make shoes.”
The employees are underwhelmed. But as mission statements go, that’s not a bad one.
As with so much in life, less in a mission statement is actually more. Short credos stick in people’s minds. Long ones just fade away.
3. It’s all about the audience.
When Charlie tries to interest Lola in his scheme to save the shoe factory, he starts with his own sob story:
“Look, I’m standing here, trying to save a factory of four generations. Of my father, and his father’s father …”
“Tell me when this applies to me.”
If you want to move people to act, focus on the audience’s needs, not your own.