What kind of dialogue is this?
March 9, 2014 8:09 PM   Subscribe

The one where one character says something and is interrupted by another, making it look like the second person is finishing the sentence but says another word that turns the dialogue entirely?

For example, in Hot Fuzz:

Joyce Cooper: Fascist!
Nicholas Angel: I beg your pardon?
Joyce Cooper: [doing a crossword puzzle] System of government categorized by extreme dictatorship. Seven across.
Nicholas Angel: Actually that's fascism.
Joyce Cooper: Fascism! Wonderful.
Nicholas Angel: Hag!
Joyce Cooper: I beg your pardon?
Nicholas Angel: Evil old woman considered frightful or crazy, 18 down.
Joyce Cooper: [thinks about it] Oh... bless you!

There's a similar one in Sherlock, in the episode "The Empty Hearse", only there are different scenes one after the other, which is fantastic:

John writes out a prescription as he talks to the woman sitting behind him.
JOHN: Absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, Mrs Reeves. It’s very common ... (he turns and hands the prescription to her) ... but I’m recommending a course of ...

SHERLOCK: ... monkey glands.
(He is looking at the wall, while Molly sits on a dining chair beside Sherlock’s armchair. She bites back a smile as Sherlock turns towards the two clients in the room. A woman is sitting in what was John’s chair and a man stands beside her.)
SHERLOCK: But enough about Professor Presbury. Tell us more about your case, Mr Harcourt.


SHERLOCK: Stepfather posing as online boyfriend.
MOLLY: What?!
SHERLOCK: Breaks it off, breaks her heart. She swears off relationships, stays at home – he still has her wage coming in.
(He turns to the man and addresses him sternly.)
SHERLOCK: Mr Windibank, you have been a complete and utter ...

JOHN: ... piss pot.
(He is holding up a small plastic cylinder used for collecting urine samples. He hands it to his latest patient who is sitting facing him.)
JOHN: It’s nothing to worry about. Just a small infection by the sound of it. Er, Doctor Verner is your usual GP, yes?

What do you call this kind of dialogue or trope? Can you give me more examples of it (either in film or television)?
posted by pleasebekind to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The page isn't terribly fleshed out, but I think TV Tropes would call this a Twisted Echo Cut.
posted by jeudi at 8:18 PM on March 9, 2014

Archer and Arrested Development are packed with these. According to the AD commentary the overlapping dialog was more a function of saving time and being as to squeeze in as much as possible per episode. I'm not sure if that's a factor with Archer or if it's more about style. Great question!
posted by Room 641-A at 9:32 PM on March 9, 2014

The Understanding Barman from A Bit of Fry and Laurie is a great example of this.
posted by contraption at 9:56 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

A crosstalk act.
posted by zadcat at 10:02 PM on March 9, 2014

All The President's Men: Redford and Hoffman finish each other's sentences - was pretty revolutionary at the time, ISTR, and strengthened the "reality" that they worked closely together.

This article mentions the Watergate documentary that discusses, among other things, the technique both actors used: "...chatting with co-star Dustin Hoffman, dropping tidbits like how they memorized both sets of lines so the characters could literally finish each other’s sentences."
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:42 PM on March 9, 2014

For the one that involves the cut I've seen it called "Two scenes, One dialogue" or "twisted echo cut" or "semi pre-lap".

Previous question about it.
posted by bluecore at 10:43 PM on March 9, 2014

(Dammit, sorry I missed the bit about turning the dialog around completely. Sorry.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 10:44 PM on March 9, 2014

The last 2 Austin Powers movies both have scenes that are extended riffs on this trope: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Goldmember.

(And the Sherlock scene is totally ripping off Austin Powers, IMHO.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 10:45 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The cognitive-science term for that move is frame-shifting, I believe-- because the viewer has to move abruptly from one background frame of reference to another with the arrival of the punchline. pp. 8-9 of this paper (not endorsing it, just a Google result) discuss the phenomenon in greater depth.
posted by Bardolph at 4:23 AM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could call it a kind of comedic enjambment.

Note: I am not a scholar of poetry. I came across the term when I googled "Miss Lucy Had A Steamboat".
posted by Rock Steady at 8:18 AM on March 10, 2014

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