If you didn’t hear it, you wouldn’t believe it. At most
, the premise is scripted; all else is ad-libbed, at the spur of the moment. The comedians feed the straight lines; the humor comes from the befuddled bystanders. And they did this in the early ‘Sixties, a time "too inhibited" to permit such absurdity. You can’t explain it, any more than you can explain them. You can only listen, and marvel at the trouble they cause.
On most bits, the approach is consistent. Coyle explains the situation; Sharpe (you’ll recognize his voice, heard on countless commercials) adds little comments, throwing the victim off-balance. The gags are OK, but the reactions are golden: how do you sanely answer an insane question? The woman says no, she’d rather not be covered with feathers; Sharpe asks "Even if it just involved ... an activating tablet?" They propose an exchange: the cake a man has forthe words "his" and "their". (The man says no; he’s already used those words!)
They always want a quick answer, and are always indignant when the victim doesn’t go along. But should he say yes, Coyle and Sharpe throw in a detail they "forgot"; a guy says yes to having his thoughts recorded, but objects to having a hole in his head (so they can put the microphone in!) Everything leads to exasperation – with one big exception. Offering work at his "Living Hell" amusement park, Coyle offers the terms. You’re in a pit and work in high flames – "I think I’d be interested. Something new and exciting." A 98% death rate? "I like to take chances." Large bats, 12-hour work days, maniacs in the pit, one bat a day for lunch, $46 a week – his only complaint is he has to cook the bats! The guy then repeats what he’s heard, and still wants the job: "Yeah – I’d like to try it." Makes you wonder what kind of job he had.
This kind of humor depends on reaction; Coyle and Sharpe had a knack for getting people upset. Amusing as "Hell" is, the comics do all the work; if the interviewee gets hostile, the result is precious. The guy in the milk truck belittles his job ("This ice cream is already artificial, and the people that eat it are artificial ... I’m kind of a passive individual") but he takes offense when Coyle wants to destroy his cart. "I’d have to tell them I was accosted ... oh no, I’m not going to tell them anything, because I’m not gonna give you the cart – no really!" The door to a print shop swings shut, and Coyle wants an estimate on painting a house. He says "I don’t paint houses" , so Sharpe thinks his assistants do it – Coyle asks "What is your chance of printing the place?", the best line of the album. The printer’s suffering is nothing; check the poor soul waiting for the bus, on the incredible "Three-ism". Coyle states the concept ("Would you ever consider giving up your identity as an individual to be a third of one person?") and invites himself to dinner ("What are we having?") The guy tries to understand ("These are two-thirds of my personality") then gives up, saying "I don’t wanna be a threeism!" He goes on the bus, followed by the boys (he pays their fare!) all the while getting more frustrated. Perhaps because of this, Sharpe finally admits to the prank, and the guy breaks in laughter. So will you.