Bee Goes Humor, Intentionally
All day, I was literally lol'ing from the front row of the press seating at the Spelling Bee, as one sentence after another just crushed in an audience more used to trembling tension than goofy stand-up. The hilarity was noticed by just about everyone in attendance; Chris McKendry spoke about it several times on the ESPN broadcast, and longtime Bee reporters said this was clearly the funniest the "please use it in a sentence" sentences had ever been.
Turns out this was a conscious and deliberate move by the organizers, who were trying to jazz up an event that hasn't always been long on humor, or at least, intentional humor.
"Sentences have been part of the Bee for years and years," Tim King, a Bee spokesman, told me. "This year, we just punched them up with some humor to make the event more entertaining for the audiences, both here and at home."
The decision to add some flavor, he said, was made by Bee director Paige Kimble several months ago. The order was passed on down to the committee whose group effort produces the sentences. King said no outside humor writers were hired, to his knowledge, but the results were nevertheless obvious, and never more so than on the word kalium.
"Kalium? I hardly know him," the pronouncer, Dr. Jacques Bailly, actually said, in what I would have sworn was his best effort to land a stand-up gig.
"Everything is scripted," Bailly told me later. "Just kind of having fun."
"That one caught me off guard," said King, the spokesman. "I thought he ad-libbed that, he delivered it that well."
"Hysterical," said McKendry, who is doing her seventh Bee, when I asked about this year's sentences. "This was by far the funniest. It was almost like going to a kids' movie, when the humor is kind of innocent, but a little adult."
Which was, in fact, the perfect comparison; the jokes were extraneous to the plot, required constant attention, and seemed to please the parents and media members more than anyone else. It got to the point where I was kind of bitter when the spellers didn't ask for a sentence, because I wanted to be entertained. Especially on clotrimazole, the anti-fungal agent. That would have been fun. So, is the humor here to stay? Have the lol's been judged a success?
"We'll leave that up to the audience," said King. "Count on more of it tonight at 8'clock. If [viewers] don't notice, we didn't do our job right."
And now, some of my favorite sentences. I was typing as fast as I could, but there could be a word off here or there. The Bee declined to provide an exact list of the sentences.
Fedelini ("Pasta smaller than vermicelli"). Sentence: "David didn't expect much in relationships, only that fedelini be spooned into his mouth and he be fanned with a palm frond."
Hebdomadally ("Weekly"). Sentence: "Stacey told Adam his dating prospects would improve greatly if he started bathing more than just hebdomadally."
Toile (Some sort of twill weave fabric). Sentence: "Either the toile upholstered sofa goes, or I do."
("My husband submitted that," McKendry joked on the air, after that dandy.)
Deloul ("A swift Arabian riding camel"). Sentence: "While most people could ignore the sheikh's sudden weight gain, his deloul did not have that luxury."
Sheol ("A subterranean world of darkness"). Sentence: "Aaron awoke from a dream thinking he was in sheol, but realized it was still seventh-period biology."
Skeuomorph (Some sort of ornamental object): Sentence: "In honor of her 20 years at Taco Bell, Rosalind was presented with a skeuomorph."
Kichel (A Jewish dessert). Sentence: "The thought of someone kvetching about her kichel gave Meryl the spilkes."
(I mean, there weren't too many Jews in the auditorium, but we were all pretty thrilled with that one.)
Noisette (Some sort of meat). Sentence: "Gail couldn't keep her eyes off the piece of noisette in her date's teeth."
May 28, 2009; 2:50 PM ET
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