I've always been fascinated by how many joke punchlines are some version of "I want more alcohol." Know what I mean? Ok, here's what I mean: Let's say that in a movie, a character comes home for a family reunion, he walks in, he's alone in the living room, pouring some whisky for himself. And then his mom yells from the other room "Jerry, get my [annoying request]." The guy pauses, thinks to himself, then tops off his glass. Audience laughs. We've seen some version of this joke in dozens, perhaps hundreds of times in plays, movies, television shows, and the like.
On Saturday afternoon I saw "The Seafarer," which uses alcohol in all sorts of ways, but specifically around five or so of the jokes are of the "I want more alcohol" form. Conleth Hill's character drinks alcohol when David Morse's character isn't looking, the audience laughs. Someone tries to take Jim Norton's character's whisky bottle, he pulls the whisky away, the audience laughs. That same evening I saw "August: Osage County" and what do you know, it's all the same except we've switched to Jim Beam. The first scene, the patriarch of the play's Oklahoma family wants more alcohol, and the audience laughs. The next scene, this couple pours themselves alcohol, it gets a laugh.
So why is this funny? And why is it still funny even though we've seen it so many times? In discussing this phenomenon with my parents, I realized that perhaps the laughter here is in line with what some theorists have concluded about laughter, which is that it isn't necessarily a reaction to something funny -- it can result from relief, or excitement, or some other feeling. Perhaps our laughter comes merely from our recognition of the fact that we, too, would need a drink if our mom was yelling at us from the other room. Perhaps we are excited about the drunkenness to come, or nervous about it, or we're anticipating the humor of watching someone stumbling around, or, in certain contexts, we're giggly about the prospect of someone having a drunken hookup with someone else.
One thought: A lot of these "I want alcohol" jokes, I'm realizing now, are about secret or at least private moments (if I remember correctly, my Jim Norton example is a small moment that occurs while multiple characters are onstage, but not all of them notice). It wouldn't work as well, for instance, if the mom in my first example above observed her son pouring the alcohol. It tends to work best if no one notices except the drinker and the audience.
In general, the vocabulary of drugs and alcohol is rather fascinating. At a post-screening Q&A I went to for "Charlie Wilson's War," Aaron Sorkin says that he didn't have Charlie do lines of cocaine because he thinks that the vocabulary of cinema is such that if you have a character do lines, they're instantly evil, and don't get redeemed until they deal with that addiction, and Sorkin didn't want Charlie to down that whole rehab road. It's a comedy, after all.