Funny, Funny Relationships – Part 2

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Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

So, where are we?

Previously, we established that truth plays a very strong part in comedy, but truth is still optional. Perhaps the second strongest theory, and one professed by many very talented comedians and comedy writers is:

Comedy is pain.
Sorry. Not always.

Note that the terms pain and cruelty are sometimes used synonymously in this regard. Cruelty being to cause someone else pain.

Granted, pain plays a part in humor, especially slapstick. However, the relationship in slapstick is often between a person and an object, for example, the oblivious victim slipping on a banana peel, which is still funny if you’re a child, or if presented in a novel way, such as the macabre and most unlikely use of a banana peel in the pilot episode of Dead Like Me (2003). I won’t spoil this show for you, let’s just say that the banana peel was robbed at the Emmys.

Forget the sealed envelopes with the winner’s names! The tremendous suspense at a Hollywood awards show is actually due to flimsy, filmy, revealing gowns worn by hard-bodied young actresses who are one sneeze away from becoming centerfolds.

Pain also plays a part in those funny relationships that are contentious by design, such as Al and Peg Bundy, who scheme against one another, often consider sex a punishment, and are rarely concerned with each other’s discomfort or even possible demise!

Every couple living together for even a short span knows each other so well that pushing each other’s buttons becomes almost automatic in an argument. Is intimacy therefore an invitation to pain? Certainly not!

And neither is humor.

You’ve been married much too long when an intensely personal discussion means that you’re talking about denture adhesive.

A more centrist view is that it’s normal for an average couple to have ups and downs, joys and pains, triumphs and mishaps. Are only the negative, more painful aspects funny?


When J.D. beds his lovely and lusty Dr. Elliot Reid, their antics are often some of the funniest between-the-covers scenes ever broadcast. No one is hurt beyond a bit of exhaustion.

Will Truman and Grace Adler are a funny couple\non-couple who support each other and share the intimate details of entirely separate relationships and lifestyles. I’ll support your latest screw up is a fabulous formula for funny, but if the characters stub a toe, they have to do it themselves.

Niles Crane pines for his true love, Daphne Moon, while married to Maris, who never appears on the show. Non-existent Maris is incapable of producing pain without the collusion of the characters who do exist.

Pain is not a requirement for funny.

Are there more theories available? You betcha!

Comedy is feeling superior.
Another fail…sometimes.

Book Cover image


Jill Taylor presides over a house swimming with accident-prone testosterone. Samantha is obviously smarter than Darrin. Edith and Archie take turns being the dumbest, and Leonard Hofstader doesn’t love Penny for her soaring IQ and well-worn library card.

So, who’s on top?

Obviously, there is no enduring superiority to be found in gender-specific traits, intelligence or wisdom. Superiority is only decided in the moment. It changes hands more often than a hotel doorknob.

Positional superiority also fails.
Frank and Marie Barone were supporting characters on Everybody Loves Raymond, but at times were easily the show’s funniest couple by far. How actors Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts managed to deadpan some of those hilarious lines is a genuine mystery!

And, they’re not alone!

Meeting for a let’s make a baby nooner and realizing there’d be no time for foreplay, Carla makes Turk a sandwich to set the mood.

Funny does not belong to stars or main characters alone.

How about surprise?
Sure, let’s throw some of that in, too.

How about embarrassment?
Sure, why not?

How about _____________. [Fill in the blank.]
Let’s add nearly anything you’d like!

Funny is a mutt — a definitive mixed breed. Its mother can be a lady or a tramp, but there actually is a good bit of method to the madness.

    To be continued…

Parting Funny: A truly honest personal ad would say, “I want to date myself, only with more money.”Maureen Brownsey

Next Up: Funny, Funny Relationships – Part 3

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Funny, Funny Relationships – Part 1

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Relationships can be sad, loving, crazy, enduring, hard-to-explain, hot, hotter-than-hot, chaste, unwise, comfortable, platonic, respectful…

Are you seeing a trend here yet?

Relationships can be anything. However, funny and relationships have a very special…er…relationship.

Say that ten times really fast and you’ll have wasted thirty seconds.

We can all picture a funny relationship in our head. We watch them on television and film, and in reality. We read about them regularly in novels and magazines and blogs. And when we choose to write something funny, relationships are revealed in a whole new light.

However, this is easier to explain by example:

The television sitcom is familiar to almost all of us because most new shows are broadcast in Prime Time. If a sitcom survives studio executive cowardice long enough to become popular, it’s often revived in syndication and we get to see reruns rebroadcast daily. Sometimes, reruns are rebroadcast more than once a day, and sometimes all day long in a so-called marathon, which is Greek for add more commercials.

Check this list of twenty-five funny relationships from various sitcoms. How many of these do you recognize?

  1. Lucy and Ricky Ricardo
  2. Fred and Wilma Flintstone
  3. Morticia and Gomez Addams [My all-time favorite!]
  4. Rob and Laura Petri
  5. Darrin and Samantha Stephens
  6. Genie and Major Nelson
  7. Fonzie and Pinky
  8. Herman and Lily Munster
  9. Archie and Edith Bunker
  10. Louise and George Jefferson
  11. Cliff and Clair Huxtable
  12. Roseanne and Dan Conner
  13. Dick and Joanna Loudon
  14. Frank Burns and Margaret Houlihan
  15. Paul and Jamie Buchman
  16. Niles Crane and Daphne Moon
  17. Tim and Jill Taylor
  18. John “J.D.” Dorian and Elliot Reid
  19. Chris and Carla Turk
  20. Frank and Marie Barone
  21. Marge and Homer Simpson
  22. Eric Foreman and Donna Pinciotti
  23. Al and Peg Bundy
  24. Will Truman and Grace Adler
  25. Leonard Hofstader and Penny

The above is by no means a comprehensive list. In fact, you may find some of the omissions rather glaring. You might also remember some of the details of these character’s lives, such as Daphne Moon’s belief that she was psychic, or Frank Burns’ nickname being Ferret-face. Still, if you recognize all or most of these characters, it’s safe to say that you’ve spent a lot of time watching comedy!

When writing comedy, we relate one thing to another, or one person to another. Without these relationships, the humor fails.

That’s a rather strong statement, and it’s certainly wholly or partly contrary to many other theories of comedy. However, using the list of people above, let’s take a closer look at the funny relationships in sitcoms, and perhaps a few other venues. What can we learn about comedy from these relationships?

Comedy is truth.
Afraid not.
The Addams Family did not keep real entrails in the kitchen cupboard. Samantha Stephens was not a genuine witch; Genie could not fit in a bottle; and The Simpsons are drawings. How much truth is there in these relationships?

It’s actually very easy to see that although truth plays a part in humor, it’s not a requirement.

Cover image: "Sexual Evolution"
One can also easily find non-sitcom examples where relationships were exaggerated or fabricated. Look at some of the earlier standup routines on relationships. While certainly trite now, “That’s no lady; that’s my wife,” and “Take my wife, please,” were at one time very funny lines. Comedian Henny Youngman routinely disparaged his wife, Sadie’s virtues, habits, cooking, etc. throughout his comedy career…and throughout their sixty+ year marriage!
Sixty+ years! So much for the truth being that Sadie was unbearable!

More About Funny and Fabricated
In the 1950s and 1960s, sitcom couples and the fanatically religious were the only married couples in the country sleeping in twin beds! And the actors on these sitcoms were often required to keep one foot on the floor on opposite sides of any bed at all times.

The only couple to ever successfully make love in this position was
also this year’s winner of the Couple’s Twister World Championship.

Studio executives, show sponsors, and network censors demanded that sitcom marriages be ridiculously idealized and wholly chaste. If these funny relationships were a true depiction of human sexuality, Charles Darwin’s book on humankind would have been entitled, “Oh Crap, We’re Extinct!”

    To be continued…

Parting Funny: We gave our kids old-fashioned names. Our little boy is Hunter, and our little girl is Gatherer.Brian Kiley

Next Up: Funny, Funny Relationships – Part 2

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The Writer IS a Performer

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Today, something a little different. Screw the accountants! Let’s put on a show!

The first thing that I have to decide is the type of show that I’m interested in producing. And frankly, I have a ton of options, but I’ll use a shortlist:

  • Stand-up Comedy – Golden Rule: Be funny and don’t break the microphone.
  • Sketch Comedy – Okay, I’ll need an assistant, or two, or five. Maybe, that pretty girl from human resources would be interested.
  • Local Theater – What a range! School Christmas pageant to dinner theater. Am I hungry? Can I eat roast beef while watching ham?
  • Off Broadway Theater – Exactly how far off Broadway is Cincinnati?
  • Broadway – I made it! Stardom or bankruptcy!
  • Television – Must remember to be more interesting than the commercials.
  • Ye Olde Documentary – I’ll pretend I know something.
  • Feature Film – According to Hollywood’s IRS filings, there has never been a feature film that made money. Still, I might meet famous people. That’s worth it, isn’t it?

Don’t Forget Genre
I have to decide on genre. Am I going to produce the next Star Trek or do I want to be Sleepless in Seattle? Maybe I need a showdown at the OK Corral, or want to line up the dancers for A Chorus Line.

Book Cover image


Even stand-up comedy, basically a one-man (or woman) show, offers numerous choices. Am I going to be a rapid-fire jokester or a storyteller? Should I be angry, friendly, a sad sack, or the only one intelligent enough to see the world clearly? How much am I willing to share with my audience? Or, do I want to work the crowd so they become participants in my show?

Oh, crap! What if my parents are in the audience?

Form has limitations, too. I knew that.
Broadway has limited scenery compared to film, and it’s highly unlikely that I’ll have many underwater scenes. No Jaws music! Local theater has a significantly more limited budget for…basically everything…compared to Broadway or a Hollywood studio. What sacrifices am I willing to make to produce my show?


Do I really want to be involved in producing a show?

What if I just want to tell a good story?

Let’s forget all about budgets and agents and lighting. Let’s just get this story down on paper, a short story or a novel or just a script of some sort. Let’s keep things basic, and do away with all the unnecessary bits like:

  • Actors – I’ll call them characters instead.
  • Scenes – I’ll just use a master plot that covers everything. Well, maybe a few scenes. We’ll see.
  • A narrator – I’ll just use a third person POV. People get that.
  • A director – I’ll make all the decisions.
  • A budget – All I need is paper and ink.
  • Reality – Who cares if no one has a real warp drive, or if my character falls for the guy who she’s hated since grade school, but changed her mind because he carried her groceries in from the car in the rain. That should be real enough just because I say so, right?
  • Anything else – I’ll work around it…somehow.

I don’t need to produce a show.

No need to invest in anything that costs money. Who needs to see a performance? I mean, realistically, I’m playing all of the parts. I’m directing all of the action. I’m the star, all the supporting actors, the director, the producer and the gopher! I’m deciding how many millions, or billions, or trillions of dollars will be spent on my production.

I don’t need to see my show performed, do I?

All I need is a keyboard!
Okay, now, my main character is up a tree and I’m throwing rocks at him. He’s good-looking, so I’ll throw Wiffle balls.
Now, how would I get out of this mess?
Wait! I’ve got it! I can see it all now…

Parting Funny: USA Today has come out with a new survey: Apparently, three out of four people make up 75% of the population.David Letterman

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Next Up: Funny Relationships


Humor Myths – Another One Bites The Dust

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

We’re all familiar with myths. Some are adventurous tales, some teach valuable lessons, and some are simply ridiculous.

There are Greek, Roman and Norse myths that have made their way into story, song, television and film.

Archeologists finally admitted that a mistranslated typo on the original 4000 year-old stone tablet, if corrected, simply states that Thor was hammered.

There are also urban myths (AKA urban legends), humorous or horrific, that make a viral splash and then never seem to die. The evidence for most is as weighty as pocket lint.

New York City’s mayor again announced that there are no alligators living in the sewers. In a seemingly unrelated story, he awarded Meritorious Service Medals to the city’s shawarma vendors.

And of course, there are many myths about humor. Most are more pocket lint!

Myths about humor reside in that netherworld between pure bull and personal opinion. Generally, it’s an attempt to classify humor according to an individual’s personal taste, or an attempt to claim some special knowledge or understanding that somehow miraculously escaped the notice of the rest of humanity.

NOTE: Most people acquire this special knowledge and understanding in a bar shortly before failing a breathalyzer.

Here are some of the more common myths about humor:

  • British humor is too dry.
  • Slapstick is not funny.
  • There are no universal forms of humor.
  • Germans have no sense of humor.
  • __________ is not funny. [Fill in any popular comedian’s name.]
  • Women are not funny.

PARDON! What was that last one?!

People who say…

Okay, MEN who say that women are not funny must be talking about some other planet’s women, because this certainly has nothing to do with the females on planet Earth! Such statements bring the speaker’s IQ into question, and it’s also possible that he will never again have a date during his lifetime.

Now, I’ll grant that there are some generalizations about women and humor that have a tinge of truth to them, but for every generalization, there are a ton of exceptions. Consider:

Women don’t get slapstick.
While it’s true that there are many women who will never be fans of The Three Stooges or Gilligan’s Island, there are a ton of female comedians and actresses whose skill at physical comedy is Absolutely Fabulous – Joanna Lumley, Jennifer Saunders, and Julia Sawalha.

Many pioneering female comedians broke new ground in physical comedy and their performances continue to play on classic television stations, including:

I Love Lucy – Lucille Ball and Vivian Vance

The Carol Burnett Show – Carol Burnett and Vicki Lawrence

Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In – Ruth Buzzi, Lili Tomlin, Jo Anne Worley and Goldie Hawn

And today, there are plenty of actresses in Hollywood who are not afraid to get physical. That is, funny physical. Just to name a few:

The Heat – Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy

A League of Their Own – Geena Davis, Madonna, Lori Petty and Rosie O’Donnell.
Directed by: Penny Marshall

Juno – Ellen Page

Little Miss Sunshine – Toni Collette and Abigail Breslin

Women and other areas of comedy?

XXX-rated – Among many others, try challenging Sarah Silverman, Whoopi Goldberg, or Kathy Griffin to go to the dark side. You’ll get your ears scorched!

Headliners in Vegas – Phyllis Diller, Lili Tomlin, Rita Rudner, Lisa Lampanelli, Joy Behar, Heather McDonald and many, many more — past and present.

Sitcom Actresses – Please! Just turn on your television any night of the week and you’ll be laughing at talented comedic actresses.

Female Humorists and Comedy Writers – Scripts for film and television, articles, columns and blogs, romantic comedies and other humorous novels, standup comedy – every available format has been produced by many, many talented women.

Some myths really are simply ridiculous! The truth: Women are not funny is not so much a myth as a blatant lie!

Parting Funny: The first purpose of alcohol is to make English your second language.Robin Williams

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Next Up: The Writer IS a Performer


Fear Not! They Is Laughing!

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Fear is one of nature’s most wonderful gifts. It keeps us safe, routinely preventing injury and death. It tells us not to walk through New York’s Central Park after midnight unless accompanied by a SWAT team, and not to make our first attempt at juggling using chain saws. However, fear can also color many everyday aspects of our lives, including our use of humor, and the balance between confidence and fear is not a fine line, but a murky, smeared boundary that is often barely discernable or definable.

Humans have a natural tendency to avoid that which they perceive as a mistake, even inconsequential mistakes—our petty fears. We don’t like to be embarrassed, look stupid, or simply ridiculous. It’s that feeling that makes women burn all the pictures showing them wearing a bridesmaid’s dress by that famous designer, Frank Lee Hideous.

However, our petty fears also deny the fact that our imperfect humanity is the source of almost all of our humor.

Laughing at yourself is a good thing.

Pick up your gym socks before the cat buries them again.

If you’re human and still breathing, you will screw up fairly regularly. Myself excepted, of course, there are no perfect people.

Since there is no acceptable alternative to our being human, our foibles, quirks and—sorry—just plain stupid mistakes are likely to continue being a permanent feature of our lives. The choice to laugh or cringe is a personal one, but only the former is enjoyable.

Letting others laugh at your humanity is also a good thing.

In my humble opinion, humility is for people who need it.

When very young, my sister attempted to make dinner—without mom’s assistance. Unfortunately, she burned the spaghetti. No one told her to put water in the pot.

Naturally, her supportive siblings have never let her forget that particular mistake, and it garners new laughs and smiles whenever it arises in family conversations.
That’s perfectly normal. We all share humorous stories with those close to us, but. . .

Inexplicably, writing humor often instills similar petty fears.
While everyone likes humor that appeals to their taste, and editors from various periodicals and other publications are always asking for a touch of humor, many writers are hesitant to make even an initial attempt to express their sense of humor on paper, or in that grand and glorious new medium, the world-wide electron exchange. If as a writer, you closely examine any fear that you have of expressing your sense of humor, you will find that it unquestionably qualifies as petty. You never face injury or death from writing a joke as long as you live in a country where having an opinion is not a criminal offense.

OFFICIAL COMMUNIST PARTY NEWS: This week’s public opinion will be the same as last week’s until further notice.

Worst Case: Failure

Never take a personality test that’s pass-fail.

Everyone has experienced telling a joke that didn’t get a positive response. Why then is the possibility of someone not getting your joke when written so much more intimidating? There is no reason that it should be.

As a baby, you failed to walk without falling down on your first attempt. You failed at tying your shoes on the first attempt. And likely, your first kiss wasn’t listed as the hottest of the hot in the Guinness Book of World Records. If it was, and you’re female, my phone number is. . .

Fear of failure is most often an irrational fear. It’s how we learn. It’s how we grow. Any fear that you have of adding a touch of humor to your writing is, when carefully scrutinized, completely unjustified.

Be confident. Laugh at it! Write it! Hit SEND!

Parting Funny: There’s a double standard, even today. A man can sleep around, and sleep around, and nobody asks any questions. A woman, you make nineteen or twenty mistakes, right away you’re a tramp.Joan Rivers

Next Up: Humor Myths – Another One Bites The Dust

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Laugh Louder Or Else!

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

We all know that humor is subjective, but have you really thought about what that means?

It means that everyone, without exception, will laugh at your joke if you’re holding your audience at gunpoint. Other than that, all bets are off.

I appreciate laughter as much as the next person, but when my doctor is looking at the results of my lab tests…

When we tell a humorous story or joke and don’t get a laugh, we have a tendency to forget subjectivity and blame the listener. They just don’t get it, or they don’t know what’s funny.

This is not only unfair, it’s truly ridiculous.

Surprisingly, this is also apparent among comedy professionals, who certainly should know better. I’ve heard standup comics who had a bad night claim that the audience members were all idiots.

What is the likelihood that this is true?

I once heard a standup say that Jack Benny was not funny. For those of you too young to remember him, Jack Benny had a very successful fifty+ year career in theater, radio, television and film as a comedian. So, with fifty years of comedy experience is Jack Benny somehow to blame because he didn’t appeal to this one person?

Humor’s Subjectivity in the Real World

Why get all sweaty kicking him to the curb? If he’s standing in the street, just hit him with your car.

Relationship humor is a great example of humor’s subjectivity. Men and women naturally approach relationships from different angles. Since this is not a psychology or sociology paper, we’ll avoid a discussion of the joyous or heart wrenching details. However, viewing any audience listening to a comedy routine on relationships, you will notice:

  • Some laughs are shared quite equally.
  • Men laugh harder at some lines; women at others.
  • Men (as a group) are less likely to take offense at being the butt of a joke.
  • Women have a more discriminating sense of humor.
  • There’s always one guy who will laugh at anything.

Granted, these are generalizations, but they’re very often true.
Shouldn’t everyone laugh at a good joke? Is the audience or the individual to blame when they don’t laugh? Are the jokes to blame?

The truth is that there is no blame to be attributed. Period.

Subjectivity Covers All
Humor covers the full range of human experience, and so does humor’s subjectivity. This is normal whether we choose to recognize it or not.

Think about any humor that you actually find offensive. For example, I genuinely dislike gross out gags. I don’t find them at all funny, and many, I do find quite offensive. And yet, people laugh at them! Since I don’t get it, am I then an idiot?

Let’s leave that one unanswered, shall we?

Expectation Is Not Reality

It’s a really good joke. It says so right here on the gum wrapper.

Book Cover image


As a writer, you never write to disappoint your readers. When you craft a joke or a bit of humorous dialogue, it’s natural for you to have the expectation that your joke will evoke a positive response, hopefully laughter. However, when you expect a laugh and don’t get one, don’t waste your time looking for rhyme or reason. Don’t waste your time blaming the person or audience that didn’t laugh. Instead, look forward to your next success.

Laughter is a spontaneous reaction. If your material doesn’t get the desired reaction from your target audience, move on. Craft a joke with wider appeal, a different topic, or a new punchline. Very simply, try something different.

You’ll be more productive and more successful.

Parting Funny: Some mornings, it’s just not worth chewing through the leather straps.Emo Philips

Next Up: Fear Not! They Is Laughing

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My Mentor: All the World’s Clowns

Jay Cole image

Humor is our most enjoyable form of truth.

Life is funny, but there are plenty of people who make it even funnier. They point out our foibles, our mistakes and our insanities in a way that tickles us.

Think for just a moment about any minor mistake that you may have made in the recent past. Were there some friends who ‘got on your case’? Arbitrarily, let’s say that you lost your dog. If a friend then berates and ridicules you:

“You are just irresponsible! You’re always losing your stuff.”

How do you feel? Angry? Frustrated? Insulted? Defensive? Hurt? Ready to tell the newspapers about your friend’s affair with a midget wrestler?

What if another friend points out the same ‘lost dog’ lesson with a bit of humor.

“Maybe he went to look for your car keys.”

Now, how do you feel? Better? Slightly amused? Yet, someone has still pointed out that you have a tendency to misplace your possessions.

We all know people who look at the world with a bit of wit and humor. They may be friends, relatives or coworkers. However, their proximity gives you an opportunity to learn valuable lessons. That is, if you pay attention.

I know, I’ve mentioned simple awareness of humor before, possibly because either:
A) I’m repeating myself because my meds just kicked in.
B) It’s important!   <= Hint!

When you find yourself smiling or laughing at a humorous line dropped by someone you know, enjoy it certainly, but also take a moment to do just a bit of analysis.

  • How did they twist some bit of reality to find the humorous angle?
  • Was it intentional or accidental? Both have lessons.
  • Was it a play on words or an insight that everyone else overlooked?
  • Was it something that you could do?

The answer to the last question is, ‘yes’.

Next, consider the funny stories that people share. You’ve done it yourself, relating an amusing anecdote to someone strictly for the purpose of sharing a laugh.

“I bought my wife a new wardrobe, yesterday.”
“Wow! Did you get a fat raise?”
“No, I tried to do the laundry.”

Sharing a laugh is one of life’s joys, but it’s also an opportunity for us to learn. Think now as a writer: Is it really any more difficult to share the same story on paper?

Telling a humorous story verbally is considered easier because we have less context to convey. A good friend knows us, likely knows the other people involved in our story, and has both knowledge and a feel for our situation in life. However, normal prose requires you to provide such context for your characters no matter what genre you prefer. Is it really more difficult to provide an entirely similar context for a humorous story? No.

“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity… It lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the summit of his knowledge… It is an area which we call… our parents’ house.”

We’re surrounded by humor daily, even in the Twilight Zone. Don’t think of humor as difficult, but as commonplace and a resource that you can study and master. That little extra bit of awareness helps!

We are also very fortunate that, in our wondrously modern world, we have access to more professional funny people than ever before in human history, broadcast daily and on-demand for anyone with Internet service.

If you want to learn from funny people, you certainly don’t have to go far.

Parting Funny: I wanna make a jigsaw puzzle that’s 40,000 pieces. And when you finish it, it says ‘go outside.’Demetri Martin

Next Up: Laugh Louder, Or Else

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