Ever see a cartoon where Bugs Bunny shows up in the wrong place (a medieval castle, a bullfighting ring, the South Pole) and says, “Eh, I should have turned left at Albuquerque?”
I always laugh at those. Probably because Albuquerque is so incredibly dull compared to wherever Bugs is. In a world where rabbits talk, anvils fall out of the sky, and everyone is trailed by a little cloud of dust when they run, the only thing that really can surprise me is something awfully plain. Something like… Albuquerque. It’s so tedious and real that it seems, in this context, hilariously fake.
The same reversal of the fantastic and the mundane happens in any Coneheads sketch. “We are from France,” they say. But we know the Coneheads are from outer space. The idea that they could pass as residents of a very real European country feels startling and incompatible. It makes France seem more unlikely than the distant reaches of the galaxy.
You may also recall that Paddington Bear is from “Darkest Peru.” But we never see him there. (In fact, Bugs never goes to Albuquerque, and the Coneheads never go to France, either. These places must remain unseen and exotic in order to be funny.) Paddington makes his first appearance at Paddington Station, where he wears a tag that says “Please look after this bear.” It makes no difference where he comes from, as long as it’s somewhere unfathomably far away. “Darkest Peru” is as good a place – meaning as random and mysterious a place – as any.
I seem to remember a cartoon where people who misbehaved were blasted into “Outer Mongolia.” Does anyone know what that show was? As a kid, I thought, “What do they say instead of ‘Outer Mongolia’ when they air this cartoon in Outer Mongolia? Maybe they use the name of my town. Mongolians would probably find my town more unbelievable than Bugs Bunny on the moon.
Fiction triangulates us. There I was, a real kid in California, entering the imaginary world of Bugs Bunny, who was trying to burrow into the real world at Albuquerque.