When you learn in real life that you’re toast the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. But there are four stages when facing imminent tragedy in comedy — disbelief, indignant anger, pleading and acceptance. Imagine a guy who’s accidentally locked himself out of his house and has decided to try and gain entry through an open second-story window. He manages this by climbing up a nearby tree and crawling along a branch toward the window. But as he climbs halfway out on the branch, he hears a cracking-snapping sound.
Disbelief: At first the guy almost whispers “no” and then gradually turns up the volume — “No…no!” He’s stunned at first, and then unable to accept what’s about to happen. The branch is part of a tree that’s on my property, I give the tree plenty of water and it gets lots of sunshine, and I keep it nicely trimmed. Therefore the branch won’t do this to me because that would be, well, at the very least inconsiderate.
Indignant anger: The “no!” exclamations become impassioned, adamant. You can’t be doing this to me! Why are you doing this? I did’t crawl out on some flimsy little branch, and you’re not a brittle Tulip tree and I’m not that heavy…there’s absolutely no reason for this to be happening and it’s not right!
Pleading: The cracking gets louder as the mantra becomes “come on!” As in “no, really, stop it…I don’t want to go crashing into the bushes and you don’t have to do this! This is your last chance to be decent…c’mon!”
Acceptance: The instant the branch snaps entirely but before the guy actually starts falling, he says “fuck!” as he prepares for the inevitable scrapes and bruises that await him below…if he’s lucky. “Fuck!” means “I don’t like it but I’m ready…bring it!”
I once watched a guy who was wearing a nice madras tuxedo with shorts get ganged up on by a group of three or four guys at a swim club. They grabbed him by his arms and then picked him up and off the ground, and during this stage the guy was swearing and calling his attackers assholes and shouting “no! no! no!” When they started swinging him back and forth he got even angrier, red-faced and seething and shouting even louder. But when they gave him a final heave-ho and sent him flying into the pool, he accepted the situation before he hit the water: “Shit!”