I am responding to your question regarding a list of Buster Keaton's
sight gags and jokes websites. Following are some descriptions of
sight gags and jokes orchestrated by Buster Keaton.
The following first four scenes quoted below are described by Buster
Keaton in The Autumn/Winter 1965 issue of Sight And Sound magazine
featuring Buster on the cover, with an in-depth interview by John
Gillet and James Blue inside.
J.G.: One of the best gags in the film is the moment when you swing
out by a rope from the river-bank and catch the girl almost in mid-air
as she goes over the big waterfall. How did you stage this very tricky
B.K.: We had to build that dam: we built it in order to fit that
trick. The set was built over a swimming pool, and we actually put up
four eight-inch water pipes, with big pumps and motors to run them, to
carry the water up from the pool to create our waterfall. That fall
was about six inches deep. A couple of times I swung out underneath
there and dropped upside down when I caught her. I had to go down to
the doctor right there and then. They pumped out my ears and nostrils
and drained me, because when a full volume of water like that comes
down and hits you and you're upside down then you really get it.
J.B.: By the time you came to the features, the action was no longer
just the basis for the gags but thoroughly integrated with them. Do
you consistently look for a gag that will help to advance the action?
B.K.: Take one from a picture that I am about to re-release, The Seven
Chances. I am running away from a batch of women who are chasing me. A
friend has put it in the paper that I'll marry anybody so long as I
can be married by five o'clock - it has to do with inheriting an
estate or whatever. So all the women in the world show up to get
married. They chase me out of the church, and so on. I went down to
the dunes just off the Pacific Ocean out at Los Angeles, and I
accidentally dislodged a boulder in coming down. All I had set up for
the scene was a camera panning with me as I came over the skyline and
was chased down into the valley. But I dislodged this rock, and it in
turn dislodged two others, and they chased me down the hill.
That's all there was: just three rocks. But the audience at the
preview sat up in their seats and expected more. So we went right back
and ordered 1,500 rocks built, from bowling alley size up to boulders
eight feet in diameter. Then we went out to the Ridge Route, which is
in the High Sierras, to a burnt mountain steeper than a forty-five
degree angle. A couple of truckloads of men
took those rocks up and planted them; and then I went up to the top,
and came down with the rocks. That gag gave me the whole final chase,
and it was an accident in the first place.
J.B.: Can you remember how that gag came to you, out of the film's situation ?
B.K.: Well, the situation of the picture at that point is that she
says 'never speak to me again until you're in uniform.' So the bottom
has dropped out of everything, and I've got nothing to do but sit down
on my engine and think. I don't know why they rejected me: they didn't
tell me it was because they didn't want to take a locomotive engineer
off his duty. My fireman wants to put the engine away in the
round-house and doesn't know that I'm sitting on the cross bar, and
starts to take it in.
I was running that engine myself all through the picture: I could
handle that thing so well I was stopping it on a dime. But when it
came to this shot I asked the engineer whether we could do it.
He said: 'There's only one danger. A fraction too much steam with
these old-fashioned engines and the wheel spins. And if it spins it
will kill you right then and there.' We tried it out four or five
times, and in the end the engineer was satisfied that he could handle
it. So we went ahead and did it. I wanted a fade-out laugh for that
sequence: although it's not a big gag it's cute and funny enough to
get me a nice laugh."
J.B.: And you look for a gag to get yourself out of a situation: the
pole-vault gag with the spear for instance in The Three Ages. There
you were in a situation where you had to get the girl out of the hands
of Wallace Beery. How did you work your way to the spear vault from
B.K.: I couldn't just run over a batch of rocks or something to get to
her: I had to invent something, find something unexpected, and
pole-vaulting with a spear seemed to be it.
These next gag scenes involving Buster Keaton are descrbed by his leading lady.
"Marion Mack was Buster's leading lady in the 1926 classic The
General. On December 18, 1972, she made a personal appearance at a
screening of the film in Toronto - her first promotional appearance
for the film! The screening was followed by an on-stage interview
conducted by Raymond Rohauer"
"RR: Can you think of other incidents Iike that where you improvised
right on camera ?
MM: Oh yes, we did that all the time. You know the scene on the engine
where I'm supposed to feed the fire, l'm supposed to be a little dumb
about it. So somebody said I should get hold of a log with a knothole
in it, and throw it away. I did that, but I didn't think the audience
would understand it, and then I saw a very small piece of wood, and I
picked it up and threw it in. Buster liked it so right away he built
it up; I mean he picked up an even smaller piece, just a splinter
really to see if I would be dumb enough to use that, too. And of
course I did, and so he jumped on me as if he was going to choke me,
but at the last moment he really gave me a little peck on the cheek. I
think I got that kiss more for thinking of the gag than for anything
else. And none of this was in written form at all."
An account of a practical joke that Buster Keaton played on his leading lady.
"RR: When did you feel that the ice was broken ?
MM: I guess when he started playing jokes on me. In his book, when he
made you the butt of some practical joke, that meant you were OK.
Funny you should mention breaking ice, one of the first gags he ever
played on me was to have a couple of the guys grab me from behind and
hang me upside down over a cake of ice as we were on the way to
location on the train. I already had my make-up on, which took about
an hour to do, and all of it got ruined and I was very
uncomfortable, so as soon as they put me down again I went and punched
Buster in the eye. It gave him such a shiner they had to stop shooting
for a week. This was before I understood that he meant no harm. He'd
go to any length to get a laugh, but there was no malice in his
"RR: So he kept it up even after you hit him in the eye ?
MM: Oh boy, he sure did. Like the time he found out that sometimes I
used to like to take my bike and go up about three miles from Cottage
Grove to a spot on the river that was nice and secluded, and there I
would swim. So he and a couple of his buddies sneaked up after me one
day, and found where I left my clothes and tied them up in such knots
that I couldn't unravel them. And so I had to pedal back to Cottage
Grove in my bathing suit, and this was quite a shocking thing to do in
1926, you simply didn't ride a bike in your bathing suit in those
days, and a wet one at that!"
A description of a funny scene in a Buster Keaton movie.
"RR: When you get into the sack the first time, there in the woods
when Buster is supposed to pick you up, was that really you in there
when he Iifts it?
MM: Yes, again, like I told you, he was supposed to let the other girl
get in, she was about ten pounds lighter, anyway, and so I didn't
think Buster would be too anxious to lug me around. But, as I told
you, by now I think he got used to me, and so he always found a way to
keep me in the scene. But you knowt in this scene another accident
happened which they left in; he is supposed to empty the sack which is
full of Army boots, and when he did it his own shoes came off and for
a while he couldn't find the right ones among all the other shoes. It
was never planned but since it looked funny, they kept it in the
picture. And then he gets me in the sack and all of a sudden I feel
he's picking me up, but he was stronger than I thought, and it never
fazed him a bit. And that's really my hand you see uncoupling the
wagons from inside the sack later.
Buster plays a joke on someone at a party.
"RR: Did you see Keaton anymore after the filming ?
MM: Yes, we remained friends and saw him off and on. I remember one
time, right after we finished The General, we were invited to a New
Year's Eve party in Caliente, at a night club owned by Joe Schenck,
and Buster was there, and he did one of his famous slides. As I told
you, he would go anywhere for a laugh, and he did one of the bits he
learned on stage, slid on his stomach right across the whole dance
floor. And the reason he did it, he saw Peggy Joyce, she was one of
the supposed glamor girls with more jewelry than anyone in the world,
sitting there across the floor, so he did the slide and pretended to
get all mixed up and accidentally on purpose he tipped over her chair
and spilled her all over the floor. I guess he just wanted to take her
down a peg."
Bits & Pieces #10 - LIFE February 1966 @ Buster Keaton : From Butcher Boy To Scribe
"Keaton was a wonderfully resourceful inventor of mechanistic gags (he
spent much of his adult time fooling with Erector sets); as he ran
afoul of locomotives, steamships, prefabricated and over-electrified
houses, he put himself through some of the hardest and cleverest
punishment ever designed for laughs. In Sherlock Jr., boiling along on
the handlebars of a motorcycle quite unaware that he has lost his
driver, Keaton whips through city traffic, breaks up a tug-of-war,
gets a shovelfull of dirt in the face from each of a long line of
Rockettetimed ditch-diggers, approaches a log at high speed which is
hinged open by dynamite precisely soon enough to let him through and,
hitting an obstruction, leaves the handlebars like an arrow leaving a
bow, whams through the window of a shack in which the heroine is about
to be violated, and hits the heavy feet-first, knocking him through
the opposite wall. The whole sequence is as clean in motion as the
trajectory of a bullet."
Buster Keaton Page
This site descibes a complicated sight gag involving mutiple images of
"The mechanical quality of Keaton's unsmiling humor grabs my
attention. He was a "gadget man", often using simple and complicated
props and sight gags. He utilized his crack cameramen to do
"impossible" shots, such as the beginning of "The Playhouse" (1921),
in which Buster goes to see a minstel show. He not only is there to
see the show, but he is every other audience member, the stage crew,
and the cast! One famous shot is of Buster on stage doing the
minstrel act. There are NINE Keatons on stage, dancing away! The shot
involved using the same piece of film exposed again and again for each
time Keaton did his bit before the camera.
The same was done with a scene in which Buster dances with himself. We
see him double, doing the same dance. But he shot the scene twice, on
the same bit of film. Knowing this, his timing seems even more
This website gives a full description of a sight gag in Steamboat Bill, Jr.:
"Images - Buster Keaton: The General, Steamboat Bill Jr., and Battling Butler"
"Visually, the film lacks strong sight gags and verve until the final
twenty minutes, at which point Keaton performs some of his grandest
stunts. A cyclone knocks Keaton through the streets of this
Mississippi town. Buildings around him are shredded by wind. The front
of a house is ripped from its joints. Keaton, nonplussed, stands still
as the house crashes on top of him. The second-floor dormer window
neatly drops over him, clearing his head by mere inches and leaving
him unblemished. This is perhaps Keaton's most famous stunt. Moments
later, Keaton clutches a tree caught in the wind. The tree is uprooted
and Keaton goes on a death-defying thirty foot ride in the air and
across the stage lot. Sensational."
A few more gags from the same site:
"For example, in his second letter, he says he's working on Wall
Street, "cleaning up in a big way." She envisions him as a rich, swank
business type, but the following scene showcases Keaton as a street
sweeper, working the lower East Side, scooping up horse dung!"
Four funny scenes with site gags are included in the following:
"And in a series of wonderful sight gags, Keaton manipulates offscreen
space to drop in and out of the frame via a manhole. But Keaton saves
his best and most dangerous stunts for his fourth and final letter.
"The police follow my every step," he writes and she envisions him as
a patriotic hero! In reality, he's running from the police. In one
stunning stunt, Keaton flips up and grabs the back of a cable car. His
hands hold the rail as his prone rigid body seemingly flies through
And later, once he becomes trapped in the spinning wheel of a
steamboat, Keaton flips around like a hamster as he tries to stay
upright. Eventually Keaton returns home in a mailbag, a failure."
Canadian Society of Cinematographers - news and media releases
Camera Operator Sammy Jackson-Samuels remembers:
"Keaton was constantly playing practical jokes, Sammy recalled. ?One
day he came in completely disguised, without his trademark pork-pie
hat, and then he proceeded to sweep the floor with a big broom. ?I
haven?t been paid for three weeks,? he said, ?so I might as well just
join the cleanup crew.??
At one point, Sammy said, Keaton threatened to walk off the picture
unless he got paid, ?and they came up with a cheque for him.? DOP
Garmes, on the other hand, was quite generous with the production?s
money. ?He ordered six light meters at $120 apiece ? that was a lot of
money in those days, more than a week?s salary ? and when he liked
somebody on the set he would present them with a light meter. I?ve
still got mine.?
Low Comedy as a High Art
Malcolm H. Oettinger
"And it is the mechanical gag that Keaton has mastered. Take the
situation in "The Boat," where, after having built a boat, he finds
that he has not made the doorway large enough, and consequently, as
the boat slides to the water, it pulls the shed down with it. Take the
situation in "One Week." Buster has ordered a Sears-Roebuck bungalow
for his bride-to- be. The wicked rival mixes the numerals on the
various parts, and the comedy ensues when Buster attempts to assemble
the jazzed sections. This is mechanically perfect giggle material"
I hope that you find this information useful. If I can be of further
assistance, please let me know. jdb-ga