I think it's safe to say this panel violates a basic rule, which is "don't telegraph the joke."
After Joy's setup line, it's not strictly necessary to read Burl's response, since it's so obvious what he's about to say. In fact, I glanced at all the marginalia before I got around to actually reading what Burl had to say.
Humor often stems from the sheer unexpectedness of the punchline. There's nothing unexpected here, unless you count the unexpectedness of the fact that the panel also violates a corollary to the first rule: "If you've already telegraphed the joke, get through the punchline as quickly as possible."
Burl's response is a dissertation, containing more unecessary detail than punchline. We learn that it was two hours ago when they started watching the movie. We learn that he considered getting up for some Chips Ahoys. We learn he decided against that action.
None of which gets us any closer to the, by now, belabored joke. But all of which suggests a reader challenge, along the lines of Name that Tune.
- I can retell that joke in 7 words: Really? Then bring me some Chips Ahoys.
- I can retell that joke in 6 words: Really? Then bring me some cookies.
- I can retell that joke in 5 words: Then bring me some cookies.
- I can retell that joke in 4 words: Then bring me cookies.
- I can retell that joke in 3 words: Then bring cookies.
- I can retell that joke in 2 words: Bring cookies.
- I can retell that joke in 1 words: Cookies!
What could possibly be the thought process that ends with choosing a story about a battered woman who sets her husband on fire in order to make a pun on fat burning? If we discount the possibility the artist is unaware of the subtext suggested by including that specific movie, we'd have to assume this is a plea for help. A desperate shout. An attempt to warn us that Burl is a serial wife abuser and Joy is reaching the end of her rope.
Burl's punchline contains a chilling clue about the state of their marriage. "I coulda burned 'em off by now. Joy." There's only one way to imagine that being said aloud: with the utmost contempt, hostility, and a hint of a threat. Especially the single word "Joy" alone by itself in a sentence. (Of course, it's always possible the artist was incapable of distinguishing a comma from a period visually. But I don't even want to contemplate my future writing about this comic if the artist is that inept.)
And yet, I have to believe that things are not so bad in Burl and Joy's marriage that we will wake up one day to a panel that inolves Burl's corpse and Joy's arrest.
Rather, I choose to believe the artist is simply too lazy to look for an alternative to the first "burn" related movie that lept to mind. I suppose we should just be grateful she didn't think of Mississippi Burning first.
Fat burning in the margins:
- Why is Patty in this panel at all? Given the suggestion of problems with Burl and Joy's marriage, she makes everything that much more uncomfortable.
- They are watching a rented movie...with commercial interruptions for Tony Little.
- The Burning Bed's running time is 100 minutes, yet Burl says they started the movie 2 hours ago.
- What are those weird squiggles between "Back" and "Draft" on Burl's mug?
- Is that a vase of flowers on top of the TV? Or is it a tree seen through the window?