I Believe In Comedy

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Photo by Chris Duce

I believe in comedy. I know it exists, and despite the Grown Ups 2s of the world, I know it can be funny and eye-opening.

Those who know me well have probably heard me say that the problem with my family is we all think we’re funny. If all of us were funny, all of the time, this wouldn’t be a problem, but some of us are funny only some of the time, and the rest of the time we are content amusing only ourselves. For example, I like telling jokes but I love telling “jokes.”

Recently (the last couple of years) I have started to do a lot more standup comedy shows. The real gems in my performance history have been: headlining at my family reunion talent show in front of an audience of 20-30 people, and playing a three-minute set before a rock cover band at a patriotic, 40th birthday party where maybe eight people listened and two laughed.

Not all my shows have been tragic. I did perform some shows in front of hundreds and much laughter was present, and I did have the opportunity to perform standup in Hollywood at a small improv gathering, and that, too, went well.

Presently Joking

Lately I have been telling jokes at open mic night at the local comedy club. Open mic is the lion’s den of comedy. Most of the audience is fellow, wannabe comedians who are not funny, and most of them are happy to repress their laughs so the others don’t seem too funny.

My last week’s performance was a true bomb. I opened with a joke that a majority of the audience found racist (which was hilarious as it was not my intent, but still, very distracting) and I forgot (or failed to recognize) something important: you can’t just tell jokes.

For me, comedy is not the jokes. They’re, of course, an important part of the comedy, but more, it’s who is this person telling me these jokes (or things—they don’t have to be jokes) and why is he/she telling me them. I care much more about character. Point of view is far more interesting than witty, ironic comments about depression and online dating. Characters invite us into their story, their life. Jokes help us understand character. (Just to be clear, you, being yourself, is still a character.)

Rinda says it’s alienating, but I care much more about people getting a feel for who my character is than I do telling a killer, perfectly set up joke. I think people connect with the joke teller, not the joke. *In Rinda’s defense, I often tell terrible jokes that can be alienating if you don’t “get” the character. So the challenge is: make sure people “get” my character.

There are plenty of you that probably think this is a bunch of crap. Well, I don’t give a damn. Just kidding. I do. (See what I did there?) I want to hear what your thoughts are on the issue. Whether you’re a joke teller, a joke lover, both, or neither, what do you think? Do you even care about who the person is and why he/she is telling the joke? Why?

Tell me in the comments.

Oh, and remember how I told you my wife doesn’t think I’m funny? Well, she still doesn’t. And, as evidenced by the video below, neither does my daughter. (Hover over the image and click the speaker icon in the top left corner for sound.)

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4 thoughts on “I Believe In Comedy

  1. Rob says:

    I’m way more for the character as a whole, than an individual joke. It seems like it would open more creative options to develop it that way.

  2. Ben says:

    So true! I’m a big fan of stand up comedy, but only certain ones I guess. Even just certain performances. My favorites are story tellers like Bill Cosby, Jim Gaffigan, or John Pinnette. Their humor comes from how they look at the world as they bump up against it. But then there’s some great joke tellers like Mitch Hedberg, and Demitri Martin. Their stuff is hilarious but its not as hilarious when someone tries to butcher a quote from them and try to make it his own. So I have to assume the funniness comes from who’s saying it and the attitude and demeanor of their delivery. “You might be a redneck” “Get r done” and “Here’s your sign” jokes fall into that too. Maybe more than the others because of the effect of hearing these misquoted without the accent even so the only recognizable feature is the punch line you’ve seen on t-shirts at walmart.

    I guess what I’m saying has nothing to do with your post, but I’m really against plagiarism. Especially bad plagiarism. And I wish people would stop butchering jokes from my favorite comics trying to pass them off as their own unique observations. Quote Brian Gumbel if you want to be funny and can’t come up with anything.
    Oh yeah, this is also good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SsWrY77o77o

    Anyway. That’s all I gotta say.

    • Ben, you rock. I get what you’re saying and agree. “Who” is telling the joke really matters. The funniest jokes exist in a world created by their teller. Introducing people into that world is what’s tough. And I agree, re-quoted jokes are no bueno. They lack authority.

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