Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Dad, When Did You Know You Were A Smart-Ass?

I've had two conversations in the last week about being funny. I don't mind saying it: I'm funny. Whether or not it translates into the written word is another matter; although I think I can write the funny, too. The conversations were with my son. He has a speech he has to give and there needs to be some funny in there, and the other topic was keeping funny socially during the hormonal cesspool that is high school.

But I began to wonder about Funny and all things in my life that revolve around Funny and how to try and explain that to people who appreciate funny but do not necessarily create or reproduce the Funny.

I though about it today by a duck pond, where I do all of my super important thinking these days. I have to admit it. I am obsessed with being funny. I'm also obsessed with laughing at funny things. If I am brutally honest with myself, it's the only talent I've ever practiced. Almost all of my motives have a trace amount of the yearning to make another human beings laugh behind them. This could be a very sad realization or the ray of light that beams down through the pine tree in my backyard, sidestepping the power lines and nearly missing the defunct ceiling fan to hit me square in the melon.

I was funny to meet friends and have fun with them. It's all I brought to the party. I used funny to get girls' attention. I use it to stay somewhat interesting to my wife. I use it to stay close to my kids.

But I also use it to stave off depression when life is boring and dull and uneventful. I use it to help others who are probably in the same boat and who would probably depress me if I didn't beat them to the conversational punch with a little observational ha-ha.

When my son asked me about comedy tips, I was a little stuck. It's difficult to explain how to be funny. Or, in essence, create an environment where your jokes are funny.

The truth is, if my kids weren't all that funny, I wouldn't care. Everyone knows it's just a defense. It’s a shield. I'd rather my kids be in the audience somewhere laughing and go home to a stable life and a real job. Funny people are in pain. They just want everyone around them to feel better. They constantly paint nearby walls with vibrant colors. The cans get heavy; when you walk around with them your entire life.

Man, my metaphors suck.

Here is my advice:

1) Steal. If it's just you and your friends, steal material like all the professional comedians do. References, old comedy bits, scenes from movies… I know these are tried and true, but I do suggest you dig deep. Don't quote something that just came out. Wait until the body is cold and in the ground before you dig it up.

2) Inflection. The reason you aren't funny has nothing to do with material. It's your voice and your timing. Some people have it and some people copy it. I suggest you steal again. Don't listen to what your favorite comedians say, just how they say it. They all have a rhythm and a tempo. I would also avoid straying too far from your demographic. Pasty white guys should not copy Chris Rock and Dave Chappelle, just like Latin guys would sound strange mimicking Jerry Seinfeld or Larry the Cable Guy. Although, I'm not saying that wouldn't be an interesting stage act.

3) Know your audience. I like to make people laugh. As a byproduct, I don't really care if they think I'm funny. See the difference? My goal is to get the laugh and set the other person at ease, even for five seconds. My attitude and life and personality is not the subject. The sense of humor of the other person is all that matters. You can't have the same act for everyone. That's how you get fired or divorced or arrested or your ass whipped.

Also, not everyone is in the mood for your crap all of the time. The timing of the joke is just as important as the timing of when to tell it. Use it sparingly.

4) Listen. Hey, funny guy…do you hear any laughs? Does anyone find that borderline sexist joke the least bit funny? Has the old broad with the designer eyepatch that works at the reception desk ever laughed at any of your zany comments? Comedy isn't like painting, writing or music. You can instantly tell if you've succeeded. No laffy, no funny.

For the love of God and the ghosts of Carlin and Pryor, if no one's laughing, you ain't funny. If they aren't smiling and giggling and giving you something back, you blew it. You need to regroup. Maybe abandon Funny. Try being Helpful or Kind. The world needs a lot of that, too.

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