Wednesday, July 24, 2013

writing humor: a prologue

An old friend of mine once told me that if my sense of humor was any drier, it would be Death Valley.  I suppose there is some truth to that.  Mostly, it comes from trying to always apply a different perspective to any and everything...something I was doing long before it became required by my academic training.  For some reason, I always looked at the world from a skewed perspective...and this most clearly manifest itself in my (attempts at) humor.

Humor was never a defense mechanism, a weapon, or a tool to use to set myself apart.  I certainly never thought of it as a vocation;  when a former colleague once told me I should do stand-up, the idea struck me as just plain wrong.  I had no earthly idea how to turn my humor from contextual to performative.  Hell, I barely had an idea my humor was contextual...which is a sign of to how little scrutiny I held it.

I didn't begin to analyze my humor until a friend got a radio show and decided to make it a "talk" show.  Now, two hours is a hell of a lot of time to fill, so he invited a bunch of his friends to contribute.  I became one of them.  After desperately trying to bluff my way through college sports commentary (I still don't follow anything other than pro football, so my ignorance and inexperience was more than obvious), my role in the talk radio show menagerie become three-fold:
  1. to be weird comic relief, usually in taking conversations in directions no sane person would dare tread.
  2. to do my Richard Nixon impersonation for a friend's segment, where he played Satan offering his perspective on events of the day and I, as Nixon, was the dark lord's sidekick.
  3. to contribute my own segment, which was a weekly top ten list of psychotic observations on weird topics, such as "What would a Victoria's Secret-esque store for male consumers be like?"
The top ten lists were the first time I sat down and tried to write serious comedy.  I had no idea how hard it was or how time consuming it would be.  A fifteen minute segment would take me four or five hours to get down.  I worked like hell to make them as solid and well-constructed as possible.  And I learned an awful lot about writing in general.  I still apply scores of lessons I learned from these top ten lists to my writing in any number of venues.

Now, at the risk of offending any actual comedians or comedy scholars (I know one, but I don't think he reads this), I plan, as a recurring feature here, to start offering my own observations and lessons from my time writing humor.  Yeah, I know most of y'all aren't active comedians or humorists, but I firmly believe there are a lot of insights to be had which can be applied to any number of other fields and occasions.  After all, comedy is, at its heart, inevitably tied to the world at large, as well as to tragedy, to philosophy, to romance, to....well, pretty much anything you can I hope you find connections where these to be useful.  I will also be happy if they provoke commentary or debate.  But at the end, if you merely find these to be slightly amusing?  Well, I'll take it.

Possible future topics include:
  • the role of repetition, or, if you keep telling a bad joke over and over, does it ever become funny?
  • why random numbers should always end with "seven," because, out of all the integers, it is hands-down the funniest (although "three" is gaining daily).
  • language, or why absolutely anyone ought to always employ alliteration.
  • who, if anyone, should be the butt of your jokes (if, that is, you're not constantly singling out a deserving victim like Nathan Crook).
  • why "how black people are different than white people" (or any of the 37 permutations of such "jokes") is an inferior form of humor, and how anyone employing such strategies should be drawn and quartered by massive teams of feral hamsters.
  • what's the ideal pet:  a miniature hedgehog, a capybara, or a baby sloth, and what (if anything) this has to do with the subject at hand.
  • what the hell is the point of it all?  Not from a teleological or theological perspective, but from a narrative perspective.
Bet ya can't wait, eh?

cream and context

(written 7/16)

Before hitting the bar, I decided to take my family out for ice cream and ended up getting, in addition to our mini-buckeye sundaes, a lesson in context.

As I walked towards my family while carrying our frozen treats, I saw, at the next picnic tables, one of my favorite former bartenders eating ice cream with her family.  Now, I've lived in a small town long enough to be used to such encounters. For the most part, there is usually a twinge of two things colliding:  an implosion of context and an awareness of the multi-faceted nature of personal life.

My mind, of course, immediately went to seeing the bartender tending (what else?) bar.  I liked her a lot for her attitude.  She is small and not incredibly imposing in looks, but, while on duty, she suffered no fools.  I remember coming in with an undergrad friend who tried to order some undergraduate swill (most likely a Natty Light).  Instead of bringing him one, the bartender brow-beat him into ordering something better.  I remember one time deciding to branch out from my ten-plus year usual.  She stared at me blankly for about three minutes, refusing to serve me, acknowledge my request, or do anything until I meekly backed down.

I used to get thrown when running into someone in a completely different context.  I'd like to think I've overcome my preconceptions, though, and now just revel in the joy of seeing another side to someone in my life.  This time, there was at least tangible progress on my part.  I made no jokes about asking her for a beer.  Nor did she, upon seeing this drunk blowing bubbles for and then chasing his daughter around picnic tables, make any comment about my beer choices.

So we got that going for us.

raising a little villainy

It's often the small things in life which bring the most joy.  Sometimes it's the most damn strange things. If one is very, very lucky indeed, the two might team up to present something wonderful.

When my parents were up a little while ago, I showed them the film Despicable Me, because, well, it's awesome.  My daughter would not sleep that night, partially because her grandparents were in and partially because she had a cold (however, in the quest for honesty, I should say she generally looks for any reason whatsoever to not sleep).  When she saw the movie, she was enchanted.  She particularly was fascinated by the am I. Seriously, how can you not love them?

As luck (or sequel marketing) would have it, the current Happy Meal toy is an assortment of minions. In fact the arrival of the cool minion toys coincided with the restaurant's Monopoly game. It's the perfect storm of crass marketing for weak-willed, addicted twerps such as myself.  So I got Monopoly game pieces, while my daughter gets minions.

For me, this isn't the best deal. I've only won the crappy free McFlurries and consumed too many empty calories (which I'm firmly aware I do not need).  Sylvia, on the other hand, now has a nice collection of minions.

Let that sentence roll around your head for a minute:  "My daughter has a following of minions." It's truly awesome.  I personally have always wanted my own minions (and no, my students do not fit the role;  they are nowhere near loyal enough).  Hell, I'd be happy to even have a henchman.  Or even a graduate assistant.  Alas, I have none of I don't even really have a need for my secret lair. 

My daughter, on the other hand, already has minions...and she's just a little over two. It's quite awesome to see her running around the house, asking "where are my minions?," or hauling a few around with her, saying "come on, minions." It warms the heart, it does.

To be honest, though, I do worry a little bit that she'll get used to having minions, try to make it a life-long condition, and become a super villain.  I hope not.  I will, however, support her in her endeavors no matter what she decides to be...just as long as she doesn't get a Ph.D. in the humanities...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

love and alcohol

(written 7/16)

My regular bar has what can only be called character.  There is graffiti pretty much everywhere, and if the wait staff catches you trying to carve your name into a table, they are more likely to critique your technique than get angry.  The bathrooms are...interesting to say the least.  One  of them, when the bar is packed on weekends, is predominantly used by law-breakers.  This bathroom is affectionately called "the stoner's bathroom."

My old band's sticker is still on the door to the stoner's bathroom.  This makes me feel more proud than it should.  Amongst the various entries on the stoner bathroom's wall of graffiti) is some scribbling from an English friend.  He went to my college, and even though he's went back to the Old Country, every few years, he will show up without warning at the bar.  Usually, we skip over the "what in the hell are you doing here" part of the conversation and simply pick up whatever discussion of which we were in the midst when he last left this fair land several years prior.

This night, as I return to my table, a song from some friends' band comes on random play.  I take a seat, sip my drink, write a few words, and raise my head to see the bartender riding past on a bicycle.  We are, mind you, still indoors.  Yet this still doesn't surprise me nearly as much as when I later hear her talking about white wine spritzers.

Do you still need to know why I love this place?

Monday, July 08, 2013

The Inspired Drunk

It was pointed out to me last night that it had been a while since I blogged about making a new cocktail.  Inspiration can come in many forms...and sometimes I even take requests! So let me introduce you to The Inspired Drunk:
  • Throw some ice into a pint glass...preferably one with a cool design...or one stolen from a local bar.
  • Add one measure of rum and think of the islands...and how glad you're not in those malarial hell-holes.
  • Add a half measure of strawberry liqueur...or crush a handful of berries from the farmer's market into the glass and up the rum content.
  • Pour to the top with a good root beer. This drink demands IBC or better...because you're worth it, damn it.  Okay, maybe you aren't, but I sure am.
  • Stir, sit back, and enjoy while watching some high class, sophisticated, cultured, and educational television program such as Naked and Afraid. After all, the point of television is to laugh at weirdos, right?

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

big bang boom

One of the fringe benefits of our new apartment is it's really close to all of the BGSU sports arenas.  I've hardly ever gone to any of the sporting events (1 football game, three hockey games since '98), but it's always nice to have the option.  Tonight, though, we found another way this works for us...and it involves explosions.

This year, the city had its 4th of July fireworks display tonight.  Yes, it's the 3rd.  No, I don't get it either.

The name of our complex is Stadium View.  We don't actually have a view of the stadium, but the name stays nevertheless.  And since the stadium is where the fireworks get launched, we knew we wouldn't have to go far if we decided to watch them.

Luckily, though, we didn't have to go far.  While the trees blocked a certain percentage of the display, we were able to see most of the explosions from our balcony.  We went out and took our daughter.  She was the explosions, looked up at us, and then said "going inside."

My wife and I stayed, though, with her doing the obligatory "ooos" and "ahhhs."  My daughter kept coming back out...I'm not sure if the fireworks became exciting to her or if she just didn't want to be by herself, but she stayed longer and longer, eventually copying her mom's "ooos" and "ahhs"...which was as cute as you'd imagine.

So the night was fun.  Now, of course, we get the added benefit of being close to the stadium.  Soon the toxic cloud of smoke will be upon us!  Weee!

What the hell...when we're celebrating America's independence from the British by lighting Chinese firecrackers, there's only a certain amount of sense to be had.