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?

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