Stand-up comedy is full of options. I could stand here and yell profanities. I could recount nonsense. I could illustrate the differences between two groups of people. I could tell stories about things that have happened to me, including what I was thinking as they happened. Or how I wished they’d play out, since a real comedian is someone who thinks of the best thing to say five minutes later. One-liners, plays on words, satire, physical, shock, cycles, self-deprecation, deprecation – there’s a time and a place and an audience for them all.
Or I could very quickly realize that typing onto a computer does not in any way constitute stand-up comedy, and so I’ll need to pivot this post a little.
Maybe we can talk about the anatomy of a joke. A basic one consists of a setup and a punchline. Like Norm’s favourite joke, because it’s short and to the point. Setup: “Take…” — Punchline: “My wife Please!” This is funny because the joke teller’s wife is named Please, which is a funny name and has a different meaning in English and possibly other languages too.
Anyway, the best jokes will include also include a tag, and hopefully a call back, maybe a pause, a follow through, a tangent, a bring back handover, a double double coil and double, and sometimes a horse’s meatpack.
Actually, everyone already knows all this stuff. I could reveal some fun comedy facts instead. Like how the oldest recorded joke, an ancient Sumerian proverb from 1900 BC, is: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.” I don’t really get it, but it says ‘fart’ in there, so I know it’s funny at least, transcending generations and language and other chasms too.
Also, there was a famous Greek philosopher named Chrysippus who died from laughing at his own joke. This would be a bit understandable, as the same thing almost happened to me while watching Black Dynamite in a Hayward Avenue living room. But what makes it so strange is that apparently nobody else thought the joke was that funny. We don’t even know what the joke is, which is a huge historical oversight, but I wake up some nights with what I think might have been the joke, and I laugh with Chrysippus, which is all he ever wanted.
Wait a second. I just learned about hemlock water dropwort, a deadly poisonous plant that leaves the person with a smile on their face when they die. I wonder if this is what actually happened to him.
Then again, a person with damage to the right brain hemisphere can develop an actual medical “joke addiction”, a compulsive need to constantly make jokes. Maybe our Grecian deep thinker suffered from this and it got so bad that he lost his mind and died a bit.
Either way, Chrysippus could have used a little help from St. Lawrence of Rome, the patron saint of chefs and comedians, who earned his title because while getting burnt alive over a huge gridiron, he cheerfully proclaimed, ‘Turn me over, I’m well done on this side!’ The audacity of Italian Larry somehow got him canonized, so maybe we could all use a little more fortitude in standing up for our comedic beliefs. Realistically, he should be the patron saint of the insane.
Yo mamma jokes didn’t always need to make sense, they just needed to say “Yo mamma” in them. Like the one, “Yo mamma’s so fat, when she sits around the house, she sits arooound the house.” So the mom in question here, “yours”, is shaped like a donut, and she can fit an entire house in her donut hole? Okay, got it. Solid joke, no punch-up necessary.
Some people care more about being entertaining than being funny. That’s fine, but the distinction should be made. Like when Kathy Lee asked Martin Short about his wife on live television, not knowing she was dead, If he valued comedy over everything else, he would have leaned into it. Instead he wanted to be sure not to offend her, or upset the status quo of a network morning show. To please the situation. Come on, Marty. You’re better than that.
I’ve noticed lately that comedy is being dissected to an absurd extreme, with interviews with comedians getting more listens than their actual jokes. Even so, I want to dissect it a bit more by creating a couple of podcasts.
The first one is called “Am I Funny?” or “Is This Funny?” or maybe “Make Me Funny”. The name isn’t that important yet. In it, I tell the comedian guests different jokes that I’ve written, and we punch them up together. Maybe it should be called “Punch Up”, actually.
My other podcast is titled “Defining Funny”. The comedian guest and I discuss their sense of humour, their comedic taste, and the history behind it. Determining someone’s influences, the people and stories and jokes and videos that guided their sensibilities, gives us a better idea about their path and could help others find theirs.
If for some reason a new host takes over for me, and I end up becoming an actual comedian and they ask me be a guest on an episode, I’ll be talking about the most important influences in my life, that led me to this great comedic success I now have.
- Black Dynamite chalkboard scene
- Dinner With Family With Brett Gelman and Brett Gelman’s Family
- One Tree Hill, when a dog ate Dan’s new heart
If I get to that level of success, it will be because I land a job writing on Detroiters or Fleabag or New Girl or something, and I will certainly love my job. But inevitably, I will get fired. Now getting fired from most jobs is fine, since you probably didn’t want to be there to begin with. But getting fired from your dream job, as a comedy writer on this great show? Essentially they’re telling me that regular paycheques will stop being directly deposited into my bank account, which I obviously hate to hear. And I no longer get to spend my days hanging out with intelligent, comedic minds. And I won’t get to contribute to creating art that people connect with and gets them to laugh even if they don’t feel entirely like laughing because their president is a potato or whatnot. Oh, and before I forget to mention it, the real dagger – I’m not funny. It turns out the creators decided to go in a different direction, one of a funny person, which I am not. Not funny, not relevant, not useful. My comedic potential unrealized, I return home to my small hometown and move in with my parents and run into my high school crush as the local market which is the basis for my next idea that will become the next Big Bang Theory and make me rich and famous and successful again but still deep down like real deep down I’ll know that I sold out and was it all worth it yes.