Got Funny?

My recent employment has afforded me the opportunity to watch comedians preform their art in a public setting. Everything from polished headline acts, to improvisational workshops, to amateur open mic nights for local would-be stars. This experience has given me a deeper understanding of what it means to be ‘funny’.

I, for a long time, thought I had the unique gift to be funny. Not silly, although I have been that at times, but truly funny. Because in most conversational situations I can make most anyone laugh out loud at some point, I thought I had the gift of being funny. But I was mistaken. What I was equating with being funny, was a serious dose of being ‘witty’. My talent runs more along the lines of being ‘quick witted’. In conversation, I always seem to be just one breath away from turning a phrase from its figurative form to a literal form, with a dash of humor for effect. Or to take a simple slip of the tongue down a road that leads to laughter. It is the same focus on what is being said by others that made “that’s what she said” a standardized joking retort to snippets of conversation among friends.

Add to this the fact that I can find humor in just about anything. Even things that others may deem inappropriate, off-color, or just in poor taste, I still recognize the humor in. This may be the counterbalance in my life that tends to purvey great seriousness in so many other matters and conspires to keep me from being to serious about everything. Or I am just a clown at heart and am easily entertained. Whatever the root cause may be, I can find the humor in just about anything. Oddly enough, my reaction is rarely an audible laugh. A great joke or the humor of physical comedy will likely bring a smile to my face, I just rarely laugh out loud. Some of that may be because I feel like most times, I can see the punchline from a mile away. I still find it funny when we get there, but I am rarely surprised. However, when blindsided by a real gem of comedy, even I can belly-laugh with the best of them.

And though I have a love for humor in all its forms, I can never remember a joke to save my life. In my lifetime, I have heard tens of thousands of jokes. Some so good that they brought me to tears from laughter. I will say it to myself ten times (an old trick used by salespeople to remember names when introduced the first time) and ten minutes later not be able to retell the joke correctly. A day later and it is completely gone from my memory, short of saying I have heard it before when it is offered in a new setting. But being able to recall and repeat a joke does not make one a comedian. The person who said the joke first may well be a comedian, but everything after that is practiced parroting. The only joke I can recall at anytime is one old knock-knock joke. However, its humor is sold by the timing and in written form it is not overtly funny, so I won’t burden you with it here. If you are a fellow blogger and you offer a correct guess as to what that joke may be in the comments, I will dedicate a post highlighting your work and linking my readers to your site with an encouragement to take time to read your entries.

But I am not ‘funny’. Being funny is an art. It requires great creativity to write new and relevant material that reflects our lives and tickles the listener’s funny bone. Constantly honing and polishing each joke or story until it is a concise and impactful utterance. For the comedian, no words can be wasted. Our attention spans are far too short these days. And the delivery is just as practiced. Everything from body language, timing, facial expressions, characterized voices, wardrobe, props, music, and lighting is choreographed with purpose. The best can also work a stage. Unfrozen from the stationary delivery at a mike stand, they can walk any size stage and connect with their audience in a more direct fashion. They can ‘work the room’, as they say in the business.

A comedian must also work extremely hard to market their brand of comedy. They play small venues with little or no pay, in order to gain exposure and hone their craft. Years are spent in the trenches working to become a recognized name in the hopes it may offer financial reward for their years of hard, sometimes thankless, work.

Then, hardest of all, they must have the bravery to stand in front of an audience and go to work being funny. Especially hard if you are following an act that the audience really enjoyed. If you think this is easy, it is because the best of them make it look easy. Even I, who finds public speaking a breeze and have given presentations or instruction to large rooms of people, am trepidatious at the thought of stepping onto our stage and taking a run at it on open mic night. And I mean ‘no way in hell’ scared of doing it. I can’t imagine the hours of writing and practicing it would take for me to even consider it, even now thinking I would bail out at the last minute anyway. For me it is a cripplingly daunting task.

So, I have found a much deeper respect for comedians and a greater understanding of what their work truly entails. They are out there, honing their craft every day. They work extremely hard at this passion and art with but the slightest of hopes to ever make it to a marquee or a fat bank account. TV and films, where the real money lies, seem so far-fetched as to be a seemingly unattainable dream. Yet, they plow through bad reviews and bad audiences in the journey to the next gig or opportunity. Often relying on their own drive and tenacity to keep them going. And the real driving force behind what they do is not the hubris of fame or fortune, it is the simple fact that they love to make other people laugh. What kind of world would we live in if more people just wanted to make other people smile or laugh? I have learned that, although my actions or words are witty at times, I am not ‘funny’ in the way comedians are. Comedians are a rare breed and I love them for it.

4 Responses to “Got Funny?”
  1. Jim Borden says:

    great post; we seem to share so many similar attributes! I recognize how gifted comedians really are; it’s no surprise that many of them go on to have tv shows or movies.

  2. jomz says:

    Being a comedian is tough. They say that if you’re in drama, if you don’t make your audience cry, that’s fine… but if you’re in comedy, if you don’t make your audience laugh, you’re a failure.

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