Stand-up Comedy – when something is funny and you don’t know why

In the past week or so, I’ve written about two jokes that I perform (here about a dead dog, and here about dead cats). It may be boring as hell or, hopefully, interesting to someone out there. One thing that I brought up is that it’s important to know why a joke works but it’s also important to know that sometimes funny can’t be analyzed or answered.

By the way – as I said before, these blog posts about my stand-up comedy is more for me than anyone – a circle jerk to analyze my jokes since nobody else will, right? So, if you don’t think it’s useful or funny, no worries. Go to tmz or whatever.

I think books or interviews of comedians about what is funny, etc. can be boring. Here I’m just breaking down a joke for my own purpose and for others – you don’t have to be a stand-up comedian to know how a joke may work or doesn’t work. There are plenty of funny people who don’t write/perform stand-up comedy. There are too many people who don’t have a sense of humor and might believe they will never have one. I think some people are naturally funny and some aren’t. But just because you are not  naturally funny, doesn’t mean you can’t learn some structure of a joke or see how others think in terms of what they believe to be funny (geez, that’s an awful sentence – I apologize).

When I began doing stand-up comedy a few months ago (after a break) I had one set that had such a ‘joke’ or statement by me that got a much bigger laugh than I anticipated.

The set-up. I was invited to tell some jokes at a small bar in the small town I live in. The bar is in an odd location in town (right by some railroad tracks, next to some other odd businesses, but nearby is the town post office). So before I am introduced, I decide I have to somehow mention that the post office is nearby – as if I’m only there to a) tell jokes and b) drop off my mail (aka, “get shit done” like a real adult).

So, my words were something “when Mike asked if I wanted to come down here to tell some jokes, I asked him where the bar was. He said “down by the post office” I said “I’m in.”

That’s all I said and it got a big laugh. Again, a large part of it was my delivery and persona because I am pretty calm on stage and so it looks like going to a place ‘near the post office’ is something that would intrigue me.

In the line “I’m in” there was humor in that because it I said it as if I was agreeing to rob a bank with a team of hardened criminals or agreeing that doing comedy next to a post office was a no-brainer and obviously going to be a great venue (turns out it was).

But it’s not really a joke, right? I can’t tell it again (maybe I can) but the way I said it was more spontaneous (the idea wasn’t as I had decide about 30 minutes before to mention it somehow).

That kinda gets into when a comedian says something that seems off-the-cuff or inspired by something that happened in the bar/club that evening. They may have ready-to-go one-liners or they may actually think of something fresh and new and funny in response to something.

If you are going to do stand-up comedy, and your act is the kind that can break away into ‘observation’ about your surroundings, getting there a little early, looking around at then neighborhood, etc, is helpful. I guess I would call that ‘localizing’ your set, something the best comics do but the more you do it, the better you’ll get and you can have fresher ‘observations’/funny lines compared to other comics (example – I’m sure every comic visiting San Francisco is going to joke about the steep hills – may be funny but not exactly original. Look for something more local that that if you’re visiting!)

Anyway, I’ve strayed from the topic that sometimes a comedian will say something (planned or unplanned) that is not structured in a usual ‘joke’ format but still is funny – mostly due to timing/personality of the comic and….magic.

Previous analysis on some jokes here and here. I may continue this series, perhaps organize it better later.