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.

 

Yet another Joke by me, analyzed by me!

Hello,

Let’s try to take the fun of out comedy by analyzing jokes. Ha! Actually, this is more of an exercise for my benefit. I did this earlier and plan on a few more post going over my jokes (but not all will be about dead pets/people – I promise). Anyway, part of the purpose is I write down a joke, have it saved on my blog but in writing about it, I may learn something.

As I mentioned before, any jokes I discuss are by me and are funny(funnier?) when heard in person due to my awesome presentation skills (or they are not funny at all).

The last joke I analyzed was about a dead dog and bereavement time. The joke below is about potentially dead cats but I write it here because it’s also very timely! Topical humor, people!

JOKE:

I pulled into my driveway the other day. I looked over and saw a neighbor of mine with a bucket of water and a box with some feral kittens. He was getting ready to drown these poor kittens! I immediately got out of my car, grabbed a stick, and walked over there and said “hey, asshole, I see what you’re about to do. I can’t let you do it. We are in a water shortage – a drought! Use this” and I throw him the stick. (to audience I say something about even animal abusers being more socially responsible, etc…

(this joke does not translate too well to the page  and the wording in the joke I’ve written may not have the impact. It also makes me sound like a monster. But in drought-ridden California, it’s funny).

I think this jokes works for several reasons:

1. My presentation is always of a pretty calm guy, a short nerd, so the idea of me grabbing a stick and confronting anyone is, hopefully, funny (when I first told this joke, I said “baseball bat” and when the crowd laughed, I was surprised – didn’t even occur to me that it was a funny image. But it was so I kept it. Another version has me telling the guy that the water he’s using better be ‘gray water’ (dirty) or to do this awful extermination while taking a shower.

2. Topical – here in California, it’s drought drought drought, and this is a darkly humorous take on the impacts of the water shortage – so bad that a (bad) guy can’t even some feral kittens.

3. The word “feral”. Drowning cats or kittens is awful. I use the word ‘feral’ to at least soften the blow a little because we associate feral kittens as a nuisance, like cute squirrels that could be dangerous.  Maybe it doesn’t matter but I think it’s interesting to note it, that it is something I include in this joke as a possible buffer.

In one of the variations, I had a tag line “swing away, Merril. Merrill, swing away” a quote from the film Signs, about an alien invasion that is, in part, thwarted by their aversion to water (the character Merrill is a baseball athlete who swings his bat at some glasses filled with water to fight back against an home-invanding alien).

That I got to add that tag line was fun for me. A small inside joke for those who had seen this movie and got the connection between the water and baseball bat. I may still include it when I tell this joke.

A comedian may get bored with some of their jokes and I think adding little bits like this to the main bit can keep it fresh (you can remove/add different ‘insider’ jokes if it helps.). The main premise stands – some jerk stopped from drowning cats NOT because it’s  wrong but because of the drought and the waste of water it represents.

Like the joke about the dead dog, this joke also catches the crowd’s attention because immediately they are presented with an image of my neighbor preparing to drown a box of cats – holy shit, right!?  So, they snap to attention, see where I’m leading to and so forth. Not the smartest joke, but it engages their mind to think about a) the crime/morality of drowning cats and b) the drought and nanny-state rules/fines over wasting water.

That is all.  Again, I’m writing this more for me, but also so that potential comedians see how one might view a joke after it’s been created and why it has the impact/effectiveness that I think it has. If you are thinking of performing stand-up comedy or writing jokes, you better understand a little why something is funny because you’ll save a lot of time but then you will also find those jokes that are funny for NO APPARENT REASON – it will happen and in those cases, that is just plain magic (I will discuss one of these moments some time later).

I could be totally wrong – this may not be funny at all to you, in which case you are invited to click away, Merrill. Merrill, click away.

PREVIOUS Joke Analysis.

 

stand-up comedy – a joke by me, analyzed by me.

I’m back doing stand-up comedy here and there on the California central coast. Great group of people involved. Various bars mostly – nothing too exciting but working up to a 30 minutes set.

Lately have been telling dark jokes, involving pets. not sure why. I like cats and dogs. I thought I’d present the joke and talk about it a little.  If it helps someone write their own joke or think of something funny, great.  I thought of this joke in July and have used it the past few sets.

As with all jokes, it’s better in person but I write this here.

JOKE:

I called in sick the other day because my dog died. My boss said ‘how long are you going to be out?’ and I said ‘well, when my mom died, I took 10 days off. But this is my dog, so just multiply that times 7.’

Hilarious!

One thing I’ve noticed in performing recently is that some people are funny but they do not word their jokes correctly. If you want to do stand-up comedy, wording is extremely important for most comedic styles.  For the joke above, the word ‘7’ is the last word on purpose. (or the phrase “multiple that times seven” – whatever) – if I say “multiply the time off by 7 because it’s a dog” – it’s kinda funny, I think, but not as funny as the original ‘correct’ way. It’s also a matter of how I present the joke. I am unassuming, quiet and I tell this as if it happened (usually early in the set with the other pet jokes.).

This jokes does two things which I like:

1. Brings up a topic that happens to most of us – dealing with the death of a beloved pet. Oh, and also, a parent.  Yeah, that too.  So many people can relate to either dead pet or dead parent/family member. It’s not a fun topic, so you get to think about it through the scenario I have set up (calling in sick).  This brings the crowd (all 4 of them, usually) in and on my side because I’m a guy discussing the death of my pet dog and name dropping the dead parent.  Hard to heckle a guy talking about loss.

2. The other thing it has is math! It’s not the smartest joke in the world, not by a long shot, but it’s got a little joke about how the age of dogs in relation to ‘human years’ is multiple of 7s. Most everyone’s heard this factoid. So, instead of taking two weeks off for my dead dog, I’m asking to take 14 weeks off! See ya later bossman! Sucker!

I think a lot of people who enjoy stand-up comedy are pretty sharp and they want to laugh and think and be challenged in some ways (i.e., exercise the mind during your set a little whether it’s a historical reference, or math or puns). My joke has a simple, elementary calculation which helps in presenting the punchline; everyone does it quickly and hopefully gets the joke (that I’m looking to take about 2+ months off – 10 x 7).  If you didn’t know that fact/theory about dogs lifespan being 7 years to 1 human year, then the joke really doesn’t work.  The joke is also absurd as factoring in “dog years” into bereavement time is extremely silly.

I think the joke is funny, but it’s also sad because in reality, who wouldn’t want 3 months off after the death of a loved one (parent or dog). But, as the hard-luck comedian tells this story, it’s funny in a sad-funny way. And what do we all say about comedy – tragedy+time = comedy – and in this joke it’s about all three.

It’s a fun joke.  In the small town that I live in, I can’t tell it forever, as many of our local ‘live comedy’ supporters have heard it. Eventually, they will say “yeah, yeah, we get it! death is hilarious! do you have any airplane jokes!?”

Later, I may analyze some other jokes of mine – it helps me think of others, reminds of the format/structure of a joke.

I haven’t used my blog in 1+ year (or should I say in 7 dog years?) but perhaps that will change.  I’m not going to leave comments open because of spam but if you are a real person and want to message me a question, I think you can from the blog or thru Facebook.

The code is cracked: Ice Bucket Challenge, ISIS, Frozen, L.A. Kings, ICE, etc – read if you dare

once again, I have cracked the code. Follow me around the room: 1. The film Frozen comes out in 2014 – a story abut a ‘King’dom trapped in ice. 2. Terrorist group ISIS makes it’s move in middle east (ISIS sounds like “ICE US”!), and 3. meanwhile L.A. “Kings” when the Cup in ICE hockey. 4. Immigration big issue this year (who enforces this?: ICE, immigration and customs enforcement) 5. ICE bucket challenge goes viral. 6. What do you say when someone dumps ice water on you? “Jesus Christ that’s cold!!”. 7. How many letters are in ICE ?Three. As in Trinity (and who is part of that – Jesus (King, Kingdom). So, mind blown, yet? The mothership will be here soon, probably covered in ice. Get your purple Nikes and meet me outside. And bring some ice! 

icy cold stare…..

 

This. This. This. Enough already. Retire “This.”!

Hi Internet citizens,

If you read a comment or article that you appreciate and agree with, whether it’s on reddit.com or Facebook or cnn.com,  or your local pay-site newspaper, you do not need to start your comment posting with the very short sentence “This.”

THIS.

I define the usage of the “This.” sentence as implying that you agree wholeheartedly with the article/comment you’ve just read, so much so that you say “This.” as though what was written was precisely what you would have written if you weren’t so dumb or chicken. Kinda like a version of “ditto” meaning exact copy – you agree exactly with whatever idea/sentiment is being expressed.

Why avoid the “This” sentence? Several reasons:

1. “This.” Whoa, slow down there, Tom Clancy. Don’t write too much. So, what gives, wordsmith?  This what? If what was written was precisely what you think should have been expressed, then why clutter up the comments with a one word response. Stay off the comments, you one-word ogre.  Save the space for the real psychos who turn every message board into a referendum on politics.

2. “This.” followed by your own ideas, tells me that while you think the original poster/commenter has written so perfectly you had to write “this”, you still felt the need to add your own thoughts. So, really, the writer didn’t cover all pertinent facts or opinions, huh? Just had to keep typing, didn’t you?  So, next time, don’t write “This.” Just write your own thoughts, even if they are similar or more poorly phrased.

3. Sometimes when I read a “This.” I think “oh man, I wonder if they’ve been murdered while at their keyboard. Or maybe they had a heart attack just as they started typing. Maybe they were going to write “This man is in my house with a chainsaw” but the unexpectedly jean shorts wearing chainsaw guy got to them sooner than they expected. “This.” could be a cry for help.

4. “This.” will eventually lead to “That.” And nobody wants that to lead to this happening. Some smartass is going to start it, I just know it.

So, lesson learned, internet? Knock it off with the “This.” sentence.