I think an awful lot about humor. That’s not to say I really understand much about the mechanics of it. There’ve been endless smart people who’ve compared humor and comedy, understand the depths of telling jokes or Twainian short stories, dissected them and come up with formulae involving the violation of expectations, etc.
It’s all really quite fascinating.
But something I never quite see is people telling smart jokes to smart people.
It seems a damned shame to me that telling jokes includes punch lines.
I’m not sure if it’s always been true. I don’t know, if it hasn’t always been true, if it’s an outgrowth of the industry of comedy and its need to appeal to the broadest possible audience base.
It just seems a damned shame.
Here’s how the perfect joke works, by my estimation:
You’re in a room with a dozen or two people and have the floor. You set up the joke in the middle of a paragraph, then keep talking, not giving the slightest visual clue as to what you’ve done. It’s acceptable to give a person or two a conspiratorial glance. But that’s IT! A pause after the paragraph in which the setup is buried and someone across the room crinkles their brow, looks up, and starts chuckling. MAYbe a couple more reparse the paragraph and get it.
But then people will laugh along at they don’t know what. Invariably someone will come in late and ask if you knew what you said. Le Sigh. Even that is a part of the ego boost, truth be told.
A great joke should tell the way an IN joke should, where you know a couple people are going to catch the reference, draw the conclusion, and realize what you’ve done, and laugh along.
“In jokes” are the next best thing I suppose. But it’s still a devolution of the idea. You’ve got guaranteed context with a few other people so you have the near guarantee that the reference will be caught, removing the need to spell it all out for everyone.
Now that’s not going to work on stage, where you have an audience paying you to make them laugh, and alls the more shame for it.
A few weeks ago I met a guy here at the cigar lounge. He sat down in a chair a couple down from me and…I’m not sure how the hell he picked up on it. Maybe he is just constantly slinging a certain type of humor. He’s certainly got a couple extra IQ points to his name. But we were talking about food and he made a subtle show of mispronouncing Italian food names.
It took about 3 for me to realize he was fucking with me. No one else SEEMED to see what was going on. Hell, I’ve no reason not to think it was just standard schtick.
At one point I brought up the book “Outwitting the Devil” by Napoleon Hill. He’d directed that it not be published until some number of decades after he died. Nate looked up and said “He should’ve published it posthumously.” And he just caught me.
“That’s what he di…shit.” And we laughed.
I suppose that’s a different category. But it’s still “The Joke you don’t realize is supposed to be a joke.” A slight level higher than the standard low-level fare.
Contrast that with the way my mother tells jokes. You’ll know if my mother’s going to tell a joke because she starts laughing the second she thinks of it. She ends up laughing herself to tears, completely destroying her ability to get the damned thing out, half the time leading to her spitting out the punchline then saying “No…wait…” and fumbling her way through it. It’s really quite endearing, and hilarious to watch. But if you’re actually waiting on the joke itself, well…you’re going to have a bad time.
Any jackass can tell a joke with a punch line, and I can’t begrudge anyone trying to make people laugh. But it’s the comedic equivalent of slapstick humor, leading the audience right to the oasis and jamming their head in the water.
I went to Gotham Comedy Club with one of my more insane and intelligent ex girlfriends. She was a trial lawyer. (Just…never again. NEVER again. No trial attorneys.)
One of the warmup acts said:
“Two muffins are in an oven.”
I was sitting to my girlfriend’s right with my arm around her and I leaned in and whispered in her ear “it’s hot in here.”
The commedian(ne) said “One turns to the other and says…” and she snapped to me wide-eyed and smiled. “Damn it’s hot in here.”
I leaned back in and said ‘holy shit a talking muffin.’
And…well…you know. “Good Joke. Everybody laughs.” – Rorschach.
Now…I hadn’t recalled having heard that joke before. But I must have. It was just too damned obvious.
That was 14-15 years ago and it just seemed so damned sloppy.
I haven’t been to a comedy show since.
Maybe it was the girl.