on being funny

and some hate mail

Someone asked me today, “Where do you think your wit comes from?”

People don’t generally like that question answered with a joke, so I gave my usual, “I work very hard on it,” answer, but it got me thinking. Where did my funny come from?

My friends

I have very funny friends. All of them. They make me laugh every day, whether it’s in person, on the phone, through email, or just thinking about something that happened a while ago. I still crack up thinking about some of the stories they told me, and I wasn’t even there.

When you’re so hungover and sad that the only thing that makes sense is standing in the middle of your living room on your futon with a hairbrush in your hand screaming in a terrible Southern accent that sends Tennessee Williams spinning that “Uncle Junior ain’t nevah comin’ back, evah!” and the four people in the room not only get it, but immediately scream other insults towards your imaginary child Suzie– you’ve found good people.

When you’ve got someone who can instantly make you laugh when you’ve just broken out into tears, but knows when to stop laughing– that’s very good.

When a road trip seems like a few minutes.

When you’re not only making the same jokes at the same time, you’re not even finishing the jokes, because you’re all making the same joke right then and there, and a simple mouth movement or grunt tells the entire joke.

Having those kinds of funny people in my life makes me a funnier person. I’m constantly working on my funny, trying to make them laugh as much as they entertain me.

Moving

You try being the new kid all of the time. I’m pretty good now at walking into a new room, seeing the new people and figuring out what kind of humor they’d appreciate. I push it sometimes, I know. And there have been a few moments where I thought my jokes were going to get me fired. Example: Someone was promoted at a job where I was working, and they had all taken us into this room to announce the promotion. As the head manager was discussing what the new manager’s duties were (this is where, if you’re a friend of mine, generally you interrupt the story to giggle and say out loud: “Duties.”), I couldn’t help but notice that they were sitting side-by-side wearing the exact same outfit, the same glasses, leaning on the table the exact same way. Now, because I try and keep myself out of business politics, I had no idea if this was an important promotion, or one that was angering other members of my department. After much solemn discussion, the manager asked if we had any questions. I raised my hand and asked if we were all going to have to start dressing and acting just like him or if this was just the new guy’s “thing.”

There was a pause in the room. I think I heard a gasp. And then once the manager started laughing, the rest of them did, too. Was it good for me to break the tension? Probably. Did I have a quick moment of thinking I was about to be kicked out on my ass? You bet. Comedy. Take risks.

The irony is that while I was moving so much, I really became ultra-shy. I didn’t talk much when I first moved, and took a while to make friends. Once I started taking theatre class in the eleventh grade, however, there was pretty much no stopping me after that.

Cable Television

This ties in with the moving, but since I was always new and shy, I stayed at home quite a bit. And I watched so much television. I’d watch stand-up special after stand-up special. I’d memorize people’s entire routines. I knew every sitcom line-up. My sister and I would re-enact movies and shows. I’m not saying anything I haven’t told you before, here, but it was one way that I was giving myself rehearsals long before I’d ever taken a class.

My Parents

Hi. Meet the toughest crowd you’ve ever met. Now, my mother is my biggest fan. She’s been asking me to do stand-up comedy since I was like, seventeen or something. But to actually make them laugh when I was younger was very difficult. It’s easier now that I know them better, but still. I could be pulling out my A-list material and it’s like crickets at that dinner table. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve said, “Man, that’s so funny and you guys totally ignored it. I’m brilliant!”

Gifted Classes

Where oddity and strangeness are encouraged. Even rewarded. I was allowed to make movies, write plays, do silly skits, and basically try and crack up my friends. The laid back attitude of most gifted programs allows for a comfortable atmosphere. Now if only the rest of the class was allowed to drink beer. Then you’d have a comic’s dream.

The Web

This is a very interesting audience, here, and I’ve noticed since I started writing for the web heavily that my sense of humor has improved. The feedback is instant. I can see what works and what doesn’t. I have to rely on words, as opposed to prat falls or quick shots and edits to make a laugh. It’s all about how to phrase a sentence. It’s different. It’s wonderful.

Mighty Big TV

Those people are so funny that you become funnier just from a contact high. You admire them, they admire you and you create a big ball of funny. I’m gonna get all choked up here, so I’ll move on.

The Lonely Childhood

Very important. That’s what makes people performers. You find an actor that loved his or her childhood and still has all sorts of friends and a tight-knit family and no complaints and everything was wonderful– and I’ll show you one bad actor. Or one that’s very boring. The Lonely Childhood sparks that need for acceptance and approval that makes very good performers. We bust our asses on that stage just to get you to put your hands together in a rapid motion. It’s like heroin. If only our parents would applaud every morning whenever we poured our juice correctly. Maybe we’d all be accountants.

Intelligence

Comics are very smart. Too smart, usually. Even when you’re seeing someone playing a dumb person, there’s a very smart actor under there knowing how to pull off being dumb without being pitiful. Phoebe isn’t one of our favorite Friends for nothing. Lisa Kudrow is a very smart comic actress who knows how much dumb we’ll buy before we just shut off the camera. We’ve seen Matt LaBlanc improve his dumb comic act over the years. He started out with writing that just said, “And then the dumb guy says something dumb.” Now, after Joey has grown and matured under the writing, he can just say, “How you doin’?” and we’re on the floor. He does the “opposite” of Chandler taking his clothes. That’s smarter. That’s better.

Insomnia

I’m damn funny when I’m tired. So is everyone else I know. My friends Andy and Leon are making a career out of being funny when they’re tired. Don’t know them yet? You will. Just be patient.

Love

Now, first I have to say, not being in love makes you pretty funny, too. Good writing comes from your world getting rocked or your heart getting broken. If you remember the beginning of the year when I was trying to quit smoking and I was on fire with the funny-funny. But great stories come from those conversations late at night when your guard is down and it’s just the two of you enjoying each other, making each other smile. You laugh easier when you’re in love. You laugh harder.

I’m very lucky to have the people in my life that encourage me and inspire me each and every day. Without them, I can’t imagine what I’d be doing. A friend of mine admitted the other day that when someone asked her what I did for a living she realized she didn’t know what my day job was. “She makes people laugh” was her answer.

I hope one day that’s the only thing I have to answer.

That and it would look so cool on my taxes.

And, before I forget:

A retraction.

[readermail]
Subject: Request for Apology
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2000 09:26:31 CDT
From: “Drunky McParkSure
To: pamie@pamie.com

Pamie:

I was highly distressed to find that I had been accused of causing damage to your car. I’m sure you were upset about the scratch on your new car, but that gives you no right to make false accusations. I feel that you publicly humiliated me when you published defamatory information about me on a web site that tens, maybe hundreds, of people read daily.

Specifically, in your article titled “Carma: A Matter Of Time, I Know” you wrote: “… Drunky McParkSure just pulled in and squished out of the car and didn’t even notice taking off a one inch piece of paint from the side bumper thingy.”

I did not scratch your car. As a matter of fact, I have been in Las Vegas at a convention all week. Maybe somebody stole my car, parked it next to yours, and scratched it. I certainly did not. Do you live next to car thieves? Did you ever think of that?

As if you hadn’t done enough damage, you wrote, “and squished out of his car”. While I admit I have a hard time fitting in booths at restaurants and getting into or out of a car, I don’t see how commenting on my weight problem is going to make your scratch go away. You just don’t know what it’s like to have all of the other kids call you Tubby McPorksure. It’s hurtful comments from insensitive people like you that make the world a darker place for people like me.

I am a forgiving person, but my reputation is my business. I cannot allow the Drunky McParksure name to be sullied. I request that you publish a full apology and retraction of your defamatory statements. Otherwise, I will be forced to pursue satisfaction through a more formal litigation process.

Drunky McParksure
[/readermail]

Not since a visit from The Pullman have I been so honored.

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