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Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to be funny-

I can be a funny guy. When I was young I wanted to be cool, and I wanted to be funny. A neighbor kid named Howard wanted to start a comedy team, like Martin and Lewis, or Rowan and Martin, or something like The Three Stooges (lite). We tried too hard. Often silly, frequently annoying, seldom funny.

Eventually I learned the secret, at least for me. Just say stuff. Something happens, make an observation. People have editors built into their listening system. We don't really hear much of what we say to each other. So, the dumb stuff I said that was just dumb got edited out. The funny stuff made an impact. I was funny due simply to volume.

One of my former co-workers told jokes. He remembered jokes, and told them to everyone. He did it well. I don't do jokes well, since they require a memory. I don't have a memory that is particularly accessible. Oh, there is a lot of random information in there, but it just comes out when the right nerve endings are stimulated, not when I want it. Again, I just say stuff. Somehow that makes me seem smart.

Combined with my approach to comedy, that pretty much makes me a smart ass. It's incidental comedy. It works for me.

Of course, if you don't keep the annoyance level under control it can just be a smart ass being irritating. Timing is everything.

How about another fascinating illustration from jail life? Thought you would never ask. We had this really crazy lady who had to go to an institution. She was loud, obnoxious and sometimes violent. The team from the institution arrived and we prepared for the transfer.

I was working the housing unit where this woman was housed, so I was leader of our team. Two of us, two of the institution heavies, and a back-up team in case things went badly. We went in fast, got the woman on the ground, and began applying belly chains and shackles.

The woman is pressed to the ground, her arms and feet held by professional correctional staff, and she growled out some complaints. She didn't complain about the discomfort, or how scary we were, or anything like that. She was telling us we were doing it wrong.

"You're criticizing our technique?" I quipped. Apparently the timing was correct, because the jail staff laughed. The observing medical staff laughed. The woman I had pinned to the ground laughed. After that the preparations for transportation went quickly and she was whisked off to the institution.

In itself this is not a particularly funny story. It was definitely one of those "you had to be there" kind of tale. It illustrates my point. I tossed out something, and people laughed. In the midst of the madness and adrenaline, I hit a comedic moment and it worked. It also helped make the job go better, a technique I liked to use often in jail. I prefer laughing to fighting.

As a footnote, the woman came back from the institution several months later. She had been forced to take her medications, and when I saw her again she was a genuinely sweet person. She even apologized for whatever trouble she might have caused. I have no idea what happened to her after that, but I do hope she is doing well, and able to stay on her medications when she is free to make her own choices.

I learned to be funny by relaxing and not trying to be funny. I like to laugh, and I don't need to be the only funny guy in the room. In fact, a really fun way to be funny is playing straight man to other people. Throw out words or observations that someone can make a quip about. A lot of people will take the bait, make a joke, and everyone can laugh.

Don't forget, the word "fun" is in funny. So is the word "nny", but I don't know what it means and I can't pronounce it. So, share the spotlight, have fun, and laugh often.

Now, does anyone know how to be "cool?"


Pam said...

You are so right. Just say what is on your mind, what you are seeing, what you are thinking, it's usually funny (or at least entertaining).

willow said...

I totally agree. Funny stuff just happens. The more you say, the odds to up. (for me, at least) Actually, I'm pretty living rooms. (heehee, that's from Danny Kaye in White Christmas, btw)