Comedy is funny. I mean, obviously. But it’s not just “funny ha-ha,” it’s “funny strange.” Most people think it’s pure chaos. If you’ve ever seen the early appearances of Robin Williams on “The Tonight Show,” it sure looks like chaos (use your YouTube, kids). But there was even a method to Robin’s madness. He memorized a ton of material (some of it his), and just busted it out on stage like a maniac. It was controlled chaos.
There are actually a lot of rules to comedy.
It doesn’t look like there are any rules when you’re watching Rebel Wilson trying on a pair of leather pants, but there are even rules about that. She really NEEDS to put those pants on. In her world, it’s a matter of life or death. That’s what makes it funny.
I tell students of comedy that a joke is a very, very short story with a twist ending. It’s got to be a surprise or it isn’t funny. If you’ve ever sat in the audience of a comedy show and figured out the ending of a joke before the comedian gets there, it can be painful. For you and the comedian.
Side note: If you know the punchline of a joke in a comedy club, please don’t blurt out the answer.
A. It’s not the price of a tube of toothpaste on “The Price is Right.” The comedians are not looking for your help getting to the correct answer.
B. Most male comedians are self-absorbed, attention-seeking baby-men. Blowing their punchline can send them into a tizzy. Most female comedians will eviscerate you.
But I digress, like I do (repetition can be funny). A lot of people think that comedy can’t be taught, and I disagree. It’s like math but with laughing instead of crying (I handed in a lot of tear-stained algebra homework in the 11th grade). If you follow the formula, you can make people smile. Set up and punch.
If your set-up is too short, it can be confusing. “I invented a new word – plagiarism.” It’s funny, but it takes a minute.
A set-up can’t be too long, either, or you will bore the pants off of your audience. I have a friend who tells a joke about “Purple Bananas” that’s about five minutes too long, and it’s painful to hear it a second time (and I’ve heard it, at least, seven million times). I’ve run screaming from parties when he launches into it.
Humor is also subjective. Not everyone is going to laugh. Trust me on this. The weirdest thing about standup is that a crowd might laugh at a joke on Friday but not on Saturday (it helps if there are different people in the audience).
Comedy is a very serious matter! But the payoff is amazing. Let me clarify; the pay is lousy, but the joy of making people laugh is awesome.
P.S. You don’t have to learn anything reading this, but I do hope you smile.
Note: On Sept. 7 at 11 a.m., I’ll be joining my fellow funny people Gab Bonesso, Krish Mohan and Heidi Nagle, and we will discuss the “Art of Comedy” in a panel discussion at the Third Street Gallery, 220 Third Street, Carnegie, PA 15106. Come out and say hello. We are raising money for the Boys and Girls Club music program in Carnegie. Tickets for the “Art of Comedy – A Panel Discussion” are on sale at Eventbrite.com.