Columnist

Mike Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and published author. His book, "Below Average Genius" is a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column here in the Observer-Reporter.

I like to listen to people talk. No, not my friends and family. (They’ll be quick to point out that I don’t really listen to them.) I like to listen to total strangers.

For me, the hardest part about sitting more than six feet away from people is that I can’t hear them. Social distancing is very hard for eavesdropping.

I used to go into the Starbucks, grab an iced tea and listen.

Before you call me a weirdo (this time), I have a valid excuse. It all started, back in the day, as an assignment in college.

At Point Park, a billion-and-a-half years ago, a writing teacher had encouraged us to eavesdrop, or as he put it, “Get the natural rhythm of the way people speak – by listening to their conversations.”

He added, “If you want to write great dialogue in your book or movie, you can’t get it by writing perfect and complete sentences. People don’t speak in perfect and complete sentences.”

Ironically, he did.

Nothing is more annoying when you read a screenplay and a character says, “At 7 o’clock, we are going to the ballpark to watch the Pirates play baseball. Would you also like to attend?”

Unless the character is a robot, I’m throwing the script away (unless I’ve been paid to read it). People don’t talk like that. In real life, the character would say, “Pirates game at 7. You comin’?” or, more likely, “Wanna watch the Pirates lose again? Get dressed.”

But I digress, like I do. I am an eavesdropper. I do everything but lean in and cup my ear. I hope I’m not as obvious as the crowds in those vintage E.F. Hutton commercials.

Side note: I’m also a notorious hypocrite, because I will improv some hard-core, filthy diatribes if I think someone is listening to my conversations. I go from Danny Tanner to Bob Saget in one quick gear shift. I’m talking “salty-sailor-on-shore-leave” stuff.

But, like any comedian, I go big for an audience. I need my conversations to sound entertaining, whether you’re a part of them or not.

I’ve heard all sorts of things, including excuses for being late, bad dates and crazy pickup lines. Hearing conversations out of context is always funny. At a Mexican restaurant, I heard a woman tell her friend, “He’s just in a bad mood because he’s had artificial knees put in.”

I particularly enjoy hearing children’s conversations. I always like the parents’ answers to the kids’ questions. “I don’t know, Brayden, I guess the Hulk can beat up Superman.”

Of course, I stop listening if I hear words like “explosive” and “diarrhea” in the same sentence.

Once, I sat down in an Italian restaurant and noticed that the couple at the next table weren’t talking at all. They only spoke when the server came by to take their orders. They sat in silence for an uncomfortable 47 minutes. Maybe they knew I was trying to listen.

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