"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Friday, December 18, 2009

How Not to Be Funny

If you've ever met me or have been reading this blog for a while, you probably wouldn't be surprised to find out I've done stand-up comedy. You might, however, be surprised that I also was a clown at one time (I have my clown name and make-up trademarked - the clown name appears in the archives of this blog exactly once. Starts with an "S", ends with an "o"). I gave up stand-up because it's too easy to make drunk people laugh and I'm more of a raconteur, like Garrison Keillor or Kevin Kling; there must be something Minnesotan that leads to storytelling. I gave up clowning in less than a week, because it's HARD and because there's not much call for obscene clowns.

If you don't know Kevin Kling:

If you hear jokes tonight about the end of the festival of Chaka Khanukkah, I wrote it. I often write material for others. This bit I wrote (not proud of it, by the way) but I didn't get paid . Cheap son of a...


There's nothing less funny than a joke explained. Here's my theory of 27 ways to be funny, which should ruin every joke you hear for a while, but may make comedians work a little harder.

In commedia dell'arte, three major types of characters developed: the impostor, the ironist and the buffoon. The impostor creates unusual situations by increasing efforts to keep his disguise. The ironist points out the follies of others. The buffoon promotes action by unreliability.

In physical humor, there are three approaches: the dim, the crude and the aggressive. The dim is based upon stupidity, misunderstanding and ignorance. The aggressive is anti-social. The crude is unpleasant or offensive.

There are three theories of jokes: tension release, inconguity and superiority. Tension release is based on the idea that what frightens us also makes us laugh when the suspense ends. Incongruity is usually unreasonable juxtaposition or scale. Superiority is based on the idea that we laugh at those who make mistakes we would not or by the pleasure of seeing another's status plummet.

There's also the feasance theory of humor: one can be funny by doing the wrong thing, by doing the right thing the wrong way or by not doing the right thing.

These theories are compatible and form the following chart (the three columns of which refuse to print correctly):

pretense caprice cruelty
unusualness changeableness selfishness
habit stubbornness permission

violence intemperance prejudice
nervousness unreasonableness influence
insensitivity sophistry indifference

offense ignorance hostility
unpleasantness unclearness seclusion
suavity misinterpretation submission

Those are the 27 ways to be funny. To not be funny, one should avoid all the above, which means being: natural, dependable, kind, calm, reasonable, impartial, pleasant, understanding and sociable. One can not be ridiculed if one follows those 9 principles, which can be further simplified to "a reasonable balance between nature and society."

There you have it - a code of ethics based upon comedy!

1 comment:

wildknits said...

Kevin Kling is a treasure - we have recently been introducing several friends to his storytelling.