April 6th, 2012


Comedy is the art of making people laugh without making them puke. -Steve Martin

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to write some material for a luncheon one of my pastors (Trey) was hosting. He had originally wanted me to get an improv group together and perform, but I wasn’t going to be in town the day the luncheon was held, so we had to come up with something else. We ended up on something similar to David Letterman’s “Know Your Current Events,” only geared towards the children’s ministries of our church, since the luncheon was for people who work in those ministries. The basic premise was asking a basic question, waiting for the participant’s response, then informing them of the “right” answer, which was generally ridiculous.  Standard stuff.

I had three weeks to come up with the material, and in that three weeks I learned something: writing comedy is hard.  It doesn’t seem like it should be, but it is. I’ve dealt mostly in improv, making things up in the moment, based on what’s currently happening, while also pulling from knowledge of movies, current events, and what-have-you. That’s always felt easy to me, and while not everything hits, improv is ephemeral enough that it doesn’t matter – it’s quickly forgotten. (Sadly, that works the other way, too. Good and hilarious bits get forgotten just as easily, and trying to explain something you saw an improv group do to someone who wasn’t there is like describing a dream you had.) Writing an actual bit doesn’t come as easily to me, and I suspect trying to write a comedic scene would be the death of me. (Now that I think about it, “Killed By Comedy” would be great to have on my tombstone.)

I go back and forth on one particular theory of comedy: writing to your audience vs. writing and hoping your audience finds you. I think most people would want the latter, but often feel they have to do the former. In this particular setting, for instance, I made a joke about a pastor getting a full-back tattoo of Luke Skywalker and Batman fighting off Decepticons while trying to rescue Princess Peach from Mordor. When I submitted the first draft to Trey, he said, “No one’s going to know who any of these characters are.” I fought for it, arguing that everyone knew who Luke Skywalker and Batman were, and that even if they didn’t know who Princess Peach was, she had “Princess” in the title and princesses are forever getting rescued (in fairytales, people!), and people could tell by context that Decepticons and Mordor were bad. He kept the joke, but I have no idea how it was received.

Look at a comedian like Dennis Miller. He’s famous for dropping all kinds of crazy references into his routines – like, stuff from Plato for crying out loud – and he doesn’t make apologies for it or explain it, he just expects the audience to know. That’s kind of my dream, I think. Make my references and let those who get them enjoy them and nertz to those who don’t.  Well, sorta nertz. I don’t want to antagonize an audience necessarily, and I’d still like for them to enjoy the show. Maybe the goal is to have both – a baseline that everyone can (hopefully) enjoy, but with references thrown out here and there that only some will get. Not everyone likes Star Trek, but those of us who do really like it. Maybe a small but rabid fanbase is better?

The other thing I learned in this most recent experience is that I think I’d do better as part of a writing team rather than trying to write on my own. I really enjoy bouncing ideas off people and recrafting and shaping those ideas into something (again, hopefully) better. On my own I get caught up in the mindset that everything’s gold and there isn’t a person alive who wouldn’t like jokes based on knowing that Samuel L. Jackson was in both Star Wars and Pulp Fiction.

I still entertain thoughts about trying stand-up comedy or writing a movie or a sitcom pilot, but it’s funny how these little experiences tend to bring out the realist/pessimist in me. I guess could write to entertain myself, but I’m already plenty entertained, so that seems wasteful.

April 18th, 2007

A Little Break

Either funny things don’t happen to me anymore or I’m just not enjoying life like I used to. Whichever it is (and I suspect it’s the latter), I’ve done a lot of serious and pseudo-serious posts lately, so I thought I’d take a little break and share this with y’all.

At the end of our improv shows when the score’s been tallied and the winning team announced, the players get called off one by one. There are a few different ways that happens. One is “Chariots of Fire,” where the theme song is played and we attack each other in slow motion until our name is called. Another one is “Rapid-Fire Joke Cavalcade” (or some variant on that name), where as our name is called, we step up and tell a quick joke before leaving the stage.

It’s funny to see everyone scrambling for a joke to tell once we’ve been told we’re ending with that. Really, how many “one-liners” does a person know? Not that many, as it turns out. And it’s gotta be quick – no sloth jokes here, thank you. Groaners are allowed, too, and some of us specifically aim for that. Aside from the Norman Bates joke I told a while back, I tend to stick to one theme for my ending jokes:


Sure, cannibalism in real life is no laughing matter. Frankly, I think it’s because it’s so not funny that jokes about it are funny. I’m sure you’ll disagree and be disgusted by these, but this is the pool of cannibal jokes I draw from, depending on how I feel that particular day. “1C” means “First cannibal,” and so forth.

1C (arriving at the feast): Am I late?
2C: Yes, everyone’s eaten.


1C: Your wife makes a good roast.
2C: Yes. I’ll miss her.


1C: I hate my mother-in-law.
2C: Well, try the potatoes.


Q: Why don’t cannibals eat clowns?
A: They taste funny

There you go – my favorite cannibal jokes. Remember, kids: cannibalism is bad. Don’t do it!

January 29th, 2007

185 Improv Gigs

Yesterday we had an improv gig* 134 miles away. Google Maps says that’s “about 2 hours 39 mins,” and Google Maps was pretty close to being right on with that guess. The eight of us left around 3:30 p.m. in two vehicles, and for all my good intentions to read on the trip, I ended up napping most of the way there. I blame being sick this past week.

We do “away shows” several times a year, with “away show” being defined as “a show for a company or corporation or group or whoever hires us to come and do a show.” Away shows can be a lot of fun but they can just as easily go horribly awry. The main reason I sign up for every possible away show is because away shows pay the best. A “normal” night of improv might get me $25, but a normal away show can sometimes pay three times as much. I don’t do improv for the money (though I wish I could figure out a way to make a living off it), but it’s always nice to make money doing something you love.

The places we perform are rarely set up with a sound system designed to accomodate an improv show, and the tables can be pretty spread out depending on the size of the company. Last night’s show was in a museum, specifically the Kruse Automotive & Carriage Museum. There were somewhere between 100-50,000 people there (I’m terrible at estimating numbers of people), and the show took place in the main lobby area, a place with 20-foot ceilings and two speakers hooked up to a perfunctory microphone system. The stage itself was a portable one and not terribly solid. Not ideal, but we’ve been in worse situations.

The museum was a surprise to us — we knew we were going to be in a museum, but we didn’t know what sort. This museum had the oddest collections – there seemed to be no connecting idea between them. There was a room of James Dean paraphernalia, a room of old television sets and toys based on old TV shows, a huge room of World War II vehicles (including a plane hanging from the ceiling, a couple artillery placements, German vehicles, Russian vehicles, and a couple of scale-model battleships), and a whole room full of specialty cars.

By “specialty cars” I mean the following:

  • K.I.T.T.
  • the “Vanturian”
  • the A-Team Van
  • no less than three Batmobiles (from the TV show, the 1989 Batman movie (my all-time favorite Batmobile), and Batman Forever)
  • the General Lee
  • the Robocop suit on a mannequin (not a car, but still present)
  • several carriages
  • several race cars

I don’t know that I would have liked traveling all the way there just to see the museum, but being able to see it for free along with getting paid to do improv was pretty cool. I took a couple of pictures and posted them on my Flickr account, but my cell phone takes fuzzy pictures, so you might be better off looking at the museum website.

The show was pretty good, too. I don’t often try to explain the shows because I feel describing an improv show is like describing dreams – they make no sense unless you were there – but I’d like to pass along my favorite joke I did. You might not find it funny (well, Dave might), but I’m going to put it up anyway. Bear with me.

The game was “185,” and it’s a standard joke that goes like this:

185 _______s walk into a bar and the bartender says, “Hey! We don’t serve _______s here!” And the 185 _______s say,”_________________.”

The first three blanks are a suggestion from the audience and the last is some sort of pun on the suggestion. So if the suggestion is “accountants,” the joke might go like this:

185 accountants walk into a bar and the bartender says, “Hey! We don’t serve accountants here!” And the 185 accountants say,”Oh, well, then – Calculator!” (“calculator” said in the same cadence as “Catch you later,” therefore making a pun.)

We also change the joke up a bit to fit our punning needs, but that’s the basic idea. If you don’t like “A guy walks into a bar…” jokes, change “bar” to “deli” or something, and you’ll get the same idea.

So we’re playing the game and we get the suggestion of “superheroes.” As an avid superhero fan, this is the sort of suggestion I could go all night about. We do a few jokes and then my teammate does an Aquaman joke, something about him sticking his face in a bowl of water. I see an opening and do this:

So 185 Aquamen walk into the bar and the bartender says, “Hey! This joke is supposed to be about superheroes.”

Ba dum bum.

(See… Aquaman’s totally lame. See?)

After the show we went to Cracker Barrel and I ended up getting home around 12:30 a.m. We’ll get paid for the show next week most likely, but I’m guessing the per-hour rate after figuring in the 9 hours involved won’t end up being too good. Oh, well. Like I said, I don’t do it for the money.

I do it for the fame, baby.**

*I am required by Performer’s Law to refer to any sort of performance as a “gig.”
**This is also laughable.