Here’s another guest post from David! Do yourself a favor and actually click through and watch the videos. Maybe put on some of those fancy new Depends that are advertised on MSNBC all the damn time first.
I’ve been thinking about comedy a lot lately. And yes, as one of the few non-parents posting here, I know exactly what kind of asshole I sound like by saying that. With all my luxurious free time, why don’t I just sit and have a nice think about comedy? Bear with me here.
I’ve had, at times, a combative relationship with comedy. In my formative, ‘I’m a storyteller, damn it!’ years, I think I saw comedy as a relatively simple thing. A trifle. A nice diversion, but certainly not a form of expression. Then I hit my adult years and actually had real adult shit happen – those situations for which no one can tell you what to do and the best support you get is a shrug and a, “That sucks.” If you’re lucky. And I found that comedy was beyond a comfort; it was a way of understanding that we all experience these things. And it was a way to commiserate with others.
There’s a connection that can be found in two people finding the same thing funny. It indicates a shared experience and outlook on the world. I wish there was the equivalent of a comedy mix tape. Remember how you’d make new friends a mix tape of the music you felt best represented you? “Listen to this Smith’s song and you’ll totally get where I am with dating right now.” I wish we had that for comedy. I feel like that would be much better indicator of who we are and what we’ve been through.
For instance, can you remember the first time you noticed something or someone was funny? Not silly pratfalls or poop humor that all kids enjoy. But when you first took notice of another person being funny on purpose, as a skill. For me, it was Bill Cosby Himself.
My god, I love that special. I recorded the sound from the TV onto an audiotape that I would play over and over again. I’d just sit under a blanket in my room, listening to Bill Cosby’s voice and my own breathy stifled laugh coming through a tinny speaker on my bright red child’s tape player. I loved the rhythms of his cadence and would often try to repeat it with the exact same inflection. There was something funny about HOW he said things as much as what he was saying. To this day, I’m in awe of Cosby’s standup.
There’s something odd to me, though, of a child being so enamored with a stand up that tells jokes and stories about being a parent – and how horrible children can be. I don’t know if it some how made me understand my parents better or if it was the first example I saw of a grown man sharing his feelings about something that wasn’t football. Certainly my father never talked to us about the trials and tribulations of being a parent – not that I think he should have. That’s a tough conversation to have with a kid. I’m assuming. Though I tell my niece she’s a burden to her parents every time I see her and that elicits only a knowing laugh. That kid is trouble, you guys.
I had the opportunity to study, write, and perform at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre NYC for over 4 years and learned a ton about comedy structure. There were certainly a number grizzled ‘veterans’ at the theatre who had long ago stopped laughing at what people were creating and would only nod and say, “Yeah… that works.” But thankfully, they were the minority. The people I met there for the most part were inspired and passionate about comedy in a way I never saw and have yet to experience since. Certainly when you’re pushing against a deadline, it could sometimes feel like a ‘Crazy Thing + Straight Man = Ha Ha’ math equation. But the best times were when you locked into something surprising and hilarious and spontaneous. You’d jump on the idea and see what you could do to push it forward, find the repeatable pattern, and discover just what was it that made it funny.
Often the best times when this occurred happened with other people – in writers meetings, over instant messages at work, at a rehearsal. We’d lock in and find a group mind to add to, enhance, and focus in on a truly funny idea. And in those moments, there’s an undeniable connection with the people you’re laughing with. You’re finding this funny as a group and you want to understand why – because to know that is to know each other.
So why bring this up here? Well, as this blog is creating a community around a lot of shared ideas and experiences, I think what makes us laugh is an incredibly important component. Comedy connects us to each other like nothing else can and I’m always interested to find out not only what people find funny, but also why they find it funny.
Comedians (and some favorites of their work) on my comedy mix tape:
Louis C.K. (Louis), Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Danny McBride (first season of Eastbound and Down), Tina Fey (Bossypants), Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Show), Key and Peele (Key and Peele), Elizabeth Meriwether (New Girl), Adam Scott (Party Down), D’Arcy Carden, Krompf (see them live whenever possible), and specifically Neil Casey.
So who and what would be on your comedy mix tape?