Articles

Make Me Laugh: Anatomy of a Joke

In Stand Up Comedy on January 12, 2013 by thebetweenthoughts

So, I’ve been doing this comedy thing for over four years now (on and off…more off than on)…and the one question that still perplexes me is – what is funny?

I understand that everyone has a unique sense of humor and that certain types of jokes and topics will appeal to a segment of a population more than another.  But, shouldn’t there be some underlying principles and concepts guiding the path to laughter?  Even I don’t understand what leads me to just thinking something is funny versus actually laughing.  Being a stand up comedian and performing at open mic after open mic, I know there’s a difference.  We can’t control laughter.  Something in our being breaks down and the only way express this discomfort is through laughter.  Sometimes the laughter helps us become whole…other times it’s the first step to a total disassembling of our selves.  What causes this though?  What makes something funny?

I like to play in the world of the ridiculous…sometimes that means playing with absurdities, but more often it deals with pointing out the incongruities of life.  The topic could be sex, race, politics…or all of the above…and my goal is to poke fun at what we assume and take for granted in life.  It’s not comfortable humor, as I enjoy delving into the more “controversial” topics (which inherently have more incongruities than most other topics).  I’m not trying to instruct people or sway people on a certain issue, but I am trying to get to people to think about it.  That’s always been my goal – to have people think about things they normally wouldn’t.  In “History of the World Part I”, Mel Brooks’ character states that he’s a stand up philosopher (to which Bea Arthur responds, “so, you’re a bullshitter”) – and that’s what I aspire to be onstage.

One of my “classic” lines is  “Remember, everything single time that you laugh at an abortion joke, an unborn fetus gets it wings.”

I love this line.  Because it mashes together a classic American cinema line…with my own distorted worldview.  The disconnect hopefully short circuits your brain and your understanding of reality, and leads to uncomfortable laughter.  (I understand how much of this just sounds like I’m speaking completely out of my ass…but I am a believer in a higher purpose to comedy and art…even when we’re talking about a fart joke.)  Does the joke make your confront your opinion on abortion?  Probably not…but the next time that the topic comes up, you’ll remember the “lighthearted” side of the topic, which may help you re-assess and re-calibrate your thoughts.

I strive to be a better comedian.  Not only from a performance standpoint, but also from a human psychology perspective.  I want to understand what causes laughter…what causes those synapses to fire off and induce a guffaw (and I guess more importantly, how can I craft a joke to accomplish those goals).

So, what makes you laugh?

;P

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