Funny vs. Funny

There is a good chance I have made you laugh, chuckle, or at least smile, and a better chance if you have spent time with me in person. I have a good sense of humor. I’m not bragging. I had almost nothing to do with it. Both of my parents are funny in day-to-day life, have good timing and a quick wit and can crack off a good one with regularity. As you expand into my extended family, especially the aunts on my dad’s side, this everyday humor is common and, well, normal. My siblings are funny. My wife is funny. My kids are funny. We have funny going on ‘round here.

But again, it is very very important to note, I am not bragging about this, mostly because, well, I can’t help it. And that is not always a good thing. I can and have made jokes at inappropriate times, or just too often, usually because I’m nervous. More than once, someone has had to ask me to stop joking. I try really hard to keep it in check, not only because a joke is not always called for, but because I have to admit, the percentage of funny against the percentage of jokes can sometimes be annoyingly deficient.

When I see people I have not seen in some time, there is a better than even chance they will mention laughing at something I said on Twitter or Facebook. You have to believe me, while I enjoy making people laugh, it is not something that makes me proud.

The reason for this is, while I’m funny, I am not “funny.”

When I was in college I always participated in variety shows and other performances, but usually behind the scenes, usually writing sketch comedy. One year, during a talent show, a guy named Tom took the stage. He was listed as a “stand-up.” He didn’t bomb, he died. He died so hard there was blood on the stage. He did not receive so much as a chuckle or even a forced courtesy laugh from his friends and family in the audience. We carried him off stage mid-set on a stretcher and put him right into a coffin.

As he regained his senses he chose me as the person he would talk to about his humiliation. I told him I had an appointment for a root canal, but he just kept talking.

He didn’t understand. He was the funniest of all his friends. When he was with his friends, they spent their time laughing so hard their stomachs cramped, usually at something he said. It was true. I didn’t know him very well but he had made me laugh on several occasions. He was funny, he just wasn’t funny. Tom had walked onstage without a prepared act because he thought he could wing it because that was what he did every single day and people laughed.

I took this lesson to heart. Although I did not understand why, I knew that funny in life did not equate to funny on stage. I felt like I could probably put in the work and the time to hone my craft and one day be funny on stage, but I knew I did not have the right type of intestinal fortitude to endure the years of pain.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned why funny in life does not mean funny on stage. I was listening to an interview with Jon Stewart and he explained, as if he knew I was listening, why funny in life did not mean funny on stage. It was simple. Stewart pointed out that on stage, you must provide the set-up and the punchline, cold, from scratch. In life, your friends or other people or the circumstances are providing the set-up and all you have to do is provide the punchline. Boom. That was it. I was never going to step out onto a cold cold stage where nobody was throwing set-ups for jokes in front of me. Writing your own set-up for auditory delivery of funny is really super hard. Much harder than jokes that are simply read…on Facebook or Twitter for example.

I have fun because my goal is always to make myself laugh and if I do that I have succeeded. If someone else laughs, it is nice sugary icing on the cake. I try and do no harm, not make too many jokes or joke because I’m nervous or joke because the room is too quiet. If sometimes I “write” a joke that includes its own set-up and people laugh, well, the percentages are with me. I have to pull it off now and then. It’s amateur luck.

Some of you will understand this as the “do funny vs. are funny,” or “Funny Bones” perspective. It’s an important paradigm in my life, and for more things  than just funny.

So you can stop asking me “Why I don’t…” Now you know. As for why I never tried my hand at writing comedy, well, that is a different type of intestinal fortitude and a different blog post.

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