Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Be Funny

Freedy Johnston--"I Can Hear The Laughs" (mp3)

Billy and I face an interesting challenge today: we have both been requested to be funny by a group of seniors who are responsible for putting on a luncheon for their fellow senior classmates. They picked the two of us because they thought we would be funny.

Now, professional comedians who are readers aside, I don't know if you've ever been expected to be funny, but it is far easier said than done. Billy's humor, as I have come to understand it, is based on his being a wry observer of the human condition. He can take a situation that most of us would overlook and give it a special Billy spin that not only makes us laugh, but also makes us wiser. My sense of humor tends to come from the sidelines. I don't like to be the center of attention; instead, I'd rather hang back and throw out a potentially devastating or funny line from time to time.

Neither approach necessarily lends itself to the kind of stand-up speech we're expected to give today. Billy is often too smart, too culturally-aware, too expansive in his perceptions for an 18-year-old audience, despite the many ways he acts (we both do) like an 18-year-old. My problem is that though I always know I can throw in a funny line here or there, this doesn't translate well into a 7-10 minute funny speech.

Be funny, they said. We shall try to oblige.

In a way, though, being told to be funny is like being told to get an erection right now.

Right now. You heard me. Come on. Let's see it.

You can stare down there all you want. You can attempt levitation. But usually, depending on the context of that latter request, you need a little something more than just a command to make that happen. Funniness is the same way. Just like you might like to see a little naked shumpin'-shumpin', be teased and tantalized, touch somewhere, so too would you like to have some guidelines for what you're supposed to be funny about.

As far as I know (unless Billy is keeping it from me), we didn't get any of that. Are we supposed to make them laugh about being seniors? Are we supposed to make fun of them and try to get them to laugh at each other? Should we drop something or take a fall ourselves (always good for a laugh)? Should we zero in on the easy targets? Should we pursue the abstract, cosmic humor that drives our lives and this universe, pointing out how isn't it funny that we're worried about this flu when an asteroid is scheduled to hit in two years anyway?

The fact that we've had weeks to plan our funniness hasn't really helped either. Anytime you try to be funny, even on the spot, you cycle through possibilities and decide (sometimes instantly) what you're willing to risk saying. The fact that you have 30-50 cycles of possibilities instead of 2-3 doesn't make you any funnier. It may make you more prepared, but there's no guarantee that you're funnier.

Too much of humor depends on what happened last week, yesterday, last class, last minute. In this case, the tenor of the senior class has changed many times since we first agreed to the gig--there have been victories, defeats, expulsions, bad ideas, college acceptances, Spring Break couplings. A boy and his friend went to the mall last Friday, one wearing a gorilla suit, one carrying a video camera. Both are now banned from the mall area for a year; neither are seniors. It doesn't matter. There's odd, potentially humorous material there that wasn't there a month ago. The senior who said last week that he didn't care how smart a Special Olympian was as long as she was hot offers a potential laugh. At him, of course. Yes, it's sick, it's twisted, but there is something there that you can use, that you can twist. Everything that surrounds us is potential material.

So off we go on our quest, each of us the other person's sidekick, on the quest for human teenage laughter. Many have tried; many have failed.

Wish us luck.

Freedy Johnston's This Perfect World is available at Itunes.


Hank said...

"I don't like to be the center of attention; instead, I'd rather hang back and throw out a potentially devastating or funny line from time to time."

Preferably, immediately before sipping your beverage of choice and shrugging.

John said...

Your peeps are wondering how it went...did you, metaphorically speaking, bring the wood? Regale us with snippets of old tunes....

Bob said...

It went pretty well. Based on what Billy said to me on the phone, I'm guessing he gives us about a B+. We both got some laughs, but that is a tough crowd. As an event, it was apparently highly successful.

troutking said...

I give Hank's comment an A+.