Friday, May 20, 2005

The Joke Whisperer

Tuesday, June 7 - Yuk Yuks Comedy Idol

-Comedy Idol article, Saturday, May 21--ed Magazine
-Seven Sins of Highly Ineffective People (seven part series) -Every Sunday in the Edmonton Journal's Living Section
-Read Dan Brodribb's headLINES every Saturday in the ed magazine supplement to the Edmonton Journal

Tuesday I opened my e-mail to find this missive from the Journal: "We need some jokes on Belinda Stronach ASAP."

And I thought...Who?

Yet within the hour I was banging out jokes--under a deadline--about a woman who I hadn't even known existed forty minutes previous. It was awesome.

The best part of writing topical humor is that it's an ever-shifting landscape. You never know what you'll be writing about, and once it's written, you never know how long it will be before the joke loses it's shine (Except for Michael Jackson jokes. They never go out of style). Three weeks ago I had to bid adieu to a great bit on "The Bachelor." It was sad to see it go--especially so close to Comedy Idol--but topical jokes have short lifespans, and since I had worked that joke like a government mule for a month, I guess it could be retired with full honors.

Besides, then I get to write some more.

I can't explain the joy I get out of writing jokes. Nothing else comes close. I love that moment of inspiration that makes you laugh out loud and give yourself a high-five, even as the person beside you on the bus is getting up and moving to another seat. I love taking a joke apart, playing with the words, writing and rewriting until it's like a perfectly streamlined, exquisitely balanced marvel of humor technology. A joke isn't so much written as it is engineered.

You can craft the technically perfect joke. You can hone it to perfection,. You can run it through computer simulations to wild digital applause ("It looks like you're trying to write a Closer. Windows can help..."). But in the end, the audience decides what is funny, and all too often, what you thought was a Porsche explodes in your face like a Pinto.

(You can also have the opposite happen. Two of my most succesful jokes came about completely by accident. Furthermore, some people--I'm looking at you MAX MAULT--manage to be funny with no regard for technique. KELLY DEKUS?DAKUS(?)'s jokes are not engineered--they're clanking joke behemoths that look like they were assembled from scrap iron and spare parts from a washing machine. They lurch across the country side--parts falling off, metal sticking up in all directions, flattening houses and powerlines, and still managing to be hysterically funny despite an apalling disregard for aesthetics. It kind of pisses me off, actually. I feel like those scientists who couldn't figure out how a bumblebee could support its weight with such tiny wings. I'm flummoxed. Watching Max onstage, half of me is laughing till my stomach hurts while the other half is raging, "How can that work? It''s INCORRECT.")

But you know what? that unpredictability is also part of the magic and mystery of joke-writing. A joke can be technically perfect, yet still unfunny. Comedy isn't a beauty contest--the prettiest jokes don't come in first; it's the ones with the nice personality that the audience takes home with them (don't you wish other areas of life were more like that?) And that's what makes writing such a thrill.

I wouldn't give it up for the world.

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