Wednesday, March 24, 2010


The beauty of weekend blogging? Very few people actually read your work. They are sleeping in or going out or making blueberry pancakes . . . My standards decline a bit on Saturday and Sunday, and I can write something ridiculous without feeling bad. Okay, prepare yourselves for my foray into mediocrity! (For those of you diligently blogging this weekend, my apologies.)

According to the old axiom from the book of Ecclesiastes, there's nothing new under the sun. I'd agree with Solomon on this, and so our topic today revolves around common experience as it applies to comedy. (There's a jarring non-sequitur if ever I wrote one!)

Let's look at the metaphorical ladder of comedy, why don't we? On the bottom rung there's Low Comedy. You don't need me to explain this. It's when you tell a dirty joke or do a pratfall. A step up from there? Farce. Actually, I kinda like Farce if truth be told. I relate well to farce. Next comes, Comedy of Manners. This is where you find the clever puns and insults, the impersonations, and witty dialogue. By and large, most popular comedians work here.

Think Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, Steve Martin, Hoops and Yo-yo cards, etc. (I love me some Hoops and Yo-yo. I will stay in the greeting card section of Walmart until I have looked at every Hoops and Yo-yo card. Twice.)

The highest rung: Comedy of Ideas. This is a difficult level to pull off. It's dark, satyrical humor. These comedians turn death, poverty, war, class distinction and government into a joke. If they're successful, we smile at the terrible. We laugh at what they say, even though there's a current of tragedy running just under the smooth surface of the punch line. Think Sam Kinesin, Rodney Dangerfield, Richard Pryor, George Carlin. These guys were brilliant. Not to stereotype them, but Idea comedians are often troubled, angry people. They walk a fine line between entertaining the audience and alienating them with insults. We think about their comments long after the standup is over.

The top two are my favorite rungs. Great comic writing reveals the everyday aspects of life in a new way. Take bacon for example. We've all heard of it, seen it, eaten it, but have we thought of bacon as particularly funny? I certainly didn't. Until I heard Jim Gaffigan's riff on this breakfast meat on youtube. So, so funny. "Thank you, Bacon. Sincerely, Water Chestnut the third." And his camping schtick. Amazing. "He's made hammocks a dirty thing." Brian Regan's inspired account of hospital emergency rooms makes me laugh until I can't breathe right. "Happy eight day! Happy eight day! Guess who's an eight again?" Steve Martin's Flydini is as clear in my mind today as it was the first time I saw him unzip his pants. Hilarious, smart humor. You all know how tech-challenged I am, I can't link to youtube to save my life. Go and see these snippets if you haven't watched them already.

By the way, comedians are dead serious about the art of the joke. It is not a laughing matter to them. It's perfect timing, precise wording, and the right choice of subject matter. (Sound familiar?) Not to mention: practice, practice, practice. Humor is a serious business.

When it's done well, comedy forces us to look at the human experience with a fresh perspective. That's what we do as writers. We reinvent the wheel, so to speak, and put an innovative, original slant on our version of Aristotle's seven basic plot lines.

What are your thoughts? Who are your favorite comedians?

Happy Saturday! (Have some bacon.)


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  2. Oh, I can never resist bacon! I personally enjoy low brow and high brow comedy--different moods. I love the political sketches on SNL, but my favorite humor is the back humor that comes in more serious stories. I think the Dexter series or some of the wilder Hannibal Lecter moments are good examples ...

  3. Comedy has always been hard for me to understand. Sometimes I can't tell when people are being sarcastic. My all time favorite comedian: Ellen Degeneres! I seem to understand her jokes and she's not mean about picking on other people.

  4. My kids quote Jim Gaffigan. I've always loved Bill Cosby and Robin Williams. I was RW live. Oh, my, talk about a high. There he was, one man show on a stage, packed audience in an auditrium that could house a boxing match the night before. He was truly amazing.

    I totally agree with you on comedy and comedic timing. My drama has both the laughter and the tears (picture the drama faces comedy & tragedy). I'll be trusting the actors to pull it off.