Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Getting Serious About the Funny

If you're going to be serious about comedy, you need to have something to joke about. Too many comedians think that they are funny just because they understand the theories behind humor and the know the Old School comedians and....well, that's it. They tell the jokes that they think will crack everyone up, figuring that if they apply The Rules then they will become headliners with their own show. It doesn't happen that way, and it gets worse when comics writers get in the act. So, here's three basic rules that should help anyone tell the Elephant Joke with some credibility,

1) Know the target. If all you know about the military is from movies, comics, and historical books, you have no right telling a joke about the military. An audience can tell the difference between someone who is merely parroting material and someone who has lived it. You may be able to get away with it for a while, but eventually you will run out of material. Now, if you knew every military movie ever made and you were making fun of military movies, that's cool, and military brats have some great jokes about moving and their travels, but both are out of their depth when it comes to the military and it will eventually show.

2) Respect the target. This is the hard one, but really necessary. Note that I'm not saying that you need to love the target, but that you need to have at least a grudging respect for it on some level. Even those that target the military because they think that the institution should be abolished still like the people, respect the rescues and rebuilding  that it does, and, well, let's get real: Anything that comes with explosions can't be all that bad. But this doesn't mean that they love the conformity, it's basic need to kill other humans, or the corruption that occasionally pops up, and that's fine: The basic respect is there, and that gives them a connection that allows them to really dig into it.

3) Know what the target is doing today. This cannot be emphasized enough. If you tell a joke about the military based on items that are even a few years ago you will most likely lose the audience. Dated material is the bane of the comedian; Teddy Roosevelt jokes are funny for only so long. Keep up with the target and you should do okay.

4) feel free to ignore these rules as needed. If you are only interested in the military as a symbol of a monolithic culture, go for it. You don't need respect or knowledge of the military for that, even though a corporation maybe a better match. You don't always need to swim in the deep waters, and sometimes you can only reach the deep waters through the shallows. So heed this advice only as long as it helps but do keep it in mind.

So there's some basic rules. Now get out there and get funny!

[The Elephant Joke:
Do you know why elephants paint their toenails?
So they can hide in jelly bean jar.
Seen an elephant in a jelly bean jar?
Works pretty well, doesn't it?

I blame Mike Pondsmith.]

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