Viewing posts from December 2014

12 Things I Won’t Do in 2015

ResolutionsThe good part about not having done a single thing on last year’s New Year’s Resolutions list is that this year I don’t have to agonize over making a new one. The emotional toll, though, is that I have an overwhelming sense of lack of accomplishment. So instead of listing all the things I know I’ll never do this coming year, here are some things I flat-out won’t do. I can’t guarantee I won’t do them, I just know I’ll have a better chance of success this way. For 2015:

I won’t trust any politician who uses the phrase, “The truth is…,” starts a sentence with “Look, …” or uses any word with a vowel in it.

BelatedI won’t buy any more “Happy Belated Birthday” cards. I’ll buy the cards on time, but won’t send them until it’s too late. It’s called “tradition.”

I won’t again try to start a 12-Step program for people who feel left out because they don’t have a 12-Step program.

I will stop trying to like sushi. I’ll just open a can of tuna, get some Ritz crackers and save myself fifty bucks.

I will no longer buy “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” I’ll buy plain ol’ butter, otherwise known as “I Can’t Believe It’s Not ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.'”

GrreatI refuse to pay my taxes for this year. I can say that openly and without worry because it’s still 2014 and I won’t be paying them til 2015.

I will not eat any cereal that contains Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and is touted as “part of a good breakfast.” While it is part of a good breakfast, it’s the bad part of a good breakfast.

I will no longer hang out in the pet food aisle of the supermarket just to find out which hot women have cats (to which I’m allergic) and which have dogs (to which I’m not).

I will not attempt to find out why there’s an agency known as the Wool Bureau.

I will not watch any TV channel that runs the end credits in one tiny corner of the screen at 50 miles per hour after I spent two hours watching a crappy movie just to find out who played Waitress #3.

I will not eat raisins, but I shall continue to eat grapes. Mother Nature had it right. Leave her alone.

I will not join a self-help group.  A self-help group is an oxymoron.

And lastly for now, this year I won’t be donating to Kars4Kids, although anybody who has ever raised a teenager knows that that’s a really fair swap.

To Be Continued….

Happy New Year!!

Comedy Saves the World!

Middle East Beauty ShotCenturies before the Middle East was discovered to be in the middle and to the east of somewhere else, turmoil had already been part of its way of life. We’re talking thousands of years of fighting. It’s a wonder there are any buildings left intact. Actually, it’s a wonder any buildings were able to be built in the first place. Anyone in or out of Congress who thinks that this culture of aggression and revenge is going to come to an end anytime soon is as out of touch with reality as the Kardashians. No amount of military or “advisory personnel” intervention is going to change that.

I’m not being political here. I’m just saying that it’s going to take more than brute force, sanctions or diplomacy to bring peace to that part of the world. It’s going to take a sense of humor.

AasifMandviSay what they will about the United States, historically war-torn nations are different from us—while we take things seriously, we also have the ability to laugh at ourselves. They don’t. How many Iranian comedians are there? Is there a Syrian Comedy Central?

That, my friends, is a monumental and important difference.

Those who take themselves so seriously are too easily offended. Their hair-trigger reaction to the slightest slight sets them off like a beehive that’s been hit by a rock. They go from zero to 60 in no time flat and thousands of innocent lives can suddenly hang in the balance. Talk about being wound too tightly.

KillerKlownFromOuterSpaceThere are, of course, truly threatening remarks made and offensive actions taken, but a sense of humor can help put it all in perspective and weed out the real from the surreal and the obviously stupid. If we acted like many uptight, oppressive countries and splinter groups (of which we have more than our fair share), late night television, The Daily Show and the newly-missed Colbert Report would never have dawned and been so influential. And be right on the mark. We have learned to laugh at ourselves without anybody being killed.

KimJongUnBinocsSpeaking of uptight, oppressive countries, the North Koreans mistakenly think that since they have successfully “forced” Sony Pictures to pull the comedy film “The Interview” from distribution, that they’ve won the fight. They’re wrong. Sony couldn’t have asked for better publicity. Cynical as I am, I even thought that this was a stunt Sony concocted to drum up business for the film. By making threats to our life, liberty, and pursuit of laughter, I predict that what the North Koreans did will have the exact opposite effect than what was intended. Whether it’s via movie theaters, BitTorrent’s Bundle program, or some other money-making distribution channel, if it’s good, “The Interview” will hit box office platinum.

What the North Koreans don’t realize is that making a big stink about a film, book, TV show, or what have you in America only creates a larger demand for whatever caused the stink in the first place. Take something away and we want it more. Sony’s reaction may be the end of the conversation in North Korea, but here it’s only the beginning. There are plenty of people who might never have heard of or cared about seeing “The Interview” even if it premiered on Christmas day as originally scheduled. Now, thanks to the North Koreans, everybody knows about the film and everybody wants to see it to find out what the hell ticked them off.

KimJongUnTicketsDon’t kid yourself. Sony is not going to sit idly by and not take advantage of the mushrooming world-wide audience. As soon as they figure out a way to safely and profitably show the film, they will. Not only am I sure they’re secretly working on deals right now, I’m also sure they’ve already sent Kim Jong Un a thank you note and two tickets to the Hollywood premier.

JeffBezosThe one other factor that can help decrease the violence in and from hostile foreign countries is things. Cable, microwaves, nice condos and houses, new cars, wide screen TVs, DVRs, iPhones and iPads, air conditioning, swimming pools, tourism, vacations, rock ‘n roll. When you have nothing, you have nothing to lose. If you have “stuff,” it’s a whole different ballgame. Husband: “Honey, I’ve got to go fight the Americans. I may or may not come back alive.” Wife: “So you’re going to leave me with the mortgage, the cable bill, the payments for the new Land Rover you wanted and taking care of our six kids? You take one step outside this house and I’ll kill you myself.” In many countries, that’d be a death sentence for any woman to say. Here, in the United States, the more likely response from the husband would be, “Kidding, honey. Just kidding.” 

So what’s the takeaway here? Teach our enemies to be self-effacing, and give them lots of stuff. Golf club memberships, trendy clothes, a state-of-the-art electrical grid, and lots of credit card debt. When you’re trying to maintain a lifestyle but have a collection agency on your tail, fighting is something you just don’t have time for.

 

Why Comedians Can’t Be Good-Looking

ProboscisMonkeyThere’s an old show biz saying that “comedy isn’t pretty.” The reference stems from the fact that most comedy is born out of pain and suffering. When things go south, laughter is the emotional and psychological first aid kit. Humor, as it turns out, is a wonderful defense mechanism that makes almost any dire experience a tolerable one, if only briefly.

A prime example is gallows humor, making light of things that are deadly serious. If you ever saw the iconic anti-war movie (and later, the hugely successful TV series) “M*A*S*H, you’ll know what I mean. M*A*S*H, Army-speak for Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, was about a group of unwilling, but top-notch doctors who were drafted and served overseas during the Korean War (1950 to 1953). They treated everything from the psychologically wounded to the most horribly ripped-apart, barely breathing servicemen who arrived in a relentless stream from the front. M*A*S*H, the movie and the TV show, were comedies. Very dark comedies. Humor was what helped the doctors hold onto some semblance of their sanity while confronting the inescapable irony of fighting a war to keep the peace.

HighSchoolBullyOn a much tinier scale, that same mechanism is often learned in the adapt-or-die environment known as “school.” Here is where popularity rules, where being good-looking equals celebrityhood. Luckily, school is also the perfect fertile breeding ground for humor because the majority of us desperately want to be popular, but are, well, genetically disadvantaged to automatically have it. We don’t stand out. We’re average looking. (On the other hand, if it wasn’t for people like me ruining the curve, the “beautiful people” wouldn’t be so beautiful. They’d be average. And heaven knows there aren’t enough good psychiatrists in the world to handle that scenario.)

HeadScratchingThat’s why most, if not all, comedians (men and women alike) aren’t handsome or gorgeous. Good-lookers don’t need comedy to be accepted or loved. They already are. Comedy is the self-defense and salvation of the average or less-than-average-looking kids who aren’t popular, who don’t go out with the prettiest girl or most handsome guy. They don’t get on the cheerleading squad or become King or Queen of the prom. Humor, they discover, can not only pre-emptively deflect their being judged by their looks, but can raise awareness that they actually exist and are even likeable enough to become popular. Because they’re funny, they find they are more likely to be let off the hook in a tough situation, they’re accepted, invited to go to parties, be someone others like to hang out with and, gulp!, even date.

As adults, this survival M.O. leads them to get into comedy as a profession. They have to “stand up and stand out.” It’s now validation from complete strangers that enables them to still feel accepted—and maybe even loved—post-classroom. The humor is there because the insecurity and angst is still there. Before getting remarried, Woody Allen, who made insecurity and angst a career, said his comedy fame allowed him to “strike out with a better class of woman.”

Like they say, comedy isn’t pretty.

Can You Learn to be Funny?

DitzyBlondeCan You Learn to be Funny?

I get asked this question a lot and the best answer I’ve been able to come up with is “it depends.” First and foremost, not everybody will laugh at what you think is funny. Trust me. I’m a former stand-up comedian and have been writing comedy for decades. I’ve proven that more than once.

It’s not enough to find or think of something funny. You’ve also got to convey that in a way that will make other people laugh. That’s the reward, the Holy Grail of comedy. The laugh. We’ve all had the experience of someone trying to tell a joke and totally blowing it because they go on way too long, they forget important parts of the joke and have to backtrack to fill them in, or they totally screw up the precise wording of the punchline or, worse, they forget the punchline altogether.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, which is not that hard to do when you’re a Gemini.

MicNStoolThe first step to being funny is to have a sense of humor. Don’t say “Well, duh…” Not everybody has one. Nobody will admit that, of course, but it’s true (see my blog post “The Best Way to Start a Fight”). Let’s look at that phrase—sense of humor—a little closer. It doesn’t read “an all-encompassing, in-depth knowledge about everything humorous.” It simply reads “a sense of humor,” meaning that you have at least an inkling of the ability to find certain things humorous. Without having that sense, don’t try to be funny. Just laugh when everyone else does even if you don’t understand what the hell’s going on.

So getting back to the topic–can someone learn to be funny? If you have a good sense of humor, yes. It just takes practice. Lots of practice. And there’s no guarantee you’ll be successful.

BigEarsComedians and comedy writers are listeners, observers. We’re highly attuned to the things around us, especially the everyday stupid stuff. We think funny. We’ve trained our minds, all six senses (including our sense of humor), to find “the joke” in just about everything we hear, see, feel, taste, and smell, even in the most inappropriate of circumstances, which usually makes it funnier. Taking that and making it into a “word picture” that other people can relate to and laugh about, and doing it in an entertaining way, is what makes somebody funny. Most of us started our training not on the stage, but in school. For us guys, the girls laughed. So we kept at it. Girls who are funny probably don’t get a lot of dates because guys are too insecure to go out with someone who’s funnier than they are. Tell me that’s not stupid stuff.

There’s a lot more to this, but let’s start small. I’m throwing down this challenge–in the next few days, find three to five things you hear, see or experience that aren’t funny on the surface, but that you find something funny about. Let me know what you come up with! Love the stupid stuff, and have fun…!

 

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