Any comedian will tell you the list of unusable jokes and premises that they have in their archives far exceeds the ones that they actually utilize in their comedy routines. I think Jerry Seinfeld said the going ratio is about 10/90 usable to unusable material. And I think I know where this drop-off occurs.
Anyone can be funny in a conversation. In fact, I know a bunch of people who are funnier than me in that aspect. It’s easy to be funny with friends, because there is a context already established. When someone makes a witty remark, everyone in your group gets it because they have shared the same experiences. However, as a stand-up comedian, it’s your job to build that context, to concisely share that experience with an entire audience of strangers. This is where it gets tough because some events are just too hard to re-create with words. That thing you said that was so funny before, when told to a crowd that has no idea what you’re talking about, may be met with silence. Here is a situation that I’ve never told on stage because the context is too hard to establish.
Drunken Talking Heads DVD –
Being drunk can lend itself to some memorable (or not so memorable depending on how may Tequila shots you’ve done) quotations and hilarious experiences. The following happened at my friend’s house late one night after all the bars had closed and we were all plenty soused.
I have only three rules that I live by:
1) Be patient with others, because they have been patient with you;
2) Treat others the way you would want to be treated; and finally…
3) Never wear a shirt that you’re embarrassed of underneath a shirt that you wear out on the town. Because chances are it will probably get hot wherever you’re at and you might have to peel off the first layer and reveal your stupid undershirt.
Anyway, after me and about 6 other people stumbled back from our local Southside back alley pubs, we decided to put in the Talking Heads DVD called Stop Making Sense (best concert DVD ever made, by the way). My friend’s place did not have any air conditioning and it was hot, so I removed the nice sweater that I had on to reveal my raggedy t-shirt. The shirt was a V-neck. I have no clue as to why I choose to wear that particular style. Maybe I think the plunging neckline will entice all the ladies by exhibiting my sparse patchwork of chest hair. Anyway, with the only the t-shirt on, I looked like a flamboyant house painter.
I was extremely drunk and as alcohol tends to elevate your appreciation for the things around you (“I love you man!”) I started going on and on about how the song “Once in a Lifetime” is literally the best song ever made…ever. I was going on a full-fledged tirade, nearly screaming at everyone around me that they needed to appreciate the richness of this song. The stark bass line, the twinkling synth, the introspective lyrics; they all added up perfectly to the summation of everything a song could possibly be. Everyone in the room was listening to me harangue over the music, trying to make sense of what I was saying.
David Byrne, the lead singer, chants to a climax with this song, the music building while the lyrics make you take a look back on past decisions. I shut my weary mouth for two seconds and listened:
You may ask yourself / Am I right? Am I wrong?
You may say to yourself / My God! What have I done?
At the very moment he finished that last line, my mind had wandered. I was looking at my undershirt and thinking back to my lax adherence of my own rules. I asked myself aloud, “Why the hell did I wear a V-neck?”
Everyone in the room almost got diarrhea just from the hilarity of that comment. I was shocked at the amount of laughter; I thought it was just an innocuous comment. But the more I contemplated it, the more I realized that from a timing perspective, the comment couldn’t have been better placed. As far as context goes, the comment was perfect for the situation. The contrast between the Jeff 2 minutes prior, going on a full artistic tirade; and the Jeff now, a befuddled-with-his-own-wardrobe-decisions introspective worrywart, was a thing of beautiful dissonance.
The laughter did not die down for a full two minutes. The cackles seemed to be building inertia, picking up steam as people thought about it more and more.
I started to freak out! I might have just said the funniest thing I would ever say in my life. I was so drunk that I actually thought that I might have said the funniest thing ever said in history. In all of time, no one had said anything funnier than that (I was really drunk). I almost started crying with joy. Me – Jeff Konkle- had said the most hilarious thing in the universe.
I wrote down as much as I could about the situation before passing out.
The next day I woke up and found some post-it notes in my pocket. All it said was:
V-Neck What have you done?
As you can tell…this was not funny the next day.