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Comedy Weeds

Comedy Weeds

I’ve been thinking three things about comedy lately:

1) How much I love it.
2) How angry and outraged comedy is making people.
3) I’m not going to list a third thing, because comedy is all about breaking rules.

Up to a point, it’s natural that comedy challenges and upsets people, but I like to think about how and why.

Partially because it makes me feel better about all the money I spent on my liberal arts degree. I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Visual Art, Rhetoric, and Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature. Yes, a BS triple major. It’s an ALMOST useless liberal arts degree.

The one class that has been endlessly valuable to me was a class about comedy theory. A class about analyzing the function and purpose of jokes.

I think about that class every day of my life.

Almost all theories of comedy boil down to this: comedy functions on contrast. We break into laughter when two ideas are smashed together in surprising and satisfying ways. Humans are hard-wired to laugh at incongruity. If you doubt this, go tell a child the sound a duck makes is “moo.” The child will laugh and/or get really mad and hit you with a toy truck.

Every joke has a set-up and a punchline; an expectation and a surprise. Obviously, you can’t just throw two contrasting things together for the hell of it. That’s when you end up with tweets like this:

Citizen Kane and Peanut Butter. #PutTwoThingsTogether

The success of a joke is in the clarity of the set-up and the surprise of the punch-line.

Sometimes, the set-up is an actual line.

Set-up: Why did the chicken cross the road?
Punchline: To get to the other side.

When this joke was new, it killed. The expectation for an elaborate, clever response was set-up and then broken by a simple, obvious response.

A lot of modern technology cracks unwitting set-up and knockdown jokes. For example:

Me: Hey, Google Maps, how should I get to Chipotle from here?
Google Maps: Drive your car into the Pacific Ocean, Joseph.

But a lot of what makes us laugh doesn’t have a literal set-up line. The set-up line is just a “truth” we’ve culturally agreed on.

Back when we culturally agreed that men do not wear dresses, a man wearing a dress was hilarious. Now, not so much. As a joke, it’s tired and expected. As a cultural truth, many of us believe traditional gender norms are changing. Anyone can wear a dress and if you don’t like it you can go drive your car into the Pacific Ocean.

A lot of our humor is getting weirder. Strange cultural truths are being challenged. For example, our long held belief that handsome, charismatic leading men don’t look like otters. But as Benedict Cumberbatch and Tumblr proved, holy shit, that expectation can be broken. And it’s very satisfying.

BenedictOtter

We laugh when we see someone slip and fall on a patch of ice because the sight of another person flailing their limbs in a desperate attempt to stay upright shatters our innate idea of humans as advanced, intelligent beings.

Set-up: I am a dignified, respectable human in control of my body.
Punchline: Ha, ha, motherfucker, you just broke your coccyx.

Comedy, by its nature, is violent. It’s all about breaking, shattering, falling, killing, and driving into the Pacific Ocean.

But just because it’s inherently violent, doesn’t mean it has to be offensive.

I think a lot of outrage about comedy is because of the targets comedians pick. A lot of jokes still function on the agreed upon cultural “truths” that women are whiney or gay people are always flamboyant or all straight men only listen to women talk so they can “hit that puss.” (That last one is an actual joke I heard an actual comedian say out loud on purpose in 2015.)

Sometimes the audience is offended, but often the joke just isn’t funny to a lot of people because we don’t share that truth anymore. The set-up makes no sense so why would we be entertained by the punchline?

People talk about don’t punch down, instead punch up. Which makes sense to me. Don’t make fun of poor people. Instead make fun of the giant asshole corporations that are keeping them poor.

I think that’s a great starting point.

But even if you pick a worthy target for your comedy, it’s still an aggressive violent pursuit. It’s still punching.

If all you want to do with your comedy is punch, that’s great! There are plenty of weeds that need to be pulled out of our cultural garden. If the violent action of tearing a living thing out of the ground can create the positive, healthy reaction of laughter, then we’re already doing well.

Comedy is always destructive. It always will be. It’s always going to rip the weeds out of the garden. But I think clearing the weeds is just the first step. Since we’re tearing shit out anyway, we can plant new shit.

If you’re tearing out privilege, you can be arguing for equality. If you’re tearing out censorship, you can be supporting new voices. If you’re tearing out the idea of gender as binary, you can celebrate new ideas about gender. If you’re tearing yourself out for a bad and stupid habit, you can celebrate the oddity of the human condition that you are probably not alone in that bad and stupid habit. If you’re tearing out an idiot duck that says moo, you can also build up a duck that quotes the “whaaasup?” Budweiser commercials from 1999. You can plant whatever you want.

Just because comedy, by its nature and structure feels destructive, doesn’t mean it has to always be angry, negative, hostile, and confrontational.

I would argue that a person standing on a stage trying to make other people laugh can and should be joyful.

So I think we should attack away, but when possible plant something in the soil you just freed up.

A new idea.

A new truth.

A new way for the chicken to cross the road that no one has ever thought of before.

A joke so powerful, it can pay off all of my student loans at once.

I can dream.

Thanks again for reading! If you enjoyed this, you can help make more comedy possible by supporting me on Patreon here!

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The Crumbsucker Curse

TheCrumbsuckerCurse

I love swearing.

When I was in 2nd grade, I attended a small Catholic school. Some kids had been swearing at one another on the playground. In response, the nuns came into our classroom and asked us to list all the words we shouldn’t say.

Again, for clarity, when I was in 2nd grade at a catholic school NUNS ASKED ME TO RAISE MY HAND AND SHOUT FILTHY CURSE WORDS AT THEM.

I raised my hand and tried out every combination my little brain could think of. I even tried out a few fun conjugations. I bleep. She bleeps. They bleeped. They have bleeped. They will have bleeped. They will have been bleeping.

Except I didn’t say “bleep” and thus a great fucking love affair with swearing was born.

Not only do I love swearing, I truly think it’s vital to the human civilization. The delicate balance of society depends on our ability to break the rules every once in a while. Some days, the only thing standing between order and chaos is a good “shithead.”

But even though I’m a fan of the f-bomb and all of our linguistic artillery, I’m troubled by more swear words than I used to be. Many of the classics are fundamentally rooted in sexism, phobia, and general assholery.

I have no intention of giving up swearing. But I want to strive to swear BETTER.

I find myself going to asshole a lot. It’s gender neutral. We all have butts. Asshole is the Batman of swear words. Brutal, efficient, and loved by all.

But sometimes even insults with ass don’t work. If I ever did a TED Talk, it would be called “Kiss My Ass and Other Problematic Insults.”

When you say “kiss my ass,” you’re basically saying, “I don’t like you. I find you untrustworthy. Therefore, I want to expose the most vulnerable, sensitive parts of my body and put them close to your teeth. That will show you.

I also have concerns about douchebag.

Because a lot of the douchebags who say douchebag don’t know what a douchebag is. They’re basically yelling, “You know what you are? I think you’re some kind of hygiene device with water and a hose thing and–I’m going to look you up on Wikipedia!”

I really did look up douchebags on Wikipedia and it was a fascinating read. As always happens when you look at Wikipedia when you should be doing something else, I clicked through to related articles.

I spent some quality time with the long article about bidets.

Let me tell you: Bidets are an overlooked fount of swear word potential.

Wikipedia told me “bidet” is a French word that originally meant “pony.”

My mind filled with the possibilities. I pictured myself back in 2nd grade, on the playground, dodging kickballs and screaming at other kids, “You’re a bidet, Chad! You’re a french toilet pony!”

“Son of a bidet” is also a pretty satisfying thing to shout at say, your iPhone, when it autocorrects “sweat pants” to “swear pants.” (I like the idea of special, magic pants you need to put on before you can swear, but that seems like a lot of fucking work.)

But even with bidet, we can get rid of the gender bias of “Son of.”

We can call people a daughter of a bidet, cousin of a toilet, or, my personal favorite, a child of a butt.

It’s ridiculous, but strangely cathartic. If you can, turn to someone near you and call them a child of a butt. It will improve your mood in no time AND you might make a new friend!

Along the fun lines of child of a butt, I think we can be far more creative and abstract in our cursing.

In 7th grade, I kept having a war of four letter words with one particular kid. One day, I strapped on my swear pants and called him something colorful yet stupid like a “big shit-tool.”

And he responded with this sentence:

“Oh yeah? Well, your mom lives in a Doritos bag.”

To this day, I have no idea what that means, but I still remember it.

“Your mom lives in a Doritos bag.”

It’s sad, absurd, and whimsical all at the same time. It’s like being insulted by a Wes Anderson film.

The Doritos bag memory has encouraged me to be more creative in my cursing.

Swear words should be easy to come by. They don’t need to be based on gender, sexuality, or horrible stereotypes to be potent.

You only need two things for a good expletive:

One: It needs to feel visceral coming out of your mouth. Curse words need a good damn mouthfeel.

Two: It needs to feel a little verboten. It needs to feel like something you maybe shouldn’t yell at a nun in 2nd grade.

I don’t have any nuns in my life right now, but I wanted to test out some words with an authority figure who would give me an honest response. So I made a list of visceral yet meaningless words. I called my mother and said them to her.

I worked my way down the list until one of them finally made her go, “Oh, geez.”

And I knew that was one.

The made-up word that made my kind, intelligent, Anderson-Cooper-loving mother go “Oh, geez!” was this:

CRUMBSUCKER.

One who sucks crumbs? Maybe? I have no idea what it means, but it sounds nasty as shit.

If the person you called a child of a butt is still talking to you, try calling them a CRUMBSUCKER right now.

The next time someone cuts you off in traffic, let that crumbsucker know how you feel about it.

When your phone changes “carpe diem” to “carpet denim” seize the moment with a big bellowing crumbsucker.

If you follow me on twitter, feel free to send me a tweet right now calling me a #crumbsucker. I will feel loved and the rest of twitter will be frightened and confused.

Go forth and crumbsuck!

And if in your travels, someone tries to make fun of you for shifting the swearing paradigm, for putting some thought into what you want future generations to shout at nuns in 2nd grade, then just zip up your swear pants and tell that child of a butt:

“Hey, you French toilet pony, your Dad lives in Wes Anderson’s crumbsucking Dorito’s bag!”

And once again, order will be preserved amidst the fucking chaos of being humans.

Thanks, crumbsuckers.

If you enjoy my work, you can check out all the comedy words and things I’m making via Patreon.

P.S. Here’s a video of the stand-up version of this blog post. Multiple platform synergy, crumbsuckers!

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