Humor with Laugh Tracks Vs. Subtle Comedy: Why Jokes Don’t Make Me Laugh

What makes a person funny?

Recently at the place I used to work, they hired a motivational speaker.  His whole two hour bit was infused with “jokes”.  I guess a few people noticed that I wasn’t laughing at every joke along with them, for the most part.  It’s because very seldom does a joke make me laugh.  The way I process jokes, they are either for kids (“Why was six afraid of seven?”), for people without a good sense of humor (fans of Larry the Cable Guy and Dane Cook), and/or for the dirty-minded (more extreme than “that’s what she said…).  I think “jokes” are cheesy.  When a person tells me, “Oh, I got a joke for you,” I just wait for my cue and give them a courtesy laugh.

So what is funny?  For the most part, when something is subtle and isn’t necessarily supposed to be funny is often when it’s the funniest to me. I used to work in an office 9 hours every weekday and in the midst of the afternoon lulls, I found little things to amuse me. I would start laughing out loud and no one would know why I was laughing. And the truth is, these things probably weren’t funny to anyone else.

Here’s one example: A cliché phrase I had to hear a lot around the office was “crunch numbers”. So I thought to myself, “What if they made a cereal for adults called ‘Number Crunch'”? It will be made with whole-grain and would be in the shapes of the numbers 1 through 9. That way, accountants and other professionals who work with numbers all day would have the appropriate cereal to eat in the morning.

Here’s another: One day one of my co-workers came back from lunch with a jar of candy from Cracker Barrel. They were Atomic Fireballs- the kind we had when we were kids. She offered me one. I explained to her that I only like candy that has protein in it. (Example: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Snickers, etc., but not Skittles, Starburst, etc.)

Then she said, “I wonder what Fireballs are made out of…probably just sugar and water.” I immediately started laughing when she said that because I got this image in my head of someone biting down on a fireball and all this water gushing out of their mouth.  That, to me, is hilarious.  Maybe because it’s absurd.

My theory that “jokes aren’t funny” can be tested by the fact that funny stand-up comedians don’t tell really tell jokes anymore. Mainly they talk about awkward and annoying social situations.  Though some comics, like the late Rodney Dangerfield, can be funny mainly because of all of just one-liners. So I guess one-liners are funny. Like Chris Tucker having a career simply based on one line: “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?!” But delivery and composure ultimately land or crash the comedic aspect.

And I guess another thing that is funny is when people do stupid things and get hurt. People falling down is always funny. It works for Johnny Knoxville. Okay, so here’s what is funny to me: random observations, awkward social situations, one-liners, and people hurting themselves. That, my friends, is comedy.  Not some lame fake-story that ends with a pun or a curse word, prompting me to laugh: If I have to be reminded it’s funny, then… it ain’t funny.  I’m just not a “laugh tracks” kind of guy.

*If you liked this post, you may want to try reading “The Art of Being Funny” by Ben Wilder and also “What is Funny?” by Jessica Muto

Which Role Do You Play in Your Family?

As I a guy who doesn’t know anything about cars or building stuff, or even computers, or how to really fix anything, or sports (golf included), or politics, or business (investments and stock market crap), there aren’t seemingly many important roles left for me as a man in a family. 

Sure, I can tell you which actors from Saved by the Bell are Jewish and which songs were hits in 1983 and how tall Albert Einstein was and I can solve a Rubik’s Cube in less than five minutes every time, but how does that fill any kind of necessary void in family dynamics?

I am a walking Wikipedia with an unforgettable memory of life events, sometimes nearing borderline Asperger’s.  So by default, what is my role in my family of six?  And to see the full picture, what are the roles of each member of my family? (My parents, my sister, her husband, and my wife.)

Me: The storyteller, the writer, the historian, and the event planner.  What drives me are memories.  Good memories take place because of events.  So I enjoy planning the family’s activities. 

I tend to be the one in the family that decides what we will do with our time when we’re all together.  And if I didn’t have an agenda for everyone to follow, it’s possible we would all just sit around and do nothing.  It’s possible we wouldn’t know where to go to eat, and end up settling for something mediocre like Outback or Chili’s. 

But I take the responsibility on myself for the six of us to decide where those memories (including potential funny stories and inside jokes) will take place.  And because “life happens” around food and entertainment and going to new places, my niche is being the one to set the backdrop for those events.

My role doesn’t fall into any of the typical manly stereotypes; I am the Montgomery Moose, the Desmond Hume, the John Cusack, the Pat Sajak.  The host, the MC of the evening, the narrator, the journalist of past, present, and future.  I just can’t fix anything.

My wife: The organized one, the teacher, the nurturer, the listener.

My dad: The mechanic, the electrician, the carpenter.

My mom: The financial expert, the chef, the encourager, the conversationalist.

My sister: The interior decorator, the helper, the initiator.

Her husband: The computer whiz, the tech expert, the sports enthusiast. 

Not that anyone can limit the talents and capabilities of their own family members down to just a few roles.  Because family members are not just stereotypes or TV characters.  They’re family.

What brought all this to mind is by watching the wonderfully crafted sitcom/drama Parenthood.  I love the dynamics of the family and how they all interact.  It hit me that the members of my family all have specific roles like the characters on that show.  And also, it seems the entertainment world is oversaturated with superheroes. 

I just wanted to know what my “superpowers” are.  Now I know. 

(And in case you’re still curious, Screech and Jessie were played Jewish actors, on the show Saved by the Bell.)

Would you, the random or regular reader, be willing to share with me your role and your family members’ roles in your family by leaving a comment below?  This isn’t a clever marketing ploy to boost my numbers or make this post seem more interesting.  I am just truly interested in this topic and want to know what other random family roles are out there. 

Like It, Love It, Gotta Have It Vs. I’ve Already Got One, Thanks

Fighting the urge to the live by the new American motto: If it ain’t broke, get another one anyway.

Like it? Love it? Gotta have it!

I can almost remember a time when I was a kid, where it was normal to really really want something for a long time and then when I would finally get it, my heart was content.  The newly obtained item gave my heart rest, and I was happy, as any kid should be.  Whether it was a new Nintendo game like Super Mario Bros. 2, or a bicycle, or a rare Ninja Turtle action figure like Splinter, April O’Neil, or Ray Fillet, I got what I had wanted for so long.  And funny enough, I never wanted a replacement after I received my prized possession.

But somewhere along the way, whether or not we can blame it on “typical capitalist American behavior” or the mindset of Generation X (I just barely made the cut- it’s anyone born between 1961 and 1981), it became normal to want a “new one” though the old one still works just fine.  Maybe just an innocent desire to keep things fresh.  Or maybe a potentially dangerous pattern.

My Italian grandfather was one of the most influential people of my lifetime.  Having grown up in an orphanage in Kenosha, Wisconsin (his mother died when he was young, and there were 12 kids in the family), he lived a minimalist lifestyle, only spending his money on his few children and grandchildren.  Hardly ever buying a new (used) car, new clothes, or new furniture.  Never buying anything name brand.

This way of thinking definitely shows up in my everyday life.  My wife jokes that I have more clothes and shoes than she does.  And it’s true.  Because I don’t get rid of them unless they’re literally rotted.  Like my old red running shoes I have delegated to only use for walking and riding my mountain bike on my lunch break.

It’s true that I own over twenty pairs of shoes that still look less than a year old.  But most of them are indeed at least ten years old, in actuality.  Because I have certain shoes I wear only if I know I will be outside or if there’s a chance of  rain that day.  Those are my “outside shoes”.  By wearing them instead of my “inside shoes”, it keeps my newer shoes looking new.

While I’ll never be as frugal as my grandfather (who when my mom was a little girl, reused dried out paper towels multiple times before throwing them away) I subconsciously try to imitate his lifestyle.

I can’t see myself ever buying a brand new car, knowing that it loses thousands of dollars in value as soon as the first owner drives it off the lot.  And I can’t see buying a different car until my current one costs more to repair than it does to actually buy another used one.

Not that buying a new car is any kind of moral issue, or that going on a shopping spree for a new wardrobe is necessarily evil, though it’s probably not a wise decision if it involves a credit card (I’m a Dave Ramsey fanatic).  But for some of us, that strand of “gotta get a new one” serves as toxic acid in our DNA.

It gets tiring hearing of men leaving their wives for another woman.  That’s definitely a familiar theme this year already in the media.  And while some could say, “What does to me if matter if Tiger Woods or Jesse James cheats on his wife?  Why is that national news?”  Because it does matter.

Not because we’re nosey.  But because in some sense, the reflection of the lifestyles of celebrities causes a subconscious call-to-response for the rest of us:  “Hey look, it’s normal, he did it.”

We have to either say, “No way, that’s not for me.  No thanks!”  Or “Well, maybe that’s not so bad…”

It shouldn’t be that hard to be happy with what we’ve already got, even if it’s not perfect.  And really, that’s a mindset that is often difficult to accept and adopt: Near-perfect is as perfect as life can really get.

Is the grass really greener on the other side?  Yes, of course it is.  But the irony is this: You’re already standing on the other side.  Somebody’s else’s “other side”.

You’re already standing on the greener grass.

"I don't care how... I want it NOW!" -Veruca Salt