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

Predetermined and Preconceived Expectations (My Take on Encores, Bartering, and Who Pays for Dinner)

Yes, the title is redundant.  But there isn’t a more appropriate way to describe how ridiculous some of our modern traditions are.

Since the 7th grade, I have been to more concerts than I can count; starting from  when Christian rock music was still awesome (from 1992 to 1998) with now defunct bands like dc talk and Audio Adrenaline, to current favorites like Guster and John Mayer, to class acts like Michael Buble.  I love music and I love concerts.  (Yes, there are people who don’t actually like music at all.  They are the ones who say they like all music, including both rap and Country equally.)

After you’ve been to a few concerts, you become overaware of how virtually every concert will end:  After the “last song” is finished, the band hurries off the stage while saying “Good night (enter name of city where the concert is), you’ve been great!”  But the lights stay off in the auditorium or arena.  This gives the necessary opportunity for the audience to cheer “Encore!” or “We want more!” until the band predictably returns to the stage to perform a few more songs- where they typically include at least one acoustic version of one of their songs and also one of the band’s most notable songs they conveniently left out of the main set.

Fact: Encores are lame.  I say either [crap] or got off the pot.

In my mind, this concept clearly relates to the mostly un-American tradition of bartering.  During my first summer teaching English in Thailand, I paid full price for souvenirs.  If a price tag had said that an imposter Hard Rock Café: Bangkok t-shirt would cost me 7 or even 10 bucks, I paid it.  Because that sounded pretty reasonable to me.  But by the end of that first summer, as Thai friends starting accompanying me, I learned that the asking price was not meant to be taken seriously.  If the asking price was $10, the after-barter price was typically as low as $5 or even $3.50.

As an American, I had been used to finding my own way to negotiate prices in America: With coupons or Internet specials, or simply just “price shopping” until I found the store with the cheapest price.  I pride myself in never paying full price for anything if I can help it.  But in Thailand and in so many Third World and developing countries, there are no coupons or Internet specials.  Instead, you barter with the merchant.  Otherwise, you get hosed.

Unnecessary map of Koh Samui, Thailand

Granted, bartering does indeed exist in America.  Like when you buy a car, go to a garage sale, or buy something off of Craig’s List.  But typically it’s not worth my time to do business that way.  I’d rather spend my time finding the product somewhere else where the price is firm and already low.  Otherwise, I will not be an active consumer.

Fact: Bartering is lame.  Instead of getting involved with the predictable “buyer asks too low a price, seller asks too high a price” banter, I will simply find another way to buy the product.

Lastly in my trilogy of examples is the awkward game of “who’s paying for dinner?”  If I am going to buy someone’s dinner, I am very clear with them up front before we arrive at the restaurant: “I am taking you to dinner.  I really appreciate how you (I name the reason I am buying their meal, even if it’s as simple as thanking them for their general kindness and friendship).”  There is no guessing to be done.  I am buying their meal.

That means when the waiter comes by the table when it’s time to pay up and asks, “Will this be together or separate?” there is no grabbing for the bill by both me and the other person.  I don’t like the feeling that I owe someone for anything unless there’s a good reason for it.  So this whole idea that “you bought my meal this time, so I’ll buy yours next time”, it doesn’t work for me.  Because then I have that “IOU” hanging over my head.  Let’s make it simple.  If you want to buy my meal, tell me up front.  As I will do the same.  Otherwise, it’s assumed that we’re paying separately and the only bill anyone grabs for at the end is their own.

Fact: I can’t truly enjoy a meal if I think there’s a chance that I am expected in the least to grab the other person’s bill.

I live a simple life where clear-cut expectations make me happy.  This is my version of reality.



The Token Bad Guy: Osama bin Laden is Dead

From Ben Linus to bin Laden, evil has a name.

Now that President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden is officially dead, it makes me think about how there always how to be a “bad guy”, both locally and world-wide.

In Judd Apatow’s Jewish comedy (a franchise he has specialized in for the past decade, based on a strategic formula including Seth Rogen and/or Paul Rudd, a good dose of bromance, a classic soft rock soundtrack, mostly ad-lib dialogue, a heavy and almost dark dramatic element somewhere in the plot line, a running time of at least 2 hours and 15 minutes, an unpredictable ending but no “twist”, and constant references to reproductive organs) Funny People, there is a scene where Adam Sandler’s character is babysitting his ex-girlfriend’s two young daughters. As they play, one of the girls takes him captive like he’s a dragon, while the other has come to rescue him. He looks up at them and says to each one, “Are YOU the good guy or are YOU the good guy?”

While in cartoons and children’s own made-up playtime storylines the antagonist often takes pride in knowingly being evil, in real life the Bad Guy usually doesn’t realize that he’s the Bad Guy. It amazes me that there always has to be a handful of countries in the world that serve as a current Bad Country. It’s been England (watch the movie The Patriot about the Revolutionary War). It’s been Germany (the Nazi’s). It’s been Russia (watch Rocky IV) and still kinda is.

Why can’t the evil leader of a country think to himself: “Oh no! I’m ‘that guy’. I’m the bad person that’s causing problems with the rest of the world. I need to start with the man in the mirror and change my ways”. From what I’ve read about Adolph Hitler, in his own mind he simply was carrying out an ultimate version of Charles Darwin’s concept of “survival of the fittest”. He was only advancing what he saw as in the inevitable. He wasn’t a sadistic tyrant, not the way he saw it. He didn’t see himself as the Bad Guy.

From each holy war ever fought in history, down to the elementary school bully, the true villain is doing what is right according to his own view. The Bad Guy is dead wrong, yes. But he doesn’t see it that way.  While obviously I don’t have the potential to become a radical tyrannical leader of threatening foreign country, I still can find myself in a similar scenario as North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, by simply being the Bad Guy on a much lesser scale in everyday situations and not realizing it. If only Bad Guys always realized they’re the Bad Guy… well, it might help a little.

“We’re never gonna win the world, we’re never gonna stop the war. We’re never gonna beat this if belief is what we’re fighting for.” -John Mayer (“Belief”)

*Some bad guys, like this one, may or may not repent of their evil ways in the end.

Being a Handsome Man Vs. Being a Hot Guy

And why it ultimately doesn’t matter anyway thanks to a little something called “charm”.

Recently I asked my facebook friends via my status update, this question:

Females, I need your input for something I’m writing: What is the difference between a guy who is “handsome” and a guy who is “hot, sexy, etc.”?

To summarize the similarities of the responses, with a man who is “hot” there is an attraction (mostly physical), whereas  with a man who is “handsome” is someone who simply is a good-looking guy, though there is not necessarily any kind of attraction there.  Of course the ironic thing about this can best be summed up by what my friend Holly Arnesen said:

“if i refer to a guy as handsome, it usually means that physically speaking he’s nicely put together, but doesn’t necessarily mean i’m attracted. hot and sexy usually has to do with more than what a guy looks like. like some women think intelligence is sexy so, they’ll go for a smart guy over one that they think is nicer to look at.  i once heard someone say, ‘men fall in love with women they are attracted to, and women are attracted to the men they fall in love with.’ i’m not a guy, but i’m pretty sure this tends to be way things go.”

On the right, Bronson Pinchot, who played "Balki" on Perfect Strangers.

What enticed me to walk up to my future wife on October 5, 2006 and talk to her the very first time I saw her from across a large crowded room was her appearance.  Though it wasn’t until four months later to the day, on our first date (I knew it was a date but she didn’t until it was over), that she actually thought of me in any kind of romantic way.  My physical looks were irrelevant to the equation up until the point I made it clear I was interested in her, given that I’d shared with her my personality and character prior to day that we crossed the line from being friends to dating.

Until we started dating, I was just another average-looking dude.  A forgettable face.  Perhaps the most memorable physical trait would have been my dark hair.  Based on the celebrities that people have told me I look like in the last couple of years (“Cory Matthews” from Boy Meets World, “Balki” from Perfect Strangers, “Ross” from Friends, as well as David Arquette and Paul Rudd), I evidently have the looks of a Jewish-American comedian, which all of those Nick Shell look-alikes are.  Men that are remembered not for their looks, but for their personalities and talent.  Are those men handsome?  Sure, why not.  It’s irrelevant either way.

Ben Savage, who played "Corey Matthews" on Boy Meets World.

Speaking of David Schwimmer, I don’t believe anyone could have played the part of Ross better.  But to be part of one of the most popular romantic American TV couples ever, he was a very ordinary looking guy.  Fans of Friends always think of Ross and Rachel fondly, though never once have I ever heard anyone comment good or bad on David Schwimmer’s looks.  But regarding Jennifer Aniston, it’s not that way at all. Her looks were so relevant she actually started a hairstyle craze in 1995 called “The Rachel”.

When my wife and I reminisce on when we first started dating, she always says, “You always had interesting stuff to say so I knew we’d never run out of things to talk about.”  It’s possible that’s what won her over.  My quirkiness.  Some people would call it my ability to “think some crazy crap up”.  Others more reverently refer to it as “thinking deeply”.   My lifelong habit of daydreaming during math and science class definitely paid off.  I charmed her.

So if a guy is simply average-looking, how can he improve his situation?  The “Makeover Week” on the TV show The Biggest Loser would tell us he would need to slim down, get his hair cut shorter, shave off his beard, and wear nicer clothes.  But I know my wife always prefers me to wear jeans, t-shirt, and a ball cap, and she never notices or cares whether I have a beard or not.  There’s really no official way for a schlub or average Joe to gain “handsomeness” or “sexiness” since that’s up to the girl they’re trying to attract.

The more colorful and eye-catching cockatiel bird is on the right. The female is on the left.

And I think that’s why it’s a guy thing to not care as much about our appearance as females do.  Because unlike male birds (which are always more attractive and attention-grabbing than the females they attract), male humans know they can attract a woman who is out of their league looks-wise as long as they are funny enough, smart enough, rich enough, strong enough, sensitive enough, or whatever else it takes to charm their love interest.  From Doug Heffernan to Barney Rubble, charm certainly has its advantages.

dad from day one: Proud Papa

Twenty weeks.

*Did you hear about this blog from American Baby magazine?  If so, click here to get to the main page (table of contents) for “dad from day one”.  There’s a whole lot more where this come from…

During the closing credits of my favorite movie of all time, I Love You, Man, Barry (Jon Favreau) finds out his wife Denise (Jamie Pressly) is pregnant after she vomits on him at the wedding reception.  With puke on his shirt, he says to her, “Please, try to make it a boy.”  Barry is a Type A jerk, inhabiting every memory and idea of a typical beer-guzzling frat boy.  So of course, having a boy (instead of a girl) would be very important to him.

Being that I’m nothing like that character in the movie, instead being much more like the main character, Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd), I had just always assumed I would have all daughters.  Here’s the picture I had in my head of my future family: Me, wifey, three daughters, and two Cockapoos (or Labradoodles).

It just makes more sense that a guy who has no interest (or talent whatsoever) in sports or hunting (or anything proving I’m man enough by showing my “game face”), but instead has always been enthralled in everything artistic (drawing, entertaining, acting, singing, songwriting, writing) would somehow automatically make a better father to daughters instead of sons.  So that’s part of the reason I was so authentically surprised to learn that our baby is a boy.  Like somehow I deserved a son less because I’m not a certain macho stereotype I’ve memorized from three decades of watching sitcoms and movies.

And now, I have to admit, there’s a part of me that can’t help but laugh that without any preconceived hopes or crossed fingers, I get what every man secretly hopes for- a son.  There’s an unspoken concept (at least in my mind) that raising a son is a rite of passage for a man.  A coveted elective course, a special honorary badge, an engraved trophy so easily received- to be a father to a son.  A chance not so much to relive my own life, but to enhance another future man with all the life experience and knowledge I’ve learned the hard way.

The movie I Love You, Man is built around the fact that male friendships and bonds don’t often come so easily.  By a man having a son, he is automatically given that opportunity- to nurture a male the way every boy and man craves to be taught and directed.  What I lack in knowledge of fixing cars and football statistics and home repairs, I can make up for in teaching healthy communication skills and anything that falls under that categories of “literary”, “artistic”, “psychological”, and “entertainment”.

In other words, I have a feeling I will be raising  the likeness of a future Jewish comedic actor, maybe the next Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the next Shia LaBeouf, the next James Franco…

A well-rounded people-person who is confident in who he is, that’s who I predict he will become.  Who knows?  Maybe he’ll be a quiet, mild-mannered, studious, future accountant.  But with a dad as quirky and Hawaiian-shirt-wearing as me, I just don’t think he has a chance of being anything like Clark Kent.

Baby Jack's body is the length of a cantaloupe this week.

Here’s what The Bump says about Week 20:

Baby’s digestive system is busy creating meconium (a tarry black substance made of swallowed amniotic fluid, digestive secretion and dead cells), which will fill the first diaper after birth. And, speaking of the diaper situation… baby’s genitals are now fully formed!

To return to the “dad from day one” main page, click here.

All pictures with the “JHP” logo were taken by Joe Hendricks Photography:

Blog- www.photojoeblog.com

Website- www.joehendricks.com

The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast of Friends and Seinfeld (Yes, Most of Them are Jewish; Even Matthew Perry)

 

After the recent overwhelming success and popularity of The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast of LOST, I decided I am among the thousands who are also intrigued by the vast different backgrounds of the actors of all-American TV shows.  Starting with curiosity of my own ethnic background, I soon stumbled into a new hobby/obsession: studying and memorizing the ethnic backgrounds of celebrities.  I am officially claiming to be an ethnic background specialist.  And I’m half serious, half joking when I say that.

Want to buy this “No Soup for You!” shirt for the best price on Amazon? Click here!

no soup for you

Of course for me, the most fascinating part is always discovering the Jewish actor(s) and writer(s).  Being that there are more than twice as many Asians than there are Jews in America, in theory, for every Jewish actor in a show there would be two Asian actors.  Or, being that Jews make up 1.7% of the American population, for every 100 actors in a show or movie, only two would be Jewish.  But that’s almost never the case.

So with that in mind, I felt the best way to officially start “The Ethnic Backgrounds of the Cast” series is by examining two highly popular Jewish sitcoms.  Whereas most sitcoms have at least one Jewish actor as part of the cast who plays a plain ole’ American mutt, both Friends and Seinfeld featured Jewish actors who occasionally incorporated their “Jewishness” into their  characters and the culture of the show itself.

To keep from being confusing, unless specifically stated, “English” simply means the actor is American but of English descent.  Same thing with “Scottish”, “Irish”, etc.  However, if the actor was actually born in England and is not an American, I will specifically state they were born in England, or whatever country they were raised in.

If the actor is Jewish, and I know what country their family moved to America from, I will say “descended from” or “of (ex: German) descent”.  In other words, each actor is American born, unless otherwise stated with the phrase “born in”.

Friends:

David Schwimmer (Jewish, descended from Germany) as “Ross Geller” (Jewish)

Courtney Cox-Arquette (English, though she is married to David Arquette, who is Jewish, she did not convert) as “Monica Geller (Jewish)

Jennifer Aniston (half Greek, quarter Italian, quarter Scottish) as “Rachel Green” (American)

Lisa Kudrow (Jewish, descended from Russia) as “Phoebe Buffay” (French)

Matthew Perry (half Canadian-English, half Jewish) as Chandler Bing (Scottish)

Matt LeBlanc (French, Italian, Dutch, Irish) as “Joey Tribbiani” (15/16 Italian, 1/16 Portuguese)

Elliot Gould (Jewish) as “Jack Geller” (Jewish)

Christina Pickles (English, born in England) as “Judy Geller” (Jewish)

James Michael Tyler (English) as “Gunther” (Dutch)

Hank Azaria (Jewish, descended from Greece) as “David the Scientist”, Phoebe’s on-again-off-again boyfriend (American)

Paul Rudd (Jewish, descended from England) as “Mike Hannigan” (Irish)

Created by David Crane (English) and Marta Kauffman (Jewish, descended from Germany)

Seinfeld:

Jerry Seinfeld (Jewish, of Polish, Ukrainian, and Syrian descent) as “Jerry Seinfeld” (Jewish)

Jason Alexander (Jewish, of German descent) as “George Costanza” (half Italian, half Jewish)

Michael Richards (half Italian, half English) as “Cosmo Kramer” (Jewish)

Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Jewish, of French descent) as “Elaine Benes” (Czech)

Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (Jewish)

And if you’re interested in taking a DNA test like I did to find out if you might have Jewish DNA, here’s the link to MyHeritage.

Or if you gotta have these Seinfeld shirt below, you better click here to find the best price on Amazon!

pretzels

 

Why Eighties Movies are So Hard to Remake

And what happened to the genre of romantic comedies…

Back in October I was stuck at home for a few days with severe sinus and allergy problems, streaming Netflix instantly on my laptop all day. I decided to take a break with an ‘80’s movie that I had nothing but fond memories of since my family rented it on VHS when I was in the 3rd grade.  A movie that the general American population still only refers to with a smile and a goofy laugh: Weekend at Bernie’s.

I made it through 38 minutes before shutting it off.  That movie is so boring.  Not funny.  Too unbelievable.  It took them 33 minutes to kill Bernie, and by the time they finally did, I stopped caring.

As I thought more about it, ‘80’s movies aren’t easy to successfully remake because those cheesy, far-fetched, imagination-dependent ideas just don’t fly now that Aerosol hairspray isn’t clogging our brain anymore.  The Eighties were the only ten years that we would buy those concepts.

Like Tom Hanks in Splash (1984).  He falls in love with a mermaid.

Or Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf (1985).  He is a high school basketball star who happens to have inherited “the werewolf gene”.

Or Andrew McCarthy in Mannequin (1987).  He falls in love with a mannequin that comes to life at the mall he works at.

Or Tom Hanks in Big (1988).  He transforms from a boy to a man and falls in love with a grown woman. And just the record, it remains one of my all time favorite movies.

There was this reoccurring mix of fantasy and romance.  Often with drab dialogue.  But completely overshadowed by its towering gimmick of a plot.

These days, we’re too cool for silly ideas like that.  Since Terminator 2 impressed us with believable CGI (computer generated imagery) in 1991, then Jurassic Park in 1993, we’ve been straying from fantasy and romance, and focusing more on sci-fi with some romance.  Leading us to the days of Avatar and Transformers.  And most obviously, the soon-to-end TV series LOST.

And that’s why if today, if they Steven Spielberg remade Gremlins, it would be a hit.  Or Ghostbusters 3, if they ever actually end up making the movie.  Because that’s something the Eighties gave us that worked: horror and comedy along with sci-fi.  They are currently remaking Child’s Play.  And of course, the Nightmare on Elm Street remake comes out this Friday.

We adopted sci-fi horror comedies and sci-fi romance from the Eighties, but what haven’t translated over are romantic comedies and romantic dramas.  Yes, romantic comedies and dramas still exist.  A new one is released into theatres every week.

But overall, they’ve earned a lousy reputation.  Romantic comedies have become “chick flicks”, typically meaning they’re too predictable and cliché for a man to enjoy.  The “girl goes shopping and tries on ten different dresses for her girlfriends during a musical montage” scene.  Too familiar.

The Eighties pulled off romantic comedies.  They knew how to make them work for both men and women: Can’t Buy Me Love, The Princess Bride, Roxanne, When Harry Met Sally, Overboard.

But there’s only so much Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant a man can stand watching.  So what happened because of it?  Judd Apatow and his friends made the genre of bromantic comedies more popular than romantic comedies.  And not just films that feature Seth Rogan.  The Hangover and I Love You Man had nothing to do with Apatow.

I’m all for seeing a good romantic comedy.  Truly.  I like the good ones, unashamedly.  But it’s been a long time since one has been made.

It’s simply unnatural for the romantic genre to be catered towards women- because romance is about a man and a woman.  Because Katherine Heigl and a remote controlled dildo device don’t make a great team (reference to The Ugly Truth).  But Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan do.

After enough corny romantic comedies, we men got the point:  Romantic comedies are no longer for couples- they’re for single women.  So we avoid them and instead run to R-rated comedies featuring funny Jewish lead comedians like Paul Rudd and Jason Segal (Manspeak, Volume 7: Bromance).

The concept of romance in movies has become polarized.  Women watch chick flicks and men watch bromantic comedy.  Ironic.

As for romantic dramas these days, Nicholas Sparks pretty much has the monopoly on that: A Walk to Remember, The Notebook, The Last Song, Nights in Rodanthe.

Someone tragically dies.  A disapproving mother.  A Southern setting.  Got it.

So what can we say about remaking ‘80’s movies?  Some of them, many of them, most of them, need to stay where they belong- in the ‘80’s and in our fond memories.  But the ones that made us laugh, while freaking us out, while being drenched in sci-fi, well, we want more of those.  And the ones that were truly romantic, catering to both men and women, we want more of those.

We’ll always have a love/hate relationship with the Eighties.