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Funny Is As Funny Does
By Daryl Jung
June, 2006, 19:24

Kenny Robinson looks at the world's dark side, but what he observes sure is funny.
've covered, interviewed, hung out, gotten drunk and become dear friends with more stand-up comics than I really care to admit.

To do so implies a questionable lifestyle, sitting half-blind in the dark staring at a single sad soul on stage, illuminated only by the single spot and enlightening exactly nobody.

Being funny is a deadly business, anyone who has lived the life will tell you, and is hailed by 90 per cent of practitioners and followers of funny as the most difficult trick in showbiz.

A discussion about the act of writing and the act of funny would have few parallels and even less basis for comparison. Guys like John Belushi famously "wrote" everything from Second City and National Lampoon Lemmings sketches to the screenplay of his never-filmed "masterpiece," Noble Rot, on the back of matchbooks, gum wrappers and coke bindles. This of course horrified and infuriated anyone else he was working with, but boy was he funny.

George Carlin, on the other hand, is as anal as he is discordant. The most academic, you might say, of comedy writers who also do stand-up, he sits, and has always sat, at a typewriter and forces himself to conceive of, record and revise his reams of observational mish-mash. Once he's got it all typed up nice and neat, he takes a break, smokes a giant reefer of fine weed, sits down again and invariably invokes, "It's punch-up time!!" And wow, he's written some funny stuff.

Goodness knows how a guy like the sultan of the surreal, Steven Wright, organizes his wacky words into the gargantuan one-liner that is both his work and his life. His ability is God-given. Normal people can't do what he does. His command of the language combined with his skewed imagination just organically produces side-splitting shtick, most of it drawn from the base and banal. Amazing.

The chrome-domed knucklehead can do 20 minutes on a swizzle stick, an hour and a half on a banana. My guess is he just thinks of something. If he jots in down, I'd be surprised, but he must, given the thousands of quips he's torn off. Some of my colleagues think he needs a database.

One of the things I've admired most, certainly among stand-ups, is the ancient writing form of "spritzing" -- an old vaudeville or Catskills word for improvising. It's comedy on the spot, mostly at the expense of a hapless audience.

There is no "writing," at all, involved in spritzing. If there's not a camcorder running, some of the best jokes beget by the best spritzers, unless they're so funny they're impossible to forget, are lost in the ether (used to be smoke).

Witness Toronto, Canada comedian Mike Bullard, who abandoned a perfectly promising stand-up career for talk-show star/boredom. He was known as Five Joke Mike, because, for the uninitiated, he had only five jokes. And it's all he ever needed.

The rest of his sets were spent rolling through the crowd like a rampaging but benevolent elephant, humiliating, humbling and heralding them in the literal blink of an eye. No one was safe. He once did 20 minutes on me, sitting innocuously in my usual dingy corner, and it (and I) wasn't pretty -- but, gotta admit, dead-on, and outright funny. Neither he nor I could remember, the next day, a single shot he took.

No, folks, comedy is not fun. It's nothing but hard work and hangovers. There's very little writing involved, but what all real comics do, like, constantly, every waking moment, is write. A curious contradiction, but a stark reality.

The best of them, like Toronto's Nubian Disciples of Pryor king Kenny Robinson, see the darker side. But if Robinson sees a skinhead assaulting an elderly woman on the street, you can bet he'll be onstage that night, stalking the humour, however pathetic or politically incorrect, through the horror. Another talent you're just born with. It's not something that can be learned.

So if you aspire to write funny, be prepared to be pummelled by the public, dissed by the demented yokels you compete with and slagged by your own soul.

But maybe you'll write something really funny.

Daryl Jung
Inkwell Newswatch

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