Friday, February 3, 2012

Make 'em laugh...but not too much

Do you ever wonder why we can't just laugh all the time?

It's on evenings like this, after I've returned from an event where laughter was not only part of the agenda, but part of the protocol, that I realize how very lost I would feel without comedy in my life.

I think part of this comes from my dad. I was raised by a mother who didn't understand jokes and a father who was full of oddball humor. He's the kind of guy who with no provocation will start singing a song about monkeys or telling you a story about a duck. When you're in a good mood he'll automatically complement it with a nonchalant random comment. And when you're in a terrible mood he'll bother you until you have to tell him to shut up so you stop laughing.

I've never been funny or particularly quick-witted. I have a biting humor mainly consisting of sarcasm and lacking in every other style. I'm not exactly a stranger to the joke, but I just fail massively at the execution.

It reminds me of the scene in Finding Nemo where Marlin trys to tell a joke about a mollusk and bombs miserably when he has to keep repeating himself. I am no Ellen Degeneres as Dory, I am the person who has to reiterate to his acquaintances "that's a common misconception. Clownfish are no funnier than any other fish." I am a clownfish who is no clown.

Marlin tells his wonderful joke about mollusks.

And it's not something I've ever even thought about fixing.

Yet over the years I've taken a liking to the kind of humor that I have never been able to achieve. I became a fan of shows like Friends and Arrested Development and would say random quotes like "Gum would be perfection" or "There's money in the banana stand." I started making pop culture references like Lorelai Gilmore. I wanted to be clever so I stole cleverness from those who are far far better than me.

And it worked.

One of the great sadnesses of my life is that I have never been quick on my own feet, but I am quick to recall things that I have heard once before. So since then my outlet has been absorbing other comedy. And while I do not necessarily spew it out like I do those few key lines from some of my favorite television programs, I have grown to love it in any form I can get it.

Last year (when I inexplicably had no work to do and had time to watch YouTube videos all day long), I watched all the material I could find of Demetri Martin performing stand-up. I loved his comedy even when he repeated the same joke in various venues. I loved his drawings and his music and his weird skits.

But most of all I loved that when I felt stressed I could turn to throwing his name into the search box on YouTube and come out with hours of hilarity and mind-free entertainment.

Comedy is truly one of the few ways that we have to get our minds completely off the mundane and stressful day-to-day dealings of our lives. As I sat watching several improv groups perform tonight, not once until the final group was taking their bows did I think about how much work I have to do this weekend. All that existed for an hour and a half was the stage, the performers, the jokes and my own resounding laughter.

It's the scarcity of having a chuckle build up in your chest that makes it so wonderful, I think. If we laughed at everything, not only would we be fooling ourselves, but we'd be annoying the people around us. Because as nice as it would be to laugh all the time, being so amused as to viscerally produce a response to it says something more distinct and more rare than a casual pity laugh produces.

The truth is I actually very rarely laugh naturally. The few times I do, it becomes an immense problem because once I've started I can no longer control myself and I become hysterical. But when it does happen, I have a feeling of ecstasy that is incomparable to any other feeling in this world.

And that's why we can't just laugh all the time. Because then that feeling would be comparable to something. It would be comparable to every other moment of life. And in my opinion, half of comedy is realizing when and where repetition works and alternatively when and where it must end (this is an issue that the writers on Family Guy have yet to figure out).

I become hysterical because laughter is so organic and rare. It's not ubiquitous, therefore it is truly something special. And more than anything, it is something worth waiting for.

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