Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The one with the comedy

In comedy there are set times to laugh. A joke is told, a quip is spoken, a pie is thrown in someone's face. It's all laid out right in front of you, and because humanity has been trained to respond to humor via warm-up comics, laugh tracks and every other manipulative method of increasing audience response, we know where and when we're supposed to laugh and why.

Since I turned 13, I've been fascinated with how TV and movies are made. I've been to premieres and tapings of sitcoms and late night talk shows. I've observed photoshoots and videoshoots and tried my own hand at the "post-production" process as a journalism student.

What I've found most interesting, though, is the very set method of multi-camera shows - a phenomenon that has become utterly unconquerable (ask my employer, CBS) - in which comedians on a set are rewarded with tremendous laughter for doing the simplest things. Every time Jim Parsons cracks a deadpan joke on The Big Bang Theory, he grabs a hefty bout of enthusiasm from the crowd that is sitting right in front of him. If only we could all have that kind of ego boost.

But we don't live on a soundstage in the middle of a studio backlot. We don't have a hundred people staring at us while we recite our lines. We don't have several cameras pointed at us from different directions to capture our best side. All we have is ourselves, and when we find ourselves in a comedic situation, the only one there to laugh (hopefully, unless we're being taunted) is us.

So in my life, I've learned to laugh at myself and share my ridiculous stories with others, just to get a taste of what it is to be comedic and actually garner a laugh.

The one with the 52 pick-up

Just today I exercised this capacity out of sheer necessity. I'd been sent on a mission to the loft of my office to locate some posters with photos of Survivor to be used for some purpose that I can't recall now. My boss walked me up the stairs to the loft and showed me to a set of shelves that was poised atop a filing cabinet. Each shelf was very thin and very high up, making it a fine storage facility for the posters, but not a fine location for locating posters should you be forced to search for images of Survivor.

When my boss left, I grabbed a chair from a few feet away and pushed it right in front of the filing cabinet. I stood on the chair, but realized that even at the increased height I still couldn't see enough of the posters to tell whether they were from Survivor or not. Then came my brilliant idea...

Pull all the posters down. What I did not realize was that these posters were mounted on heavy duty photo paper, the kind that when printed on a scale 24x36 or whatever it was, flops sideways and wobbles unless put on a flat, sturdy surface. After I threw all the posters to the ground, I realized that my job was no longer to search for Survivor, but to put them all back up again. My own stupidity had put me in one of those "could've been avoided" situations.

It might have been nice to have heard a laugh track at that moment; to have had someone jump out from behind the scenes in all black with a broom to push away the photos and allow me to go on with the rest of my comedy routine, but it was clear that the only thing left to do was laugh. It reminded me of another event in my recent past...

The one with the cell phone battery

It was the first quarter of being at school and I was just starting to feel really comfortable around my new friend Dana. We were standing in the lobby of our dorm having an emphatic conversation when I gesticulated wildly. I can't remember what got me so excited, but the level of enthusiasm I had made my cell phone slip right out of my hand and slide across the linoleum tiled floor.

That isn't the end of the story, though. Oh, no. Not only did my phone slide, but it managed to detach itself from its back cover, unfastening the battery from its rightful place, allowing the battery to slide across the floor as well. While the back cover and the phone body stayed behind, the battery kept sliding until it fell into the crack below the door to the dorm's elevator.

I waited around two or three days to get a replacement battery, but in the interim all I could think of was what stupidity that situation had been. How contrived, to have such a Murphy's Law moment. But because no one was going to come out and retrieve my battery from the elevator shaft, I also had to just embrace the fact that dumb things happen and at least they make for good stories. Which brings me to my final story...

The one with the cute guy

To be honest, there's not much specificity I can give with this story because it covers such a broad space in time. I've spent virtually my whole life laughing at my love life because without humor, it would be pretty sad.

Since I was in preschool, I've always had a crush. There were some I told about it (like in first grade when I wrote my first love letter and attached my school photo) and some I never did (like with everyone else), but no matter the situation - there's always something you absolutely have to laugh at.

Back in fifth and sixth grade, I liked on boy who had absolutely no interest in me. We'd sit next to each other for math lessons in class and there was this one time he was reaching to pull out a chair, and our hands touched. I can only imagine the look of sheer joy that spread across my face at that moment. It's like something off of Disney Channel, it's so ridiculous.

The thing about life's turmoil is that it can affect you in one of two very distinct ways. On one end, it can make you miserable and self-pitying. You can complain to everyone around you about that time you dropped heavy posters and risked getting a massive paper cut, or that time you lost your phone battery, or that time you were too shy to interact with that cute guy (every cute guy).

On the other end, you can see yourself and your experiences in the context of a comedy. Of a sitcom, or a funny anecdote, a punchline, a play on words, whatever. We may not all be able to stand in a room making socially unacceptable jokes and having millions of people around the country laugh with us, but at least the most important audience member consistently has our back. That audience member is us.

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